Learning to Surf

Learning to Surf

       Summer is here, and folks are starting to head out to our coastline.  This time of year inevitably brings about the desire to learn to surf!  Whether it’s the heat off the sand, or just watching guys and gals laughing and ripping it up out there on the water, some are drawn to the ocean and the fun to be had riding waves.  Learning to surf is not a quick and easy process, but if you have the motivation and persistence to stick it out, surfing can be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences.  As with just about everything, there’s learning the hard way and then there’s guidance to help make it a bit smoother.  In this Blog I hope to get you on the smooth track.

            Let’s start with the reality of “becoming a surfer”.  This is not to deter you, but to give you an idea of what you are embarking upon.  As I mentioned, surfing is not easy.  We hear it all the time, “I’ve been snowboarding and skating for years, I’m sure I can surf no prob”.  Well…...that’s great, and it will help with the balance and concept of moving your board down the wave, but first you must get out to the waves, then you have to catch them, and each wave is different.  The mountain and the skatepark are not moving and shifting and are different every run.  I have found that those who go into learning to surf with the expectation that they’ll be doing airs and getting barreled by the end of the month, or week, are the most disappointed.  Learning to surf with the idea that this is going to be a tough, long, challenging and incredibly fun process will serve you best in the end.  The fact is, it’s harder than it looks, but well worth the effort if you’re up for it!

      Alright, so if you’re still here reading, you can do this!  It doesn’t matter your age or how fit you are, your dedication will be the deciding factor in whether you learn to surf or not.  That being said, learning any new sport is easier when you’re younger and in great shape, so let’s make sure you are physically prepared.  Surfing itself is a full body workout, especially when you’re a beginner.  Endurance, balance and being a strong swimmer are at the top of the list on making this smoother.  Working on your physical condition by swimming, running, balance exercises, planking, lunges and pushups are some of the best things you can do to prepare yourself.  Putting in some time on land will help you get a leg up (literally) on learning to surf.  Practice basic pop-up techniques on the floor in your living room.  I think it’s helpful to measure out a width of about 18”-20” to use as a guide on your imaginary carpet board, that way your muscle memory won’t have you stepping off the side of your board when you hit the water. 

If you're lucky enough to have amazing green shag carpet and a fan club to cheer you on, it helps.

        When you feel confident in your conditioning it’s time to look at the gear you’ll need.  The area you choose to learn in will depict your necessary attire, but since we are in Northern California, I’ll focus on what you need for our coastline.  Every beginner should start with a longer board, no matter where you learn. The rule of thumb as a beginner is to start with a board 3 feet taller than you with plenty of volume, the heavier you are the thicker your board should be.   The waters off the Sonoma County coast are cold, so you’ll need a wetsuit!  A 4/3wetsuit is minimum for our water temps, so generally that’s 4mm on your core and torso area and 3mm on the arms and legs to give a little more flexibility for paddling and getting to your feet.  A 5/4 with a hood is great once you are hooked, but a good 4/3 is a perfect starter suit.  I always recommend booties, although there are some who don’t use them.  Your feet are the first thing to hit the water and they never leave it until you do, just saying.  Gloves and a hood are not necessary for everyone, but sometimes nice to have.  For your safety and the safety of others, always use a leash!  Wax up your board to help you keep from slipping around and I like to wax the rail a little where you might be pushing up from, it can save some embarrassment.  A little, or a lot of sunscreen and you’re geared up and ready to go.

       Etiquette!  Too many folks these days get into the water without ever studying up on etiquette.  This could be truly the most important part of surfing, so study it, learn it, practice it, and things will go a lot smoother for you!

Study it

Searching for the “perfect” wave is part of a surfer’s lifelong journey, and it starts the very first day you step into the water.  The perfect beginner waves are generally 1-3 feet in height and slowly rolling and peeling along.  These waves are often a tough find on our coastline, but the summertime offers them up on a more consistent basis. Surfing the inside, or the area closest to the beach is also a great spot for learning, you can more easily steer clear of the crowd, and sometimes walk out to the inside breaks.  Paddle out if it’s deep and work on balancing on the board as you lay prone.  When you reach the outside or a calm spot try sitting on your board to observe the incoming waves, it can be harder than it looks. The moment of truth, when a wave starts heading your way, turn towards the beach, get your chest positioned on the board’s upper 1/3 or slightly back and paddle like you mean it!  When you feel the movement of the wave has taken over your paddling, give it one or two more strokes and pop up like you did at home on the rug and get ready for your first ride, straight to the beach!  Be sure to hop off in at least a foot or more of water, or you could be in danger of dinging the board or ripping a fin out.  Now repeat until you’re exhausted!  Don’t worry if you don’t get up the first handful of times, it’s difficult to distribute your weight evenly as you pop up.  It just takes repetition!

            Surfing is an escape for some, a career for others, and a lifestyle for many, but everyone started somehow, and everyone struggled through getting tossed around by the ocean.  It doesn’t matter if you decide to teach yourself (never go out alone), friends or family push you into your first waves, or you decide to take a lesson or 5, beginning to surf is a magical time!  Enjoy the ride!
Feel free to stop in one of our shops and ask questions, we’re happy to help.
“Everyone gets caught inside when surfing. You have 2 options. Give up or paddle outside. Life is the same.  Keep paddling!”
-Gerry Lopez
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1 comment

Great Article! Thank you.


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