How To Surf – The Ultimate Guide

by Feb 5, 20210 comments

There aren’t many hobbies that combine an adrenaline rush with relaxation, but surfing seems to be an exception. The ocean’s charm and unpredictability offer an experience that no other sport, recreation, or pastime can replicate, let alone rival.

If you’re looking to get into surfing, read on to learn how to surf – we’ve compiled the ultimate guide for you!

Contents

  • Beginner Surfboards
  • Different Types of Surfboards
  • How to Paddle a Surfboard
  • How to Catch a Wave
  • How to Pop Up on a Surfboard
  • Riding a Wave
  • How to Duckdive
  • Surf Exercises for Beginners
  • Surfing with Contact Lenses
  • Do I need a Wetsuit
  • What to Wear Under a Wetsuit
  • Final Thoughts

BEGINNER SURFBOARDS

All beginner surfboards these days are made with a foam top or soft top, hence the name ‘foamie’ or ‘soft-top’. The primary reason they have this foam layer over top is for safety – as a beginner surfer, you will certainly bash yourself on your board, and probably bash into other surfers too! You are much more likely to do some damage using a hard fibreglass board compared to a soft foamie surfboard. 

Most foamies will also have softer, more flexible fins on the bottom – again, this is primarily due to the safety factor. If you have ever seen a large surfboard fin, or skeg, as they used to called back in the day, they look pretty similar to the scythe of the grim reaper! Pretty sketchy in the wrong hands!

SURFBOARD SIZE

Generally, bigger surfboards allow newbies to better control how they balance themselves in the ocean -when catching waves and also when paddling out to the surf. As such, beginners should start with a big board. Anyone less than 6ft tall will have a better chance of surfing with a 7ft to 8ft board, while taller and/or bigger surfers should opt for 8’6, 9’0 or even up to 10′ in length.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SURFBOARDS

Even from the beginning, there have been all manner of surfboards and craft us humans have used for fun in the ocean. For a quick peek into how it all started, check out our article on The History of Surfing.

We’ve listed the main different types of surfboards you will come across below.

THE LONGBOARD

As the name implies, longboards are surfboards that are, well, long. Traditionally known also as a Malibu Board due to its popularity at the classic Californian surf spot Malibu Point. If you want to be picky, a longboard must be over nine feet (you can’t enter a longboard contest if your board is 8’11). These boards sport a blunt or rounded nose, generally a wide tail with lots of width and thickness through the centre. 

Perfect for new and intermediate surfers, these boards are highly buoyant and are packed with a lot of foam. As a result, these boards enter waves swiftly and are easy to paddle with. While longboards are slow and cumbersome to turn, they’re stable and allow anyone to ride on them seamlessly and comfortably with practice.

THE SHORTBOARD

Arguably the most popular surfboard type at the moment, you’ll notice that the majority of surfboards people use today are about 6ft or thereabouts. Although these boards are easy to turn and respond to large and small waves quickly, these can be challenging to paddle, and take a lifetime to master.

THE FISH

While fish surfboards are generally smaller in length than regular shortboards, they are wider from tail to nose. Because of their size and volume, they generate better speed in small to average waves and allow better control for any surfer. The outline or Silhouette of the board resembles a fish, hence the name.   

THE MINI MALIBU OR MINI MAL

Also referred to as a funboard, the Mini Mal is a fusion of a shortboard and a longboard. Typically ranging between seven to eight feet, these boards are best for beginner and intermediate surfers. Really easy to paddle, but a little more manoeuvrability than a longboard.

THE GUN OR BIG GUN 

Specifically designed for big waves, guns are long surfboards that allow surfers to paddle quickly and catch huge, powerful waves. Because they’re pretty long, typically 8ft plus, they’re not easy to duckdive, and can be difficult to turn due to their sheer length.  They incorporate a ‘pin tail’ which means the end of the board is drawn to a narrow point – great for slicing turns into large, open faced waves. 

THE STAND UP PADDLE BOARD OR SUP

Closely resembling a longboard, a standup paddleboard is, as the name hints, a paddleboard that allows surfers to propel themselves through the water with a paddle by standing up. SUPs are made with fiberglass and epoxy and sport thick, wide builds. Typically between nine to twelve feet, some SUPs are manufactured as an inflatable to help with storage and transportation.

