Goals of First Time Surfing

What to Remember

The goal of your first surfing experience is get a feel for the process. You want to find some success – enough to keep you coming back. Here’s the most important thing to remember about your first time surfing:

The outcome of your first surfing experience is in no way an indicator of your potential as a surfer.

Too many people try surfing, have a horrible first experience, and decided it’s not for them. They think

  1. “I’m not a natural”
  2. “It’s just not my thing”
  3. “My body’s not made for that”
  4. “I don’t have the balance.”

Catch a Wave

The first time you go surfing you’re trying to catch a wave. Your first wave will set the tone for the rest of your surfing. You’ll spend the rest of your surf career chasing the thrill of that first successful wave. You’ll remember it forever.

Stand Up On a Wave

First time surfers put a lot of pressure on being able to stand up on a wave. You should try to stand up only because it’s fun and exciting. But, your ability to stand up the first time you surf is no indicator of your surfing potential. Too many people get discouraged when they’re unable to stand up the first time they surf. This is ridiculous. Your ability to stand up has very little baring on your potential as a surfer.

The Goal is to Have Fun

What’s the goal for your first surf experience? Have fun. Any skill worth learning requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. The people who stick to learning a skill for a long period of time are usually the ones who have early wins. You need to enjoy your surfing experience to keep you motivated for your next 100 sessions.

Learn the Cycle of Surfing

There is a cycle to surfing that’s not obvious before you experience it. Every experienced surfer is always at one stage of the cycle. As an experienced surfer you should always be thinking: “What cycle stage am I at now?” The cycle is this:

  1. Paddling Out
  2. Adjusting Position
  3. Chasing a Wave
  4. Surfing a Wave

Your first surf experience is your opportunity to learn this cycle. Watch other surfers in the water and observe how they seamlessly move through this cycle. You should always be in one stage of the cycle.

Ideal Surfing Conditions

If you have the choice, you want your first surfing experience to happen in ideal conditions. Ideal conditions for your first surfing experience are a combination of light offshore winds and long breaking gentle waves.

Light Offshore or No Wind

Surfing conditions are very dependent on the wind, which can change minute to minute. Surfers describe wind much like sailors. Surfers categorize wind by direction; off-shore and on-shore. Off-shore wind is wind that blows towards the ocean from the land. On-shore wind is wind that blows towards land from the ocean. Experienced surfers pray for ‘glassy’ conditions or light off-shore wind. Glassy means no wind at all. When there’s no wind, the waves have a smooth flat surface that looks like glass. Glassy conditions are great for surfing because your rides are smooth and clean. You never hit turbulence in glassy conditions. This makes maneuvers much easier. Alternatively, another great wind condition is light off-shore wind. Light off-shore winds are great because they strike the face of waves and work to hold them up. With light off-shore wind waves stay vertical longer, giving you more distance to surf and great vertical walls for maneuvers.

The worst wind condition for surfing is strong on-shore winds. When the wind is blowing towards the shore it topples waves over early makes them crumble. This is the opposite effect of light off-shore winds. When the wind is on-shore, the waves break early, never get very vertical, and consistently close out.

Aim for no wind or light off-shore wind. But also be aware the wind can change quickly. What starts off as a good session can quickly get ugly if the wind changes in direction or power.

Also be aware, wind is usually very dependent on the time of day.

Long-Breaking Gentle Waves

One of the most important decisions you can make for your first surf experience is choosing the right surfing location. You want to find a wave that breaks in water that’s at least four (4) feet deep. You want to find a wave that breaks gently and for a long distance. Your first surfing location should be a wave that breaks by crumbling at the top and dribbles down the face, not plunging from the top towards the bottom. This can be hard to recognize on your own. Your best bet is to ask experienced surfers where a good beginner wave is. On Oahu, the best waves for learning are in Waikiki and White Plains (or wherever your local friends take you).

Surf Equipment: What You Need To Get Started

Longboard – Longer the Better

I want to make this clear:

There is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t start surfing on a longboard. At minimum, your first 100 sessions should be on a longboard.

“But I can skate/snowboard already” – it doesn’t matter. Your ability to balance on a shortboard isn’t worth squat. The only way to become a better surfer is to get more waves, so you need to start with a wave-catching handicap. A longboard will get you more waves. It will make it easier to catch waves and help conserve energy paddling back out. Further, your ability to catch waves on a shortboard is not indicative of your skill level. An experienced surfer makes his/her board selection on a wave and condition basis. The benefits to starting to surf on a longboard are numerous. For now, just trust me.

