How Dangerous is Surfing? Will A Shark Eat Me?

by Feb 28, 20230 comments

6-8 Minute Read

Surfing is a thrilling sport that provides an adrenaline rush like no other. However, it’s important to remember that it can be dangerous for beginners and is not without risks.

Surfing in itself is not necessarily a dangerous sport, but the ocean can be unpredictable and can pose many dangers for less experienced beach-goers. Powerful currents and waves can knock you off your board even for advanced surfers – leaving you at the mercy of the sea.

It’s essential to be aware of the potential dangers before embarking on a surfing adventure.

It’s crucial to learn how to read the ocean and try to reduce the risks to make surfing fun and safe at the same time.  Therefore, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions to stay safe – it can be as simple as just surfing with a friend.

So, have you ever wanted to start surfing as a beginner surfer? Are you put off by the dangers? Or have you wondered how surfers ride such huge waves at Nazare, Portugal?

In this article all about the dangers of surfing we unpack everything you need to know.

How Dangerous is Surfing

The Risks and Dangers In Surfing

So how dangerous is surfing really? Like really?

It is important to understand the risks associated with surfing before you get started as a beginner surfer. The most obvious risk is from drowning in the ocean. In order to stay safe while surfing its important to know your own level and limitations – if the waves are huge and you have only surfed once, then maybe sit this one out!

You will also need to learn about rip currents and know how to spot them. Getting stuck in a current can be scary, especially if you do not know what to do.

If you find yourself in a current, the best advice is to not try to paddle or swim directly into the current, but try to go across it to get out of the torrent. Here’s a great video explaining it all below.


Is Surfing Dangerous For First Timers?

You are unlikely to get into trouble when you are immediately starting out, as everything will be new and you will be taking extra care. The risks of surfing normally become more prevalent once you have had a few surfs – a few of the dangers and hazards are listed below.

Risk Of Drowning

So, yes there is a risk of drowning at any beach. Make sure you can swim if you want to go surfing, and please surf safely and within your own limits. Try to be aware of your surroundings, and try to surf in conditions that suit your ability.

There is a real risk from drowning – People die every year, and most often these deaths can be avoided if precautions had been taken.

Risks of surfing - drowning

Other Surfers in the Water

Surfing can often be less dangerous when you n a small group – if you are at a crowded beach with a lot of surf schools, collisions WILL happen. If you find yourself in a crowded lineup, try to not catch every wave you can and use a bit of common sense.

Also, never surf alone when you are just starting out. If you fall off your board and your leash snaps you can get into trouble quite quickly.

Surf etiquette is also very important – don’t take all of the waves, make sure you share the waves with other people who, surf and learn and master the drop-in rule. 

Dangers of surfing - wipeouts


Top of the list for an injury riding a wave is from a wipeout. It’s easy to break bones, hit your head on the board, or get sliced by your fin if you are new to surfing – I guess most people have to learn the hard way and actually learn to surf better without falling onto your board or onto other surfers!

As a beginner surfer, always wear a leash so your board does not fly away and hit someone – because trust me, it hurts!

A busy beach can be dangerous

Other Swimmers and Surfers

Oftentimes there will be people swimming where you would like to be surfing. and the more crowded it is, the more dangerous it becomes. Be mindful of others around you and if you are on a surfboard, whether it is a foamie or a regular fibregalss board, either can do damage to someone in the breaking waves.

Try to enjoy the sport and let waves go by if there are people in your way. So many times I have seen beginners try to catch waves when they are clearly going to hit someone – You have to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk to catch that wave.

If there are lifeguards on the beach, you will need to surf in the dedicated surfing area – and please listen to the lifeguards because they probably know better than you do!

Getting Caught in a Rip Current

This is one of the scariest scenarios and one of the real dangers in the sport of surfing. As the waves, and water move towards the shore, that water needs to escape back out to sea. If the water is rushing out quickly, the water can form into a rip current or rip. Many surfers will have experienced being caught in a rip in their lives – An in fact experienced and professional surfers will utilize a rip to get out the back more easily.

But if you are a beginner, it’s best to try to avoid rips and go to a surf break without obvious rip currents.

Surf Schools

Aren’t these supposed to improve my skill level? Well, yes, but if you are out surfing alone of with some buddies, a gang of beginner surfers in a surf school can be a hazard believe it or not. Some people think surfing isn’t going to be difficult, and as such do not have a sufficient fear of the ocean environment. Add to this a level of wanting to compete with their fellow classmates and you have a recipe for potential collisions and injury.

My advice: Don’t surf near a surf school if they happen to enter the water. Ok, you may have to sacrifice a few waves, but it will be worth it in the long run!

Surf schools - stay out of the way!

Cold Water Surfing

This is another danger involved in surfing – sometimes its not all about sunscreen and boardshorts. People surf in the cold climates of Norway, Canada and South America too. If you’re gonna surf where the water is cold, you need to have the proper gear. A good wetsuit, booties, gloves and even a hood to keep you warm.

And when you start to feel cold, it’s best to call it a day – you don’t want to end up on the bottom of the ocean!

Surfing in cold water can be dangerous

Reefs Rocks and Boulders

Another danger for the average surfer is hitting a reef – be it live coral, rock or anything hard basically! Getting a cut when you are surfing is very common – if you have ever touched a live coral reef you will know what I am talking about! They can be razor sharp and the slightest tap with soft skin will cause you to bleed a lot.

If you do cut yourself on a tropical reef this guide is a great resource.

Tropical reefs are notoriously sharp

Shark-Infested Waters

Ok, so will you get eaten by a shark? Will a shark attack you? According to this website there are only around 5 humans killed each year by a shark. And only around 72 shark attacks per year. Even if these numbers are conservative – you could argue some attacks would go unreported, the chances of you being eaten by a shark are pretty slim.

What is way more common for beginner and experienced surfers is a sting from a weaver fish laying on the ocean floor, or from a  jellyfish in shallow water.

So, sharks try to love them and not fear them – after all, you’re playing in their back yard.

Sharks - the number 1 fear

Contaminated Water

This is another REAL threat to your health. I know in some US cities, people are reluctant to surf immediately after the rain, especially in California where it is normally pretty dry. The reason is that the rainwater washes contaminants into the ocean. You will probably not die, but getting sick with a sore throat or diarrhea is not the best outcome from simply going for a surf.

Check with locals if you suspect the water is dodgy.

Dangers of surfing - contaminated water

Big Wave Surfing

So if you are a beginner surfer, the chances are you are not going to be surfing huge waves to start off. Big wave surfing is an extreme sport that requires a lot of courage and skill, but it’s not without its dangers. But let’s look at some information.

Drowning from surfing big waves is actually very, very rare – the top big wave surfers use a whole host of safety measures these days. Things like wearing flotation devices, surfing with a partner, and improved breathwork techniques all mitigate the chances of severe injury when surfing big waves.

It is very difficult to keep an official tally on the numbers, but according to this article there have only been a handful of people drown whilst surfing -doing what they love.

Final Thoughts

If you are a good swimmer and you want to learn to surf you are already off to a good start. Studying the way the ocean changes each day is one of the addictive things for me as a surfer – and it keeps you coming back to ride the waves day after day. 

Besides being in the mountains, I don’t think there is a ‘sport’ that compares to surfing and becoming a master of the ocean. It’s a never-ending place of learning and growth, so don’t be too put off by the dangers of surfing – get out there and give it a go!

And if you do, please hit us up and let us know on Instagram or Facebook or ping us an email at [email protected] we’d love to hear from you!

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