The Ultimate Surfing Guide for Beginners
Here’s our easy to read guide to help you ride those incredible waves.
By Mathew S. Chan
March 13, 2017
Surfing is a popular surface watersport where a wave rider, also known as a surfer, rides on the forward movement of a wave to the shore. It’s an exhilarating sport that requires both upper and lower body strength, patience, and a strong will. It is not the easiest activity to try and master, but with enough work and dedication, it can be a lot of fun and give you a different kind of thrill beyond anything you’ve experienced.
There are a lot of factors to consider before you can surf like knowing the different types of waves and temperatures and the kinds of surfboards. Read on for a crash course about this incredible sport to help you get started.
Know the waves and the water
There are many types of waves, and knowing them can help you ride them better. These types include reef breaks, which break over coral reefs and rock shelves making them predictable and easy to ride; point breaks, where the waves crash onto any pointed surface creating a barrelling wave; and beach breaks, which break over sandbars, making them easier to ride and great for beginners.
Once you are familiar with the waves, the next thing to do is to figure out if they have a pattern. Try to locate where the wave breaks so you can surf more waves. Pay attention to its direction as well as the tide and wind speed. If you feel overwhelmed or lost, you can ask for help from veteran surfers or get tips if you have an instructor. Also note if there are any rocks along path, which can pose dangers when you go surfing.
The next thing you should be aware of is when the waves or “on” or “off” season. If you are a beginner, it’s best to try surfing during the “off” season as there are fewer people and the beaches are less crowded. The waves aren’t also that significantly different during “on” season. It is also best to surf in warmer waters found in tropical countries like the Philippines because you don’t have to put on a wet suit to keep you warm, which is additional weight on your body.
Let’s get physical
We’re not going to lie: surfing is a physically demanding sport, and if you go unprepared, you will regret it. It is best to exercise and build up upper body and arm strength as you will need to paddle out into the ocean. Besides doing push ups and arm exercises, it is also recommended to go out in a pool or the ocean and swim. Get familiar with the water so you can get used to it. It will be much easier, both mentally and physically, once you start paddling out in the wide ocean, which could get overwhelming at times.
Another important skill to develop is balance. You’ll need to be able to stand up on your board and ride the wave to actually surf, and it’s incredibly difficult if you have no practice or aren’t used to it. It is advisable to practice your balance at least one month if possible before surfing. You can use equipment like a balance disc, a bosu ball, or an Indo board to help practice your balance, the better. It might not give you an accurate simulation but at least you’ll have something that will aid you in making your body adjust once you are already riding the waves.
Beyond the paddling and maintaining balance, the mobility and power to jump from lying on your belly to standing on the board is another essential skill that you will need. This move is simply called pop up, and you can repeatedly do the movement on your board to practice this. This exercise will improve your endurance as well.
And of course, your surfboard
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the waves and some of the skills needed, it’s time to find the perfect board for you. Generally speaking, if you are only starting out, it is best to get a long board. Long boards (anything over seven to eight feet) are easier to paddle with and stand on but will be restrictive with movements. Meanwhile, short boards (anything between five to six and a half feet) are harder to stand on but are easier to maneuver.
It is highly advisable for beginners to go for longer boards. Rule of thumb: the length of your board from tail (back of the board) to nose (front of the board) should be at least your height plus three feet. So if your height is 5’6, then a long board that is 8 to 8’6 would be perfect for you. As you get the hang of paddling and standing up on your board as you surf, you can slowly switch to smaller boards until you can settle with something that you can maneuver better.
Most short boards are made of hard polyurethane fiberglass while long boards come in both fiberglass as well as foam soft-tops, which are more durable and safer for beginners. Soft-top boards don’t require waxing but if you have fiberglass board, it is important that you apply wax on the deck of the board properly so that your feet has a sticky surface to stand on, which will prevent you from slipping off your board. Wax is available in any surf shop. Make sure to get the one that is appropriate for the temperature of the water you will be surfing on.
As mentioned above, if you will be surfing in cold waters, it’s best to invest in a wet suit to keep you warm and prevent you from getting hypothermia. It’s also best to buy bikinis and board shorts that are specifically made for surfing as the ocean can be powerful enough to rip off any regular type of swimsuit. Now you don’t want to be surfing in the nude, don’t you?
If you will be surfing under the scorching sun, then consider getting a rash guard that will help protect you from harsh UV rays as well as help to stop your body from sticking on the wax of your board when you paddle. It’s also best to get high-quality sunscreen in the convenient stick form, preferably with zinc-oxide because it leaves a white residue on your skin that gives extra protection from the harsh rays of the sun.
Surfing is an endurance sport that requires you to be as hydrated as possible. Because you’ll be in the water most of the time, you won’t have a lot of chances to rehydrate so it’s best to make sure you’re fully hydrated before heading to the water. It’s also advisable to carbo-load the night before and get a good night’s sleep. If you don’t have enough energy, you will find yourself tapping out before you can even ride a single wave.
When you are just starting out, remember that one to two hours should be enough for a surf session. In most cases, completing a two-hour session on your first day is already a huge achievement. A professional surfer can go as long as six hours, but aim to complete three to four hours first once those two-hour sessions have become your usual. Take note that the more you surf and the more you get used to the waves, the more your body will adjust. You must also stay in shape as this is vital to your endurance.
Remember to also surf as much as you can when you get the chance. In a country like the Philippines, the surfing hotspots are just there, but not everyone can simply travel to the coastal areas and live the life of a surfer. Just like every hobby and sport, surfing requires your commitment, perseverance, and patience if you want to be good at it. And once you’re out there conquering the waves, you can consider the big and blue sea as your playground.