Learn To Surf - Surfing Basics

These are important points to help you have a great time as you learn how to surf.

  • Choose a good surf location.
  • Find a good instructor or good friend with excellent surf knowledge to help you in the beginning. A friend who has only surfed a few times really isn't going to be much help.
  • Choose a good beginners surfboard.

You'll have a better time if you're in good shape too, but you can learn to surf if you are in reasonable shape.

Being in better shape will let you stay out longer and have much more fun if you aren't out there sucking wind.

What Type Of Surfboard To Learn On

You should learn to surf on a funboard (also known as a mini mal) or longboard, at least 7 feet in length, if you're an adult 8 feet or longer is better. If you are learning to surf with an instructor they may have a soft foam surfboard which is..... you guessed it, softer than fiberglass or epoxy boards. They are great for people who are just starting out.

I would only recommend people consider them for purchase if safety is the number one concern and you don't plan to surf more than once a month. The reason I say this, is that if you plan to surf regularly throughout the year I believe you will quickly find yourself wanting a fiberglass or epoxy surfboard. However, for younger children these softboards are an excellent surfboard to purchase for children to learn how to surf. Due to the questions I have received recently, I have added a page on the website discussing softboards. Softboard Review - A Look at the Best Soft Top Surfboards

Determining Your Surf Stance

You will need to determine which foot is your front foot on the surfboard. This is known as your surf stance. There are a couple of things you can experiment with to determine which will be your front foot on your surfboard.

  • Think about going down a set of stairs, which foot would you put on the first step down. That is the foot you put forward on your surfboard.
  • Another test you can do is stand with your feet fairly close together and have someone push you (gently now) from behind. The foot that goes forward to stop you from falling would be the foot you put forward on the surfboard.

If it is your left foot that is forward on the board, you have what is referred to as a normal or regular stance. If it is your right foot that is forward, this is known as goofy foot surfing. It sounds like an insult, it's not, so don't sweat it if you're goofy foot.  I am a goofy foot surfer.  I favor my right side in every sport I do, except for surfing. There is a great surf break in Pavones, Costa Rica that is one of the longest breaking lefts in the world. I love to surf there because I am riding the wave front side, which is easier than backside.

Attaching The Surfboard Leash

Now that you know which foot you are going to place forward on your surfboard, you will attach the surf leash to your rear foot. When you attach the surf leash, you will want to make sure that the part where the neoprene chord attaches to the velcro is on the outside of your leg. Don't attach it so it is facing inward, it just gets in your way when you try to stand up.

Observing The Waves Before Heading Out

You should now spend a few minutes observing the waves in the location you will be surfing. Take note of where you can safely be on the inside. You'll want to choose an area that is clear of surfers on the outside and doesn't have swimmers nearby. The more room the better. You don't want to have to worry about dodging other surfers or avoiding colliding with swimmers. A good location should have fairly predictable inside wave conditions. Check out the "Choose A Good Location" section of the website. You will learn about the three types of surf breaks and what is the best location.

Paddling Out

After getting familiar with the surfboard and checking out the wave conditions, you are ready to paddle out. Paddling is one of the most important parts of surfing. When you are paddling a surfboard in the water, you want your body weight to be positioned so that the nose of the surfboard doesn't sink into the water. Ideally the nose will be an inch or two above the water. You don't want to be too far back or the surfboard because it will be harder to paddle and will go slower in the water. Keep your eye on the nose and if you need to adjust your position a bit, just grab the rails (the sides) of your surfboard with both hands, lift your body off the board just enough to move forward or back an inch or so.  An inch forward or back will sometimes be all you need to do to get the surfboard planing nicely.

A common question that comes up is: Can I paddle faster on a shortboard? No, a shortboard is less buoyant than a funboard (mini mal) or a longboard. Due to the frequency I am asked this question, I wrote a page on this topic, if you would like more information on paddling with a shortboard you can check out the article at Can I Paddle Faster on a Shortboard?

Learn Surf

As you are paddling out, you will need to paddle through the whitewater. If the whitewater isn't too large, you can paddle extra hard two or three strokes before hitting the whitewater to build momentum. Then raise your head and chest up, sort of like a push up position on the board to let the water pass over your board and under you. Push down on the surfboard and hang on tight to the rails as the water passes under you. This is known as punching through. Note: If it looks like the whitewater is going to smack you in the face, lower your head so your face won't take the impact, but still keep it off the board.

Duck Diving and Turning Turtle

Sometimes, the approaching whitewater is too large to punch through. You'll be learning to surf on a longer board so duck diving is pretty much out of the question. “Turning turtle” is a good maneuver to get through the wave with your surfboard and protect yourself from the impact of the whitewater. It's really easy too! It's also safer for others nearby, because you will be maintaining control of your surfboard. This is how to turn turtle on a surfboard:

  • From a paddling position grab the rails of your surfboard about ¾ of the length up and roll over with it so you are underneath your surfboard.
  • Hold on tight and pull down to keep it low to let the wave pass over it. You need to hold on tight so that the surfboard doesn't escape your grasp.
  • Once you feel the wave has passed turn it over and hop back on.
  • That's it, easy!

    Another good use of turning turtle is to use it as a defensive measure if it looks like someone is going to collide into you with their surfboard. Having the surfboard overhead will protect you from an impact with their surfboard.

    Ok, you've made it out to where you are ready for your first ride. Now check out our next learn to surf lesson: "How to Stand Up".

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