Getting Started

The Journey

Getting Started - Surfing for New and Average SurfersRemember, surfing is a journey and not a race.  Enjoy the ride!  Everyone progresses at different levels, don’t stress yourself out by worrying about how fast or slow you maybe progressing.

I will be providing you with the information to start you on your surfing journey but I highly recommend that you begin that journey with some lessons from an experienced surfer or surfing school.   There’s nothing like someone personally showing you what to do.  Surfing can be a strenuous activity, please check with your physician to ensure you are up to the task.

What Will I Need?

  • Surfboard
  • Board Shorts
  • Leash
  • Rash Guard
  • Wax

Choosing A Surfboard

A Very Long Board

Surfboards come in all shapes and sizes.  Generally surfboards fall into three basic categories:

  1. Shortboards – Surfboards under 7 feet in length.
  2. Funboards – Surfboards in the 6 – 8 foot range.
  3. Longboards – Surfboards that are 9 feet or longer.

There are also Stand-up paddle boards, fish, guns, etc. but we don’t really need to cover those at this time.

Surfboards are also constructed from many different materials: Epoxy, poly, carbon fiber, etc.

The longer the board, the more stable it will be in the water but the harder it will be to move and maneuver.  It is easier to learn to surf on a longboard than it is on a shortboard because of the stability issue.

The blue board in the picture above is known as a soft top surfboard.  It has a rubber like surface on the deck, the bottom and rails do not require waxing, however, the rubberized surface can cause rash.

As a beginner, I would choose a board in the 8 – 10 foot range, generally, if you are a larger person you should go with the larger size board.  Get yourself  a pop out surfboards like the ones made by NSP Surfboards.  NSP Surfboards are relatively inexpensive, very rugged, made for the beginner and can be obtain used at sites such as Craigslist.

 Boardshorts

Get yourself some boardshorts, they are made for both men and women and are specifically designed for surfing.  Look for boardshorts that have some stretch and are fast drying.  Click here to read my review on a boardshort.

Leash

The leash is used to keep yourself attached to the board and vice versa.  Without a leash, when you wipe out, your board will go all over the place and could be a danger to yourself as well as other.

Choose a leash that is at least the length of your surfboard.  Click here to read my post regarding surfboard leashes.

Rash Guard

The rash guard is a shirt, and just like the name suggests is used to prevent rash which can occur from the friction caused when the board contacts your skin.  A rash guard is also used for sun screening purposes.

Wax

Surfboard WaxA new or used board will have a slippery surface/deck.  Wax is what is used to add a stickiness to the deck and will keep you from slipping off your board.  Wax will not stop you from wiping out or falling off your board.

There are all types and brands of surfboard wax my favorite is a brand called Sticky Bumps.  Click here to read my post regarding surfboard wax.

Where Should I Surf?

On the Island of Oahu, a great place to learn to surf is a place called White Plains Beach aka Barbers Points.  White Plains Beach has:

  • Lots of gentle waves.  Not critical but can get up 10 feet during the summer swells.
  • Easy going surf crowd
  • Ample parking
  • Clean restrooms
  • Plenty of new and experienced surfers but not so many that you can’t find a place to catch waves.

You may want to look for beach in your area with these same qualities.  When you’re beginning, you don’t want to surf spots that are considered critical (spots for the more experienced surfer), you’ll be a danger to yourself and as well as others.

Don’t Be That Guy

You have your gear and you know where to surf, now I’m going surfing.  Hold on my friend!  Believe it or not, there are some rules to surfing, called surf etiquette.  Don’t be that guy who doesn’t learn anything about surf etiquette and goes out there being a danger to others and themselves and pissing people off, these people are referred to as kooks.

As a beginning surfer, you should stay out of the line-up, be on inside and off to the side and learning how to surf in the white wash.  Every surfer has gone through this period.  There is no shame.

Let’s go over surf etiquette:

  • Learn to surf on the inside, off to the side and on the white wash.
  • Don’t drop in – dropping in, is getting on the wave when some is already on the wave.
  • Don’t snake – snaking, is paddling in front of another surfer who is already paddling for the wave and trying to catch the wave.
  • Don’t be a wave hog.  Share the waves.
  • When paddling out, it is your responsibility to avoid the surfer who is riding the wave.
  • Respect the place you surf, don’t litter and be respectful to the surfers who have been surfing that spot for years.
  • Know your limits.  Don’t try to surf spots that are beyond your ability, you could get seriously hurt or killed or you could hurt someone seriously.

In an activity that is fun, people can act irrationally, just check YouTube to see how irrationally people can act over surfing.  If you follow the surf etiquette rules, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Waxing Your Surfboard

Waxing a surfboard

You will need to wax your surfboard before you can ride it.  As stated previously, waxing your board will prevent you from slipping off your board because it creates a sticky surface on the board.

However, wax does not prevent you from wiping out or falling off your board.  You only wax the top or deck of the board and you will wax the board from the tail all the way to approximately 2 feet from the nose.

Some people will tell you that you should wax in a circular motion, horizontal or in a criss cross pattern, I don’t think it really matters.  You need to wax your board until you see bumps start to appear.  Waxing is very important, don’t forget to wax.

Let’s Get In the Water

Leash PlugBefore we get in the water we will need to attach one end of the leash to your board, most boards have a leash plug which will be found on the tail of your board, the other Leash - Ankleend of the leash will be attached to your ankle.

If you are right handed most likely you will be a “regular footer” and the leash will be attached to your right ankle.  If you are left handed most likely you will be a “goofy footer” and the leash will be attached to your left ankle.

Pick-up your board, one hand on the left rail and the other hand on the right rail.  Look at the beach and the area you plan to enter the ocean, do not enter when the wave is breaking on the shore but enter the ocean when it is relatively calm.

Walk into the ocean until the water is between knee and waist high.  Lay your board down on the water and pull yourself onto the board.  Your body should be centered between the rails and you should position your body so that the nose of the board is about an inch above the water, you do not want the nose of the board to be submerged.

You will probably feel unbalanced and will spread your legs to retain your balance, make a conscious effort to keep your legs together.  You are now ready to paddle.

How To Paddle A Surfboard?

Think of paddling as doing the freestyle swimming stroke but your head and body is out of the water and you don’t kick with your legs.  When paddling you want to keep your head up and off the board.

Yes, I know you see surfers on shortboards kicking with their legs but they’re doing it to catch a wave.  I am assuming you took my advice and got yourself a surfboard in 8 – 10 foot range and kicking with your legs would just have you kicking the board and would not benefit you whatsoever.

Watch this great video on paddling and commons mistakes:

I’m Getting Hit By Waves

As you are paddling out will be hit by waves and your progress forward could be stopped or reversed until you learn how to get through the wave.  As you have a longer board you will be either be using the push through or turtle techniques or you can click here for an advance technique.

The push through technique is performed as the wave is approaching you, you will push yourself up and position your body like you are performing a plank.  You will let the nose of your board push through the wave and let the wave pass under your body.  This technique can only be used on small waves and white wash and the technique is performed in one fluid motion.

The turtle aka turtle roll is also performed as the wave is approaching you.  Before the wave hits you, you want to grab your rails and flip your board over, do not let go of the board.  Position yourself directly under the board, continue to hold the rails and let the wave pass over you.  This techniques can be used on larger waves.

Watch this video for great guide on performing the turtle aka turtle roll:

Let’s Catch A Wave

Since you’re a beginner, for now, you will be catching the white wash portion of the wave, the portion that has already broken.   As you progress you will want to catch the portion of the wave that has not broken or become white wash.   As the white wash is approaching, you want to position the nose of your board so that it is perpendicular to the shore.

Before the white wash hit you, start paddling and paddling hard, you want to match the speed of the approaching white wash.  Continue paddling until you feel your board move or tail lift.  When your board is moving you will now want to stand up aka pop up on your board.  Click here to read my post on types of waves to surf.

Watch this great video which will cover many aspects of surfing:

Standing Up aka The Pop Up

Performing the Pop Up:

  1. While lying facedown, bring your hands to chest level and lay them flat on the board.  Do not grab the rails of the board, this will cause instability.
  2. Push up so that your chest is off the board.
  3. Thrust up with your legs and push with your hands.
  4. You will want to land on your board with the leg without the leash near where your hands had been and the other leg about a shoulder width away.
  5. You will want your knees bent and your body crouched.

The Pop Up is performed in one fluid motion and can and should be performed on dry land before you hit the waves.

Watch this great video on how to pop up:

Time To Get Going And Final Thoughts

I believe I provided you the information to start your surfing journey so it’s time for you to get going.  Should you ever find yourself in my part of the world or see me at my favorite break (White Plains Beach) I would love to go surfing with you.

Thanks for dropping in and if you have any comments or questions, please post it in the comment section of this page.

20 thoughts on “Getting Started

  1. Hey there, it’s Alexey ! I really enjoyed reading your article about surfing. I never tried this in my life, but it keeps coming to me every time from friends, from websites, tv.. maybe it’s a sign. Anyway, I learned a TON from this one article, and I have to say that it sounds really nice – I love extreme sports and if I will ever try some sort of this sport, it will be surfing.
    Thanks for the share.

    • Hi Alexey, You should give surfing a try, you won’t regret it. Thanks for dropping in!

