Learn How to Surf – Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Summer is around the corner, which means warm weather, beaches, and water sports! If you’ve always been wanting to hop on a surfboard and hit some waves, you’ve come to the right place to learn how to surf!

Learn how to surf

While surfing is a sport that takes many years to master, with some practice, the right equipment, and some sound advice, you’ll be able to avoid some common mistakes and get going much more quickly.

So, let’s take a look at where you should start.

Conditioning Prior to Surfing

Before you even hit the beach, you should begin an exercise program to get in shape as surfing is extremely rigorous and requires a good amount of upper-body strength to paddle into and with the waves.

As awe-inspiring watching someone ride a wave for a few seconds is, most of your time in the water will be spent paddling, so you should be prepared for it.

A good cross-training program a few times a week will go a long way to preserve your surf session, make it more enjoyable, and allow you a better opportunity to catch more waves. Be sure to include some swimming in the workout as that is the most similar workout to paddling as you’ll get.

surfboard push up

Here is surfer’s beach workout by The Clymb

If possible, try and do some open water swimming sessions to get used to swimming in the ocean. This will not only get you in better shape, but it will also get you used to being in the water, learning the currents, and help you to relax at being in the water.

At some point, you’re going to lose your board and will need to know how to swim for it, so being prepared is going to go a long way into safety.

Preparation – Learning About Wave Breaks, Tides, and Currents

Once you physically are ready to begin heading into the water, you should learn a bit about paddling conditions.

Here, we’ll give a break down about how to assess conditions that will help keep you safe and give you a better opportunity to catch some waves. Waves are caused by wind and storms. How they break are determined by a variety of factors that can change very quickly, so knowing how they break is important.

Waves are influence by things such as the bottom contour, wind, and tide. Here are some examples of different bottom contours your local break may have:

  1. 1Beachbreaks – these waves break over a sand bottom and because there aren’t any fixed hazards like reef, rocks, or coral, it makes the waves a little erratic at times. However, due to the lack of underwater hazards, it makes it a safer place to learn for beginners.
  2. 2Pointbreaks – these waves are formed when a swell moves around the land at an angle to the beach and breaks near the point or headlands. These waves can be high speed and last a long time.
  3. 3Reefbreaks – are waves that break over coral or rocks. Due to the fixed nature of the reef and rock, the waves break pretty consistently and are much less erratic. Therefore, they can provide some really consistent and outstanding waves. However, due to the underwater hazards, they can be extremely dangerous and beginners should avoid reefbreaks.

In addition to the break, the bottom’s slope also plays an important factor in the formation of the wave. Bigger waves are caused when swell comes out of deep water and hits a shallow sandbar or reef. These are the type of waves experienced surfers look for, but because they tend to move very fast, can be extremely large, and are challenging, beginners should avoid waves like this.

What you should be looking for is a mushy wave or slow rolling wave.

These types of waves occur when the swell approaches a more moderate slope in the bottom. Because they are softer and have less speed, these are ideal waves for a beginner to increase the learning curve fast, while keeping safe at the same time.

There are a few other types of waves, but as a beginner, you should focus on finding the mushy, slow rolling type of waves.

In addition to waves, you need to be concerned with current. There are two types that you should be concerned with.

The first is a longshore current. These type of currents move up or down the beach parallel to the shore. Typically, they are strongest in the surf zone. Because of this, they may make it difficult to get to the lineup, but aren’t too dangerous unless you are by rocks, a pier, or a jetty that you can get slammed into.

If you are having trouble with a longshore current and are close to a hazard, get out, walk up the beach, and get in where there aren’t hazards to hit.

The other current that you should be aware of is a rip current. Unlike longshore currents, rip currents can be extremely dangerous. They occur when the waves break and pool on the shore, they are funneled back out to sea in a swift moving current.

Getting caught in one, don’t swim against it as it will only tire you out. Simply swim parallel to the shore gradually working your way close to the shore. They are fairly easy to detect as generally waves don’t break where rips are and they look like rivers running through the sea.

Tides also play a factor in the break. Low tides generally are steeper and break farther from shore. During high tide, the waves tend to be slower and mushier. However, that is just a general rule. Each break has a preferable tide, to find out yours, go to your local break and visit your surf shop to get a tide book and inquire.

Now you’re in shape and you know the best times your local break has the mushy, slow rolling waves you’re looking for. The next thing to factor in is equipment.

Equipment Needed to Surf

A lot of the modern surfboards out there are very short and don’t make for a great learning board as they are unstable, not very buoyant, and hard to paddle.

The best beginner boards are longboards that are wide and very stable. You might not have the ability to shred the wave on one, but they are much easier to catch waves with and catching waves in the beginning will give you the experience to gradually move down to smaller boards that are more maneuverable.

