Summer’s on the horizon and if you’re likely to end up on holiday by the sea looking to master a new sport, then there is nothing quite as cool or fun like learning to surf! It may look easy carving and cruising elegantly on the waves, but you’ll quickly learn that you may not look quite as good as those you’re admiring, these guys seem fly with finesse on the water whereas you may feel you look a touch more like a stranded whale in distress. But, don’t let that put you off! Rome wasn’t built in a day and these cool and carefree surfers all started out in the same way you will, and with some good tips and tricks you’ll find yourself spending more time on the board riding then in the water wiping out.
Here are a few things to help you get started, save you some time and leave you feeling confident and ready to ride.
Mother nature always has the final say
Before getting stuck in straight away, it’s important to know that you’ll be coming up against the elements, the ocean and waves are a force to be reckoned with and you can forget ever winning if you try and challenge these natural sources. The ocean accepts that we like play in it, as long as we do so with respect to its power and beauty, surfing teaches how you to analyse and understand what’s around you, no two waves are the same so you have to constantly measure and adapt. Surfing is not just simply another sport, it demands more notions of humility and patience, because the waves love to have the last word and remind us who’s boss out there. These reasons are why it’s so important to scrutinise a spot from the beach and observe what happens in the line-up and how the surfers are navigating the waves and paddle out.
Learn how to swim
Yes, it seems obvious but it’s always a good idea to mention it. If you can’t swim or are afraid of the water, don’t surf. If you find yourself caught in a current, it’s imperative you know how to swim, and to swim well, to get out of it. Furthermore, if your leash comes off or snaps, once again, you’ll need to swim to get the board, which can actually end up being washed all the way into the beach. So, before you paddle out and jump on a board make sure you learn the basics of swimming to keep you safer out there in the ocean.
Choose the right wetsuit and board for your size
It seems obvious, whatever the sport, but in surfing it can make or break the speed in which you learn even more. Regarding your size, choose the right length, width and volume of board because if it is too small or not voluminous to keep you afloat then you’ll never end up getting up on it. Furthermore, it’s important to pick the right style of board for your ability, it’ll only hold you back if you choose a high performance short board that looks snazzy but is impossible to get up on. Let’s assume that if your reading this article then you are probably new to surfing, so ideally, you’ll be looking for something around the 8-foot mark with lots of volume and preferably made from foam or plastic materials. Then the more you advance, the shorter you can go with your board, it’s worth knowing that kind of short board you see experienced surfers using are not very buoyant and require refined technique and expertise to master. If you start surfing with a small board, then you’ll quickly end up discouraged and all the pleasure you could be experiencing during your first session will be lost as the chance of managing to stand up and ride on a wave are slim.
When it comes to wetsuits it’s almost just as important. Choose the right thickness (3/2mm, 4/3mm, 5/4mm…) according to the water temperature you’ll be surfing in and pick a size that fits you, because it must be pretty tight so that water isn’t flushing through it. In winter, opt for booties, gloves and a hood if you want to last more than fifteen minutes in the frozen water.
Don’t forget to wax your board
Waxing your board with specific wax for the specific temperature of the water you’re in is key, if you start rubbing cold water wax on your board in warm water you’ll feel it melting and moving before you even get in the sea. Once you’ve bought the right wax (it says on the packets which temperature you can use it in) then layer up the wax in places where your feet will be and even your hands, this will give you some extra stability in your pop-ups.
Warm-ups make a difference
You might not see everyone getting ready for a surf warming up but it’s necessary to prepare the body for the physical effort you’ll be putting it under in the waves. With a few dynamic movements to open up the hips and shoulders, a bit of stretching and then a quick jog on the beach, you’ll feel looser and more responsive in the line-up. Just as importantly, don’t forget to drink water and hydrate yourself before the session, it is essential to your performance as you’ll probably spend at least two hours in the sun while expending a lot of energy. Speaking of the sun, make sure you sun cream up to avoid a nasty sunburn!
Foam is your friend
We’re not talking about the head you find on a beer but about the white water generated by the waves and the material used for beginner boards.
So, as mentioned above, opt for a large and wide board that’ll be more stable on the waves and under your feet, foam boards are a little heavy and bulky but you won’t be missing many waves with a board like that. Even if you are not super well positioned as you take, with a big board you actually have the possibility to change position and feel out a more balanced stance, something that isn’t possible with pro short boards.
When we talk about white water or foam from a wave we mean the crumbly broken part of a wave which takes you straight towards the beach. Paddle in and take off on the foam and its momentum will propel your surfboard into the wave, at this point you can let yourself be carried by the foam and then pop-up once you are stable. The advantage of foams is that you don’t have to paddle way out back and sit in the crowds to catch a wave. The goal is to gain enough speed to have balance and also to gain confidence to learn to stand on the board, then once you know how to do the take-off, you can go out back and try your skill on the unbroken waves.
Choose the right spot and the right period
In surfing you have to choose the appropriate spot and conditions relating to your level, to do this successfully you’ll need to understand how tides affect a spot, coefficients, strength of swell and size of the waves. Each spot is completely different; it could be a point break, reef break or beach break, and if you are just starting out then it’s normally best to go for a beach break as the waves broke over sand rather than reefs. Furthermore, the advantage of a beach break is that in the case of a wipe-out if you miss a take-off, you’ll only bump onto sand if you touch the sea bed, rather than painful coral or rocks. A little extra tip is to avoid shore breaks, these are waves that break very close to the shore, so you have hardly any time to get up on the board before you wind up on dry sand.
Tides are everything when it comes to picking a spot, check the times of the tides and the size of the swell because you’ll see that at the same spot, there can be 2 metre waves one day and 50 cm waves the next, all depending on the swell, winds and level of the tide. You can check out this information on several sites like Windguru or Magicseaweed. If you aren’t sure still after checking these websites and you want to know if it’s the right time to surf, look at the line-up and if it is empty, it’s probably because the conditions aren’t favourable, e.g too much wind or current or not enough swell. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to ask the local surf shop, they’ll tell you everything about the tide times and when to go surfing.
Master the take-off technique
Before you even paddle out you’ll need to have practiced how to position yourself on the board from a lying down position. Line up your toes on the back end of the board with your chest stuck firmly to the board, then check if you are regular or goofy so you know if it’s the right foot or the left foot that’ll be at the back.
Paddle as hard as you can while keeping steady on the board then after one or two seconds, pop-up and go from lying to standing to surfing. Raise yourself by pushing on your hands which are in line with your chest, then straighten up by sliding your legs under the body, lean on your foot and try not to put your knee on the board. It’s always a good idea to practice with the board on the sand to start and once you master the movement, try it in the water, obviously this won’t feel exactly the same but at least your body will be used to the movement. Use your arms for balance and to help you turn and change direction, also the direction in which you look will dictate where you go, so don’t look down at your feet as you’ll end up head over heels pretty soon if you do!
Be prepared to hold your breath
A good surfer knows how to swim (in principle) and they are also pretty good at holding their breath under water, as it’s pretty frequent that you find yourself under the waves after a wipe-out. When you don’t quite make your take-off or pop-up and the wave overwhelms you, it’s kind of like being in the drum of a washing machine in spin mode and it can be pretty disorientating, don’t panic and just stay under the water while the wave passes. For that, do not forget to try take a deep before taking the wave so you have enough oxygen in case of fall, normal you’ll only end up under water for a few seconds, this isn’t big wave surfing after all! Worst case scenario, you may have to wait for two waves because the set is very close together but at most you’ll only spend 30 seconds under the breaking waves, so just stay zen and you’ll pop back up before you know it.
Respect the rules of priority and the spot
Avoid learning to surf in the swimming areas and launching your board into the heads of children playing in the water. For starters, be polite and courteous, say hello on arrival and apologise if you cut a surfer’s path, then, like in a car and its rules of the road, there are rules of priority in surfing and it is important to know them. You may have noticed that in general there are always many surfers in the water and now the line-up but only one of them will have the priority of surfing the incoming wave, this is the person who is closest to the breaking part of the wave, so, if that’s not you then you must respect the other surfer. Check carefully if it is a left or right and if there isn’t a surfer already on it, because if this is the case then you’ll need to hold back and wait for the next opportunity. Furthermore, a rule that is not in the manuals but that everyone knows is that locals have priority to some extent, it’s their surf sport 365 days of the year, so, when all the holiday makers come and take over the line-up with their foamies it’s always good courtesy to let the locals have some extra priority.
Don’t go surfing alone
Always paddle out with a friend, someone who knows how to swim or with lifeguards surveying because in the event of a fall or injury, you may not be able to return to shore alone and you could drown. This isn’t as rare as you may think, especially in scenarios when a surfer is tired and finds themselves stuck in a rip without being able to get out. The best technique to escape a rip is such situations is to let yourself be carried by the current without resisting and try to attract the attention of lifeguards or other surfers in the line-up, or alternatively, try swimming to beach with side-ways rather than directly towards it. Various dangers are real out in the ocean and you should never underestimate the force or power of the elements – when in doubt, don’t paddle out.
We wish you all the luck in the world and remember that the important thing is to have a good time on the wave, so do not panic if you aren’t resembling Kelly Slater surf from the first day, everyone learns at their own pace and everything depends on your balance and motivation, so, if you have plenty of that, you’ll end up having a blast!