First Time Surfing? Here’s What We Learned

My brother and I started surfing this summer and we decided to document our experience for Trailnetizen. This is the first in a series of articles for novice surfers, sharing the lessons we’ve learned in our journey from total noobs to, well, beginners. ;> We took a few lessons with Sandbar Surf School in Pismo Beach so we could learn how to surf properly from the pros.

What You Need

If you’re going to take a lesson, then the surf school will provide you with a wetsuit and a surfboard. If you’re starting on your own, here’s the bare minimum of what you need in addition to this article.

Surfboard. A foam surfboard, around 7-8 feet long. The longer boards are way easier to get started with catching smaller waves, and the foam boards are important because they are relatively soft, so if (when) they hit you in the head when you fall off, you’ll be fine. Sandbar Surf School let us use their BruSurf boards, which are super-nice, but way more than we can afford ($600). Most beginners we see are using the Wavestorm foam boards because they’re relatively inexpensive ($200) and easy to get on Amazon or at Costco, and pretty durable. We got the Wavestorm boards after we finished our lessons.

Wetsuit. Without a wetsuit, you’re going to get really cold fast when you’re in the water surfing for an hour or two. We got the Lemorecn wetsuits, which are totally fine wetsuits (they’ve held up for about 4 months so far), and pretty inexpensive ($59). If you’re surfing during the summer in California in SoCal or on the Central Coast (San Luis/Pismo area), you want a 3mm wetsuit. If you get cold easily, or you’re surfing during the winter, get a 4 or 5mm wetsuit. The higher the mm, the warmer it keeps you.

Getting Started Surfing

The first step for most surfers is to put on a wetsuit. This mainly helps to help keep you warm for long periods of time in the cold ocean water.

You’re also going to want a board that is suitable for you at your height and experience. We started with foam boards with rounded tips, and they were 8 ft in length. This does slightly depend on your height. Also, if you have a hard time keeping balance on your board in the wave, then a wider body might help with that. As you get more experienced, you might want to switch to a harder material for the board to be made out of (such as hard foam or fiberglass), and also a shorter board helps with maneuverability.

To start practicing, lay your board down on the sand, not yet in the water, and lay down on it face down so that your toes are touching the very back of the board. Next practice paddling with your hands, cupped, and alternate them so that you begin to dig little holes in the sand with them.

Next, to practice standing up, put your hands flat on the board in front of you, and pop yourself up, swinging both of your legs underneath you so that you are in an almost crouching position. Your dominant foot should be placed behind you with the other leg in front, and your knees are bent and your arms out so that your center of mass is right over the center of the board. Make sure that you practice this several times, as standing up on the board in the waves is one of the hardest and most challenging aspects of surfing. 

In the Water

If you are just beginning at surfing, a good way to practice is to try and use the little waves that have already broken, and take the white water and try to stand up there before moving out into the real deal.

The first couple of times you go out surfing, a lot of your time is going to be spent in the smaller waves that have most likely already broken, and trying to stand up in these will help you prepare for when you start going out into the bigger waves.

Keep your center of mass low, and when you’re lying on the board make your toes touch the end of the board so you know where you are.

You need to stand up quickly once you catch a wave. Really, this is the key thing for beginners. 

You also have to read the waves and know that they operate in sets, so learning them will help you locate yourself in the right place at the right time. By sets we mean that there will be multiple waves in a certain time, slowly getting bigger and bigger until the set starts over again. There is not necessarily a set amount of waves in a set.

Also having your feet up and kicking them back on the board can change your center of mass and help you catch a wave if you are just on the very edge of it.

If you want to stay in the curl or shoulder of the wave, the area where it hasn’t yet broken but is about to break, then you have to surf it at an angle, not in a straight line.

How We Did

We both managed to stand up on a wave in our first two-hour lesson in the water, but it was really short (couple of seconds), and we were catching the white water from a wave that already broke. It wasn’t until the second lesson that we could reliably stand up. Even then, it took about a week (6-8 hours practice) before we were even a little confident about catching a wave.

When you see the pros surfing, it looks so easy. But when you’re getting started, even standing up is pretty hard. Don’t give up, though. Just keep trying until suddenly it clicks, and you start catching waves!

Surf Smart, Live Better. ;>

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