Soft-top boards are preferable here as they will present less of a hazard to you and those you surf with while you’re learning.

In addition to the board, you should be looking for a leash. The leash should be about a foot longer than your board and have a quick release tab that will allow you to pull once to get out of it in case it because wrapped around reef or gets stuck.

Finally, depending on the water you will surf in, a wetsuit may be advisable. Best bet here is to visit your local surf shop or read

Pre-Entry Preparation – Practicing the Popup and Scanning the Lineup

Once you’re ready to hit the waves for the first time, there are some preparations you should do before entering the water.

The first thing you should do is practice a pop-up or transitioning from lying on your surfboard to standing up. You can do this by drawing a line in the sand to represent the stringer on your surfboard. Lie on the line with your hands back behind your shoulders.

Next, get your hands similar to a push up position. When you’re on the board, they should be on the deck, not on the rails.

Next move should be to arch your back and push your feet up underneath you in one motion. Keep your head looking ahead and not down. Place your feet about shoulder width apart and slightly bend your knees. In your stance, your front foot should be sideways and turned out slightly and centered over the stringer.

Your back foot should be sideways, but less turned out. It doesn’t matter if you are regularfoot (right-foot forward) or goofyfoot (left-foot forward).

The best thing to do is choose which feels the most comfortable to you.

Once you’ve practiced your pop-up, scan the beach to choose your lineup strategy. As a beginner, it’s best to avoid crowded lineups of surfers as you don’t want to become a hazard to yourself or another surfer while you’re learning.

Also, avoid hazards like reef, rocks, etc. You’re looking for slow-rolling waves with the least amount of hazards. This will provide a good learning experience, keep you safe, and make the session much more fun!

Water Entry and Making Your Way to the Lineup

As you enter the water, wait for a lull in the wave sets before making your way into the waves. Hold the slack in your leash as you’re walking out so that you don’t get tangled up. Once you are about waist deep in the water, you should get on your board and begin to paddle out.

As you position yourself on the board, you want to be in a spot where you aren’t so far up on the board that water is going over the nose or too far back so that the nose is sticking straight up out of the water. It should be relatively flat as you are paddling.

Make sure that you are centered on the board as well. Your feet should be resting directly over the tail. As you paddle, you should take strokes with cupped hands similar to swimming a freestyle stroke making sure that each stroke is relaxed and in control.

As you paddle out, dealing with pushing through waves can be a tough obstacle in getting to the lineup. There are a few different strategies to employ here:

  • Push-up – In smaller waves, just do a push up on the board so the water flows under you and over the top of the board. Make sure you are head on with the wave, otherwise, you’ll likely be knocked off the board.
  • Duck-dive – When the surf is more powerful, it is better to go under the wave. Here, paddle toward the wave at maximum speed. Just before impact grab the rails and push the nose down. With your dominate foot, push down on the tail. As the wave passes, you should pop back up after it clears.
  • Turtle-roll – If you have a board that is too big or buoyant to duck-dive, a turtle-roll is your best bet. Just before impact, roll over with your board so that the fins are up. While you are underwater, frog kick to propel you past the wave. Once cleared, roll back to the surface. This is also a great way to avoid injury from an out-of-control surfboard or a surfer.

Catching Your First Waves

Once you’ve made your way to the lineup, it’s time to put all that you’ve prepared for in place on how to surf!

It’s best to catch the whitewater for the first few waves. When a wave is approaching, let the whitewater carry you straight to the shore. On the first couple waves, don’t try to pop up, just learn how to catch the wave and see how the board feels as you are riding in the prone position.

When you are ready, try the pop-up method that you practiced on the beach.

When you get up, keep your body centered and try to maintain a low center of gravity. This will help you control the board and maintain balance. If you tip to far to the side, make sure to stay centered. If the nose pearls (goes underwater) back up from the front.

Next you should practice falling off the board.

When falling off the board, always do your best to fall back away from the board so that you don’t hit it. Will do less damage to the board and more importantly you. If you fall head first, try to do a belly-flop to avoid going in head first and potentially sustaining injury.

When coming up, always come up hands first so that you can avoid being hit in the head by your surfboard when surfacing.

The last part is exiting the surf safely.

If you’re on a shorebreak, wait for a lull in the sets and then ride a swell in and get out of the water quickly before another wave breaks. If you’re on a reefbreak, turn board fins-up and paddle in carefully. When it gets too shallow, it’s best to get off your board and wade slowly in.

Keep practicing and in no time, you’ll learn how to surf and move from surfing white-water to catching bigger and cleaner waves!

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll keep coming back for more as there isn’t anything quite like surfing!