You want to know how to surf like a pro? Get a board. Find some waves. Attach a leash to your back ankle, and paddle out to the break to sit on your board, shoot the shit with your fellow surfers, and wait for some barrels.
Sound way too easy? It is and it isn’t. Surfing is one of the most compelling extreme sports out there because it is that simple. All you need is a board, a leash, and the sea… but learning how to pop up, where to sit in the line up, what gear to invest in or borrow, and how to catch that wave at exactly the right moment can prove challenging.
Here’s a quick and easy guide on how to surf.
Are you learning how to surf in Cornwall or Hawaii? It matters because, depending on the water temperature, you’re either going to need a wetsuit or a tiny pair of board shorts. If you’re in colder climates, you’ll need a long sleeved, thick wetsuit.
Wetsuits are always measured in mm, with two numbers indicating their thickness – a 5/4 with boots, gloves and hood should work for the coldest temperatures. For California in the winter (58-63 degrees F) you can survive with a 5/4 or 4/3, and for anything warmer than that, you can wear either a full 3/2 suit or a “shorty” depending on your personal preference.
Don’t overlook wetsuits – investing in the right one can be really important. I’ve missed out on several winters of surfing because I didn’t have anything above a 3/2 and I find the cold really hard to deal with. Certain suits – like Patagonia – are well loved by surfers because they have a lifetime money back guarantee. They’re expensive investments though….
Everyone tells you to learn on a longboard, defined as a board which is 8 feet or over. This is because as unwieldy as this board feels when you’re trying to balance it on your head or under your arm and make it to the water, as soon as you get in the water it’s like a large, easy-to-balance-on boat. You can do handstands on that thing.
Sure, I’ve met the odd alien who learned how to surf on a short board of 6 feet and below – it’s definitely possible. But the learning curve with a longboard will be way quicker and you’ll get way more of a feel for the waves, and get your balance quicker, with a longboard.
Lots of beginners borrow foam boards when they’re starting out – it’s not a bad idea because when the board whacks you in the face – as it inevitably will – it’s not gonna hurt. I bought a beat-up old foam longboard from a surf school as my first board, and then graduated to a ‘real’ board once I’d had a couple of knocks and didn’t feel so afraid of the…
The waves are intimidating. What seems to you on land a small and trifling little ripple, suddenly becomes a ferocious and enormous barrel when it’s bearing down upon your head.
Watch experienced surfers. Notice how they’ll spend a minute or so sitting on the beach, watching the pattern of the waves, trying to find the moment when they can paddle out, trying to find some method in madness, some kind of discernible pattern and form.
Surfing is meditative. Take that time to listen to the sea before you paddle out. Once you’re out and you’re past the break, sit on your board and feel the waves, the current and the ocean. Don’t just plunge into the first swell which comes your way.
Continuing on this theme of watching and waiting, it’s a great idea to practice your paddle out and pop up several times on land before your try it on water. The pop up, in case you’re wondering, is the quick, decisive jump from lying down on the board, to assuming your wide legged straddle which will help you control the board.
A good rule of thumb for positioning your body on the board correctly for the paddle-out is to reach your hands to the front of the board. Your fingertips should just brush the nose of the board. If your hands are way over, you’re too far forward and you’re going to nose dive into the wave. If too far back, you’ll never get enough speed or trajectory to catch the wave.
Finding out where you should lie on the board is really important. Many beginners find a minor adjustment could have saved them hours of wasted effort.
Once you’ve found out this magic spot, you need to utilize your abs and your arms to grab hold of the rails, and bring those knees right underneath you, landing on your feet like a ninja. What’s that? It’s hard? Then you’re doing it right….
Once you’ve find the right position for your body, you’ll start to paddle out. Your feet need to be streamlined behind you (if you’re on a short board, you may be able to kick out to help) otherwise all the effort is in your arms and shoulders.
Keep your fingers together, and keep the movement of your arms coming from your back and shoulders, not simply your elbows. Push the water underneath your palms as you move forward.
If you get caught in the whitewash and a wave is bearing down upon you, turtle upside down by simply grabbing hold of the sides of your board – the rails – and flipping over so the wash simply passes over you. Then turn right-side up again and keep paddling forward until you’re past the break and into flat water.
Don’t just paddle out to a bunch of surfers and position yourself in front of everyone else as you’re not gonna be popular.
Short boarders will go in front of long boarders as they will catch the wave when it’s right on top of them. Long boarders need to swim to catch the wave. You’re going to end up at the back of the line up as you just arrived, so use that time to observe what everyone else is doing, and wait for the right wave for your skill level.
Paddle out. Wait. Swim to catch the wave. Pop up. Ride. Repeat. Keep doing that and it’ll get easier and easier, and before you know it – you’re surfing. That is how to surf.
Feature image: Flickr