HOW TO PADDLE A SURFBOARD

Surfing properly begins with paddling properly. Arguably one of the most crucial components of surfing, your paddling technique is key to smooth surfing progression. The better you paddle, the more waves you will catch and the better you will be at surfing. 

Keep your head still

When your head is still, it’s much easier to balance your whole body, drastically impacting your speed and efficacy on the ocean. If your head moves in one direction, other parts of your body augment that movement. In other words, when your head is still, so is the rest of your body.

Keep your elbows high

This technique is crucial as it affects your propulsion and ability to glide smoothly through the waves without dragging too much. When your elbows are kept high it’s much easier for you to keep your hands and forearms in a vertical position, allowing you to push yourself forward for a longer duration.

Core Positioning

Make sure to properly position your body on the centre of the board. Look forward, arch your back, and raise your chest as much as possible. Important: Remember to engage your core, pull your chest away from the surface of your board and try to curve your back – it will be difficult at first, and you will be tempted to slouch and relax, but the more you practice paddling, the more core strength you will gain. It’s pretty common for beginner surfers to say that after a surf sesh, they are aching in places they never knew they had muscles!

Keep your feet and legs together

As your hand enters the water, keep your shoulders high and bend your arm as you reach for the stroke. By forcefully pushing underwater, complete a controlled stroke with one arm and stretch all the way back.

As the first arm is about to complete its turn, let It relax and recover to allow a shift in your body weight to give way for your opposite arm to do the same.

Hand position

Some people say to keep your hands closely cupped together to prevent any water from sliding between your fingers. We would recommend a lightly cupped hand position – keep your fingers relaxed but fairly close together – don’t worry too much about keeping those cupped hands water tight!  

HOW TO CATCH AN UNBROKEN (GREEN) WAVE

To get started most beginner surfers will need to concentrate on catching broken waves or whitewater waves (we have compiled a list of all the surf lingo you need to know here). After a few hours of practice, you will probably get it dialled so we will concentrate now on learning to catch Green Waves. We can break this process down into 3 separate steps. 

  • Identify the best wave or the wave you would like to catch
  • Get yourself into the position to catch the wave
  • Paddle into the wave and take-off   

1: Identify

If you want to ride the green wave or open ‘face’ of the wave it is important to try to find yourself a ‘peeling’ wave. A wave that ‘peels’ will break from the right side of the beach towards the left side of the beach (or vice versa). This type of wave will enable us to ride the wave for a good length of time, and hey, it’s way more fun than surfing a closeout (when the wave crashes down across the beach in one movement). 

Look for a wave that looks like it has a difference in height from one part to the other – kinda like a triangle shape, tapering off to one side. The wave will begin to break at the peak of the triangle and then peel across to one side. If the wave breaks like this and ‘peels’ it will allow us to ride across, maintaining our position on the green, open face of the swell. 

2: Positioning

Once you see the wave you want to get, try to get yourself into the optimum position to catch the wave. This takes a tonne of time to get dialled, and every day you surf, will learn a little more. There are also a heap of factors to consider with your positioning – the steepness and size of the wave, your surfing ability, the board you are riding – the list goes on!  

A basic rule, is to try to position yourself at the top section of the wave, at the peak of the triangle, just before the crest starts to fold and crash over. If you are too close to the shoreline, you will most likely nosedive, or pearl. If you are too far out to sea, you will not catch the wave – very frustrating! It’s very hard to describe this element using words alone. We’ve included a few videos below to try to explain. 

3: Paddle!

When you in the spot, the last thing to do to actually get on the wave is paddle like a mad thing! Make sure your paddle technique is good (as outlined above) and try to match your paddle speed to the speed of the wave. If your positioning is good, you will glide into the wave, and you’re all set for the pop-up. 

HOW TO POP UP ON A SURFBOARD

Of the many things you’ll need to master when surfing, learning how to pop up on a surfboard is obviously pretty high on the list. Your pop up technique is vital if you want to improve your ability as a surfer. 

You can practice the pop-up movement pretty much anywhere. In fact, we encourage learners to practice their pop-ups on dry land. Not only does this help your body anticipate how to stand on the board, doing so also builds up your arm strength and conditions your muscles.

SURF STANCE

Of course you need to figure out your stance on the board before you pop up. By that, we mean which foot is forward, and which foot is towards the back of the board. Basically, you need to know if you are goofy (right foot forward) or regular (left foot forward). You will need to choