Surfing: 101 Beginners Guide
If you're looking to get out there and learn how to surf without being called a kook or surfing in the way of potentially aggressive surfers, then you're going to need to follow some tips to learn properly.
When learning to surf, you need to understand the etiquette of the sport of surfing and the proper way to do things so that you can optimize your level of fun and keep others around you happy and safe.
If you're ready to paddle out and catch some of your first waves, follow this guide to learn more!
The Five Golden Rules of Beginner Surfing
Find The Right Surf Spot For Your Skill Level
It's important that you only start surfing at beginner spots. Not only will surfing at the right surf spot keep you safe, but it will also keep any other surfer around you safe. We'll dive deeper into finding beginner surf spots later in the article.
Before Surfing, Spend Some Time Being Observant
Prior to hopping on your board and paddling out into the water, we recommend spending a bit of time watching other surfers do their thing.
See where they are paddling out, how skilled they are at surfing, and where the waves are breaking.
It is important to determine whether the waves are at a comfortable size for your level.
We even recommend paddling around in the water before surfing, getting comfortable on your board, and noting where surfers are going to catch the waves.
Be Respectful of Others Around You
Surfing is a very localized sport. Often, local surfers will know the surf pot best and, in many ways, these surfers feel a sense of ownership when it comes to the waves there. As a newbie learning to surf, it is important that you approach any surf spot with respect.
Be nice to other surfers, never make a scene, and don't get in the way of other surfers. The nicer you are when surfing out in the waves, the nicer people will act toward you.
Understand Surfing Etiquette
Understanding surfing etiquette is crucial. Typically, it is one surfer per wave in surfing. The surfer who is closest to the point where the wave breaks gets the right of way. In surfing, always wait for your turn and NEVER paddle around someone to snake your way into a wave.
Never Paddle Directly Into The Surf Lineup
When paddling out into the ocean, try to go around the surf lineup where the waves aren't breaking.
Paddling out through the surf or directly into the wave breaks where people are surfing can be incredibly dangerous.
Not only will you become an obstacle for incoming surfers, but you will also tire yourself out quickly.
Again, stay out of the way of other surfers and you'll have a much better time.
Finding The Right Place To Surf
As a beginner surfer, it is important that you find the right surf spots to begin your surfing journey. If you're surfing in Southern California like me, for example, you would probably go out surfing somewhere like San Onofre State Beach, where you'll find slow-breaking waves and multiple wave breaks. First Point at Surfrider Beach in Malibu is another great surf pot with slow, one to three-foot wave breaks.
A beginner surfer trying to surf the seven-footer waves at Rincon in Santa Barbara or ride the 20-footer waves at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay becomes a danger to themselves and the other surfers around them. These kinds of conditions provide far too much power for a new surfer.
When trying to find the right surf spot, we recommend looking for long stretches of knee-high waves rolling slowly toward the shore. You'll often see surf schools in these surf spots, which is a great sign.
Find a surf spot that isn't crowded with surfers where you can catch tons of waves and figure out how to paddle and pop up.
A good Google search for "beginner surf spots near me" should do the trick. Any surfing spot or wave that you've seen your favorite professional surfer repping is one that you should probably stay away from until you have a fair amount of surfing experience under your belt.
Best Surfboards For Beginners
When starting out, you should get yourself a large board. While large surfboards may not look as cool as slick, pointed shortboards you see your favorite surfers riding, you will have a far easier time catching waves with them.
It's unfortunate to me when I go surfing and see newbies with expensive, top-of-the-line shortboard surfboards, as they almost always lack the length and volume for new surfers to catch waves on.
I can't stress this enough, but please get yourself a soft-top longboard to start. They're super easy to paddle, provide tons of buoyancy, and allow for easy pop-ups and stability when surfing. With this kind of surfboard, you'll be able to practice catching waves and gaining confidence in the water.
Once you have some skills in your pocket, you can graduate to a new board.
Here are the different kinds of surfboards you'll find when looking for your first board:
What Kind Of Surf Gear Do I Need?
One thing to love about surfing is that you don't need much to get out there and play in the ocean. However, there are a few necessary pieces of gear that every surfer must have:
The Five Steps To Riding a Wave
Before you ever get into the waves, practice popping up a few times.
Start by figuring out whether you are regular or goofy-footed by standing up straight and slowly falling forward.
Whichever leg comes out to catch you will be your front foot.
The left foot in front is a regular stance while the right foot in front is a goofy stance.
Once you're ready to learn the popup, begin by pressing your hands into your board or into the ground just beneath your chest.
In a short, single motion, pop up to your feet. Make sure to do this a few times before going out to get comfortable with the motion.
Paddle into the lineup. Make sure to remind yourself of our surfing etiquette tips above so that you don't piss anybody off!
Sit on your board and wait for a wave to start rolling in. When you see the wave that you want to catch, turn the nose of your surfboard toward the shore, lay down on your board, and start paddling away from the wave. Keep the nose of your surfboard just atop the surface of the water. If it is dipping underwater, your body is too far forward. If it is up in the air, your body is too far back.
Look over your shoulder one time to make sure that the tail of your board is sitting perpendicular to the incoming wave, as waves don't always break parallel to the beach. Getting lined up in the wave is key.
As the wave starts coming up behind you, you'll notice the momentum picking up. At this point, you need to wait for the right moment to use your burst of paddling energy. Once you feel the wave begin to pick up the back of your board and roll under you, paddle as fast as you can.
When the speed and momentum pick up your board, it's time to pop up. Stay calm and committed to the popup, going from your paddling position to your standing position in a single motion. Make sure that your eyes are forward. Looking at the nose of your board or down at your feet is a quick way to mess up your balance.
Once standing, keep your knees slightly bent and a bit more of your weight on your back foot. Oh wait a minute, what's that? You're surfing! This is the feeling that beginner surfers chase and pro surfers chase for years.
If you feel yourself needing to bail while riding, make sure to fall flat on the water so that you don't dive deep and accidentally collide with something underwater. A good thing to remember is to ALWAYS cover your head when you bail so that the surfboard doesn't knock you out.
Creating A Training Routine For Surfing
Surfing is quite a demanding sport. It requires a lot of back strength, core strength, lower body strength, stamina, and flexibility. To enhance your surfing abilities and enjoy longer surf sessions, you'll want to make sure that you're in shape.
Here are a few ways beyond surfing that you can train for your days spent riding waves.
Warming Up and Cooling Down
Having a warm-up routine is incredibly important when it comes to surfing, as you're essentially preparing your body for strenuous activity.
The first thing you should do before any surfing session is a few dynamic mobility exercises.
Make sure your muscles are warmed up before getting into the ocean.
When you're done with your surf session, cool down with some static stretching.
This way, you'll be able to go surfing the next day too!
Improving Core and Back Strength
Having a strong core will improve your balance as a surfer and prevent injury. Using medicine balls, ab routines, or Indo boards can help increase your core strength.
For paddling, you'll need good upper body strength. Even paddling your surfboard for ten minutes against the break can be exhausting if you don't have the right type of strength. Some good back exercises include lateral raises, pull-ups, and rows.
Improving Lower-Body Strength
Beyond your back and core, you'll need lower-body strength to pull off critical surfing maneuvers, such as turns or airs. We recommend practicing with squats or lunges. Again balance boards like Indo Boars can be a great investment for improving balance and strength.
Final Thoughts - Learning How To Ride With Confidence
A professional surfer can make riding a wave look like a piece of cake. However, there is quite a bit of physical effort involved in riding waves. Surfers can spend years perfecting paddling, popping up, riding waves, and performing surf maneuvers.
Always remember that safety is a major factor in this water sport. Having at least one friend who is good at surfing around to teach you how to ride can be incredibly helpful.
Follow these tips, become one with the waves, and we promise you'll be riding waves with confidence in no time!