  2. Hi Stuart,

    I wanna go surfing! I miss catching waves! But not surfing, I used to play skimboards back in the Philippines. But I don’t know if I can do surfing. I really want to try one day. I love board games. Right now here in Singapore, I am flow riding once a month. It’s in WAVEHOUSE, SENTOSA ISLAND. I don’t know if you have heard that. By the way, is the board to heavy? Is the balancing the same with skim boarding and flow riding? Thanks for this post. I am going back to the Philippines next month. I probably go surfing in Siargao Island.

    CHEERS!

    Russel

    • Hi Russel,

      Never heard about flow riding but if you’re doing it once a month it must be fun.

      No, the boards are not that heavy. I’ve never been skim boarding so I don’t know if the balance is the same.

      I’ll tell you one thing, if you try surfing, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

      Thank for the comments and dropping in.

  3. What Will I Need?

    – Surfboard
    – Board Shorts
    – Leash
    – Rash Guard
    – Wax

    You forgot something – some beautiful clear water like that which is seen in those videos 🙂

    WOW – What a beautiful scene…

    Tell you what, this looks like a lot of fun. I was an avid skateboarder growing up.. this seems like the same, except you have a larger board and water.

    Great post and great bit of instructions for getting started. No stone was left unturned in your detailed getting started guide.

    However…

    I am curious to know, other than maybe drowning, what are some risk to surfing?

    • I take the beautiful clear water for granted :).

      Drowning is definitely a risk, as well as injury from your board or someone else’s, injury from the reef, pulled muscles, shark attack, etc. You don’t really think about those things when you’re out on the water.

      Thanks for the great comments and for dropping in!

  4. So much great stuff here Stuart!! Love this site. I have always wanted to learn how to surf. I lived around Destin, FL for a good deal of my life and we never got the kind of waves needed to learn. One day I hope to take a few lessons. Maybe in Hawaii or something!! I will be saving your site to refer to. Thanks man!!

    • Hi Shawn, Did you know 11 time World Surfing Champion Kelly Slater is from Florida and that is where he learned. I believe if you try surfing you’ll be hooked.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  5. Hi Stuart,

    I thought I missed my opportunity to surf when I left South Africa 15 years ago, moving to the UK didn’t give me too many options. Since then I moved again to Italy which is as bad, I haven’t seen too many big waves on the Mediterranean! But I’m off to Australia at the end of the year so guess what? Now is my chance! I’m going to take all I learnt from your post and put it to good use. Thanks.

    • Hi Brendan, Though it is highly unlikely that you would get bitten by a shark, South Africa and Australia are known for Great White Sharks. I would still try to surf there though. I wrote a post about shark repellents that maybe of interest to you. Anyway, I hope you have fun surfing, I always do.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  6. Hi Stuart,

    Wow, what a wonderful site you have! I have never done any surfing but with all the helpful information you have, I’m certainly going to have to give this a go. I scuba dive and so this activity does make sense. Very cool videos and I can learn much here!

    Thank you!

  7. Surfing is one of those things in my yet-to-do list. No hot weather nor big waves in Europe. Although a lot of sea-doo’s, jet-ski’s & speed boats driving around on these waters. Completely different world compared to surfing but both are a lot of fun in their own ways. Water sport truly is crazy stuff. Have you tried those things too?

    Thank you for sharing & thanks for so much insight on this topic! The very first thing I’ve been always thinking of surfing, besides being entertaining, it must be physically quite demanding. Is that true at all? & What kind of shape would you recommend to be okay to even consider surfing? There are direct hints that cardio training is probably one of the most important part of it.

    I believe there are also clever yet basic physical laws that applies to surfing – Velocity combined with inertia that keeps us falling over. As speed grows it becomes a bit easier to stand up & maintain our balance on surfing boards.. well, in theory.. But does it actually translate into real life action as well? And another thing that you already pointed out & can’t be ignored: the size of the board of course that provides support in the first place & makes those other two possible.
    So, White Plains Beach it is to get started. Thank you for such a comprehensive guide for beginners & thanks again for sharing!

    • Hi Henry, Yes, surfing can be quite demanding. When I first surfed, I thought I was in very good shape. I lifted weights 4 times a week and ran 6 miles 4 – 5 times a week. Within 1 hours of surfing, I was totally beat. I’m not in the kind of shape I was in when I first started surfing, but I have built up paddling endurance and can easily surf for 4 hours straight. I have a post I created titled “Exercises for surfing,” that you may want to check out if you intend on surfing.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  8. Thanks for a load of great information!!!! will be visiting my cousins in California & they love to surf so I have no doubt they will suggest it!!! Now I wont be a complete fail!!!

    • Hi Donna, I’m glad you found my website informative and I hope it helps you on your surfing journey.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

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