Preparation & Land Practice For Surfing

Stretching Before You Surf

Before you jump in the water you should warm up and stretch. Surfing is a very physical activity. It doesn’t look like it is because you’re lying down. But surfing is extremely taxing on your arms, shoulders, and core. Try to do some light jogging or jumping jacks on the beach to warm up. Then stretch out your shoulders, arms, back, and hips.

Practicing Paddling Form

When you paddle, alternate strokes. Some people try to start by paddling with both arms at the same time, and they wear themselves out fast. Keep your shoulders square. Do not let your shoulders sink down with your stroke. If you droop your shoulders when you paddle you’ll quickly feel shoulder pain.

Practicing Popup Form

Here comes the part that freaks most people out: the popup. You’ve probably seen people practicing this on land. They start to do a push up and then violently slam their feet down on the board. This is a recipe for loosing your balance.

The most important part of your popup is grace. We want to go from laying down to standing on two feet, as gently and gracefully as possible.

First, the stance we’re aiming for is different then you’d expect. Here is perfect popup form for your first time surfing:

  • Both feet close to the outside edges of the board without hanging off the side
  • Front foot pointed straight forward, parallel to the board
  • Back foot turned 45 degrees out towards the edge
  • BOTH FEET FLAT
  • Knees bent
  • Chest lunging forward
  • Arms spread for balance
  • Eyes looking forward (not down at your feet)

Wave Channel Scoping

After you find a wave recommended for beginners, you should spend some time observing it. Watch where the wave breaks and what direction it breaks in. Watch other experienced surfers get in and out of the water.

Most importantly, find the channel. A channel is a section of the wave where it’s safer to paddle out. At some waves, the channel is completely flat. At other waves, the channel is filled with white wash or smaller breaking waves. The channel is you safely paddle out to the wave.

Paddling Out

Entering The Water With Your Board

After you’ve practiced on land, and found the channel, it’s time to paddle out.

Stop 10 yards from the shore line and put your leash on. Hold the slack of the leash in your hand while you enter the water, so you don’t trip on it.

Walk all the way into the water. Don’t set your board down until you’re absolutely sure no part of the board or the fin will touch the sand or ocean floor.

At first, set your board down upside down. Let the ocean water cool the wax on the deck of your board in case the sun melted any of it. If you jump straight on, it will smear across your chest.

Pull yourself up onto your board and start paddling.

Distance Paddling Technique

As you paddle out try to keep some of your energy reserved. Paddling tires most people because they have bad form. Keep your head and chest up, and don’t over extend your shoulders. Your shoulders should stay square and not sway side-to-side.

If it’s your first time, you’re guaranteed to be tired. This is what your first couple times surfing will be like. It will take everything you have to get that first wave. And then you just hope the adrenaline from the wave motivates you to go get another one.

Following the Channel Paddling Out

When you paddle out, make sure you stay in the channel (where it’s safe to paddle out). There might be a slight current so you need to keep checking your position in the water and adjust.

Every minutes check to be sure you’re still in the channel.

Avoiding Collisions With Other Surfers

Avoiding collisions is really tough for beginners. It’s tough because beginners aren’t good at predicting the movements of other surfers. Your best bet for avoiding collisions is to stay in the channel and stay alert. If you think another surfer might hit you, ditch your board. It’s that simple.

Ditching Your Surfboard

Ditching a surfboard is when you get off the board, push it out of the way, and swim down under a wave (and probably another surfer). There are two reasons to ditch your board.

First, ditch your board when you’re sure someone is going to run into you, the safest place to be is deep under water. Of course, they’ll probably still hit your board and ding it. But this is part of surfing.

Second, ditch your board when you’re sure you can’t paddle out through the oncoming wave. It still happens to all of us. You’re out on a big day, and an ugly set rears it’s head out the back. You know you’re too deep to duck dive or paddle through it. Your only option is to ditch the board and swim to the bottom.

Of course, on your first day surfing, you won’t need to swim to the bottom. You can just duck your head a couple feet under water and you’ll be fine.

BUT when you ditch your board you need to remember the board is going to thrash and then come back at you (it’s attached). When you come up after ditching you need to protect your head, in case your board is still air born or moving.

You’ll never stop ditching your board. You’ll probably do it your first time in the water. And 5 years later when you’re pushing yourself on a big wave day, you’ll get caught inside and ditch your board for the 100th time.

Positioning Yourself in The Waves

Understanding Wave Priority

Priority is a difficult concept in surfing. The problem is, it differs a lot by geography.

Here’s a general rule: the surfer farthest out, and closest to the peak, has priority to catch the wave. When a surfer takes off on a wave that another surfer (with priority) is already riding, it’s called dropping in—and it’s the biggest mistake you can make surfing.