Surfing’s not quite like anything else. The playing field is never quite the same from one day to the next so you never quite know what challenges you’ll face and it can seem like an uphill battle. It also offers unique rewards, and the first time you stand up and ride a wave this becomes super clear, but the learning process is much quicker if you have a few things straight before you start.
So if 2017 is the year you will learn to surf, we’ve come up with 7 ways to get you off to the best possible start.
Surfing is all about attitude, which doesn’t mean you have to learn to say “gnarly” a lot and call everyone “dude”. Positive thinking, respect and determination are what make the difference, and as long as you know your limits and stay safe, you have nothing to fear.
You don’t have to be brilliant straight away – you won’t be – but you should be positive, confident and focused. ‘I can’t’ is no good in the ocean. You must. Don’t flap around giving it a try - get stuck in.
Get your head on right before you get in the water and you will find your progress is much quicker, and you will get much more from the whole experience. Respect for other ocean goers and ocean dwellers and an appreciation of the ancient and noble art you are about to be a part of is a good place to start. Surf with Aloha. Leave your stresses at home and surf with peace and positivity.
You don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer to learn to surf, but you should be able to swim confidently. You’ll need to swim to safety if you get separated from your board, and more importantly you should feel comfortable in the water and enjoy it so you don’t get scared and won’t panic when you’re out of your depth.
Whether or not to take lessons is a question which splits people into two camps. Some people will tell you to just grab a board and get out there, and others will disagree, insisting you’ll learn much quicker with a few expert pointers to start you off. It depends on the type of person you are; only you know how you learn best, but we recommend a lesson - from a surf school or a friend - to get you going. A good surf instructor will help you with balance and positioning, get you paddling properly and teach you about wave action, all things which will soon become second nature but are difficult to grasp at first. When you have a good basic knowledge, everything else will make sense much more quickly.
Something an instructor will want to find out straight away is if you are regular or goofy. Don’t be offended, it’s not a personal question, it refers to the way you stand on a board and you don’t need an expert to tell you, you can find out on your own right now. Stand up, and let yourself start to fall backwards. Instinctively you will stick a foot backwards to stop yourself from falling – the foot you have moved back is the foot you need to have at the back of your board. Alternatively, put on a pair of socks and take a run up at a shiny floor – the way you skid is the way you will stand on your board. Regular footers have their right foot at the back and for goofy footers it’s left. You are what you are – and you must find out before you start. Learning to surf on the wrong foot will be as useful as trying to write with the wrong hand – uncomfortable and messy.
Before you hit the waves you’ll need…
Obviously! A mini mal is a good board to start on as it provides plenty of width and lots of float, both of which help you get to grips with the basics. Avoid anything short and pointy at all costs.
Wetsuits are almost always necessary in the UK. They come in a variety of thicknesses and qualities and a good one is not particularly cheap, but when you realise you’re paying for a technical, highly developed piece of kit which can make it possible to surf in icy water it suddenly becomes worth it. And if you look after your wetsuit it will last for ages.
The leash is a long, plastic cord which joins you to your board. One end attaches firmly to the back of your board and stays there, and the other end should be velcroed securely around your back ankle every time you enter the water. A leash is vital when you are learning, for your own safety as it stops you and your board becoming separated, and for the safety of others as it prevents your board shooting off and spearing children in the head
With the exception of softdecks, surfboards are shiny on top and very slippery when wet. This doesn’t help you stay aboard, so you need to rub a layer of wax onto the top of the board (only the top – never the bottom) to give yourself some grip. The feeling of waxing up a shiny new surfboard is one of the great pleasures in life – allow people to give you advice but never let them do it for you! You'll need to rub a small amount of wax on your board pretty much every time you go out in the water; a better alternative is to grab yourself a wax comb and use this to scuff up the wax already there.
You don’t need to splash out on expensive gear straight away if you don’t want to – most surf spots in the UK have shops where you can hire a learner board and wetsuit, and the people in the shop will be able to advise on the right kit for you. Whichever you decide, treat your equipment with respect and don’t drag your board down the beach – make sure the leash is securely fastened around the board and carry it tucked under your arm. If you can’t carry it, it’s too big.
You can practice surfing before you leave your house, which will help you visualise what you’ll be aiming for in the water. A pop up is what gets you from lying on your board to standing on it, so to practice this begin by lying on the floor on your belly with your arms by your sides. This is you lying on your board in the water. Bring your hands up to your chest, board-width apart, and push your chest strongly up off the floor as if in preparation for a press-up. Then, in one smooth movement, leap to your feet by drawing them up and under your body, and planting them into the surfing position. This isn’t easy, but if you can’t do it, practice – it gets harder when your board is moving underneath you and you are trying to keep your balance, propel yourself forward and check for other surfers at the same time!
Have we missed anything? Let us know!