How To Learn To Surf

How To Surf

Surfing has been around since the 1700s, when ancient Polynesian kings were known to be the best 'Wave Sliders' in their community. This makes it one of the oldest cultural legacies in existence, which is pretty cool considering that surfing is still one of the fastest growing mainstream sports worldwide today. You only have to drive along the Cornish coastline to see our own local tribe of surf-junkies who live their lives around the ocean's ebb and flow. This month we've decided to dive into the surfing sub-culture and work out how to learn to surf. From choosing the right beach and equipment to lying down properly on a board, we've decoded all the cowabunga dude language, to bring you this easy ten-step guide. Click here for more info on Surfing Insurance.

  • Do

    1. Relax and have some childish fun. The earlier you start surfing, the easier it is. Younger children are lighter and less self-conscious, which makes lying down and wriggling about on a surfboard feel a lot less unstable. Us older folk with a few extra kilograms on board tend to rock the boat, so to speak, at which point nerves take over. The more relaxed and confident you feel, the quicker you will get the feel of the 'standing up and going' action. Getting into a tight-fitting wetsuit in front of a beach full of strangers feels completely natural to a five year old who is used to picking their nose and wearing superhero costumes, while teenagers and adults have a tendency to feel on display.

      The point is to feel comfortable, relaxed and to enjoy the experience. Children do this really well, and adults who take this approach get the most out of the experience.

    2. Use an accredited surf school. Unless you have a background in junior lifesaving or some decent experience in the ocean, use a surf school affiliated with Surfing Great Britain (previously the British Surfing Association) to get started – at least for your first time. The instructors are trained to help you and to react to any change in the surf conditions. The ocean can be a dangerous playground if you aren't aware of the currents, tidal activity and wind forecast for the beach.

      Besides your safety, the instructors are also there to help you get started. As a beginner you'll need to select the right board - this will be something bulky and buoyant. It might not look as cool as Kelly Slater's board, but you'll be grateful for the extra support in the water. Another aspect is picking the right wetsuit or rash guard - an essential item for people new to surfing. Although so much of surfing has to be self-taught (because everyone has their own unique style), a teacher will give you some useful tips on how to lie down on the board, paddle and stand up at the right moment.

    3. Challenge yourself and know your limits. Surfing can be a big step outside of your comfort zone, especially for people who have never lived near the ocean or spent much time in one. As long as you are being taught by trained professionals who know when it is and isn't safe, you will be okay - you can trust their judgement. Odds are you will be learning in small and gentle waves, where the consequences of falling off the board are far worse in your imagination than in real life. You're also bound to start in shallow water, so your ability to swim long distances won't be stretched. Fear is not a negative thing – it keeps people sensible. But you have to get out there to reap the benefits, so be sure to challenge yourself. Once you ride a wave, you'll forget all about your initial fears.

      If you aren't happy with the size of the waves, the roughness of the sea or something inside of you starts screaming, "Not today!" then rather give it a skip. Paddling out in conditions that you know aren't right for you can be traumatising and will often spoil the surfing experience. Wait for a sunny and calm day, when you feel happy to put yourself in the water and make up for lost time then.

    4. Put the time in. It's going to take a while to get it right. Most people start off riding foamies or broken waves, which are great for getting the feel of lying on a board. But to progress from there you'll need to take off on unbroken waves, which takes some getting used to. Odds are you'll be having the time of your life while going through this, but if you start to feel a bit frustrated just remember that practice makes perfect and everyone starts off at the bottom of a ladder. The view only gets better as you climb higher up the rungs.

    5. Pick your location. Look for a place that makes you feel happy and comfortable. There is no point in trying to surf on the coldest day of the year while touring Norway's coast if you don't like cold water. Think of the conditions that make you happy when spending a day outside, and use that as a guide. Locally, Cornwall during the summer is the perfect place for most people – think of a warm day with calm seas.

    6. Stay centered. Once you are lying on the board in the water, fight the urge to lie further back on your board. This might feel like the safest way to lie down, but it's a common misconception. You want to be in the centre of the deck (the top of the surfboard) for a number of reasons: to stand in the correct place when you are on a wave, and to help you see if someone is in front of you.

    7. Practice surfing etiquette. If you are at a beach where other surfers are in the water, know the rules before you paddle out. DO NOT drop in on another surfer's wave, steal the inside while waiting for waves or get in the way of someone who is already up and riding. For a full explanation of surfing etiquette, please follow the link to our blog on surfing etiquette.

    8. Prepare to get hooked. Nothing feels like surfing - nothing quite compares. The thrill of riding a wave is better than money, power, winning, love or any chemically induced high. It's a dorky cliché to fall back on all the things you hear surfers say in B-grade Hollywood movies, but it feels that good. That's the long and short of it. Once you start and get hooked on the rush of riding waves, you're in it for the long haul.

  • Don't

    1. Don't forget sunblock! The sun kills more surfers than sharks, currents, big waves and accidents put together. Don't be a cowboy and assume your skin can handle the glare – it can't. Always remember to wear sun cream when you're spending time in the sea. For more information, check out our How To Stay Safe In The Sun guide.

    2. Don't be hard on yourself. If you speak to almost any seasoned surfer, they'll tell you that learning to surf is one of the best phases in surfing. Falling over, getting dunked and being on the same level as all your friends is when you'll make some of your best memories.

Last Updated: July 2012

Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.