Surfing looks easy when you’re watching the pros, but there are a lot of surf basics you need to know before you paddle out by yourself. The best way to start is usually a surf lesson. You can find a surf school in our comprehensive directory, or ask a surfer friend to take you out and give you some surf tips and guidance.
In case you don’t have a local expert to get you started, here is a quick list of how to surf tips and advice you should read before you hit the water.
First things first, before you start paddling out and shredding, you need to make sure you make two critical decisions:
These choices will greatly affect your first surf experience. The best place to learn how to surf is at a flat sandy beach where there is plenty of room to find your own area in the water. You don’t want to learn in a crowded lineup of experienced surfers. For safety reasons, you also don’t want to learn to surf in a zone where children and families are casually swimming.
REGULAR OR GOOFY FOOT?
Will you be surfing with your left foot in front, or your right foot? Watch this quick video demonstration on how to find out if you are regular foot (left foot forward) or goofy foot (right foot forward):
PRACTICE “POPPING UP”
Popping up will become second nature to you soon, but you need lots of practice. Start by practicing on the beach. Lie down on the board. Place your hands on the board, under your shoulders in push-up position with your legs extended behind you. Then, in one swift motion, push yourself up and plant your feet firmly on your board. Front foot should be facing forward, and back foot facing sideways. Another method is to do a pushup, then quickly step your lead foot to the front and plant your back foot by rotating it sideways.
One of the surf tips an expert will tell you: don’t pop up to your knees. This is a bad habit that many beginner surfers get into. It seems like an easier way to get up, but it’s actually more difficult to get to your feet from a kneeling position. Watch Vanessa demonstrate how to paddle and pop-up:
GET READY TO SURF
One of the best surfing tips we can give you is to make sure your board is properly waxed before you head into the ocean. This will provide good traction and solid footing when you are trying to stand up on a wave. Also, make sure your leash is securely fastened to the leash plug on your board. This will prevent your board from getting away from you, and possibly hitting others. Now, strap on your leash to which ever is your back foot (your back foot will typically be the same as your dominant hand). Here are two videos where Vanessa demonstrates how to wax your board, and how to use a leash:
PADDLE OUT TO THE SURF
Good surf technique begins before you even get wet. Start by watching the ocean. Get a good idea of where the waves are cresting up and then breaking. Watch the whitewater (foam ball) roll through, and get an idea of how far out you need to paddle.
With your board in hand, start walking into the water. Walk out as far as possible: typically this will be stomach-deep. Any further and it gets very hard to keep your footing and still hold on to your board.
Now, climb on top of your board, and lie flat on your stomach. Position yourself properly on your board. You don’t want to be sitting so far back that the top 1/3 of your board is sticking out of the water. If you’re too far forward, the nose of the board will sink when you’re paddling (this is called pearling). Find a good balance so that the nose of your board is above the water. Now, extend your legs straight behind you and begin to paddle out, much like doing the freestyle swimming stroke. Keep your feet out of the water. Notice how the board moves in the water, how it balances while you lie on it, and how easily it rocks back and forth.
You want to paddle out past the whitewater. This is where the waves are breaking. You want to sit just outside of the where the waves are breaking, on the outer edge of the wave.
CATCH YOUR FIRST WAVES
On your first couple of waves, try to catch the whitewater and ride it straight into the beach. When you see a small wall of whitewater rolling your way, point your board toward the beach, lie flat on your stomach, and paddle! Stay on your stomach, don’t try to make it up to your feet. Instead, stay lying on your stomach, notice how the board moves when it’s riding a wave, rock side-to-side to test the board’s stability and how easily it turns.
Ok…do you get the feeling? Now it’s time to catch a real wave. Paddle back out, past where the waves are breaking. Sit on your board and watch as the waves roll in, crest and break. Watch how the waves typically break in the same spot every time. It’s difficult to write about where you should be to catch a wave: this is something you have to find out on your own. But, there are some surfing tips that can help you catch your first waves.
You want to start paddling and catch the wave before it breaks and creates the foam ball. As the wave grows in height, it begins to move faster. This means, to catch the wave, you have to be paddling just as fast or faster than the wave is moving.
When you’re ready, look for a wave that starts to crest. Point your board toward shore and start paddling. Typically, this will be a short burst of paddling before you start to feel like you’re gliding on the wave. Once the board begins to glide by itself, place your hands on the board in push-up position, push yourself up in one quick motion, and plant your feet firmly on your board. You don’t have to straighten your legs – stay in a low crouch to maintain balance.
Congratulations! You just caught your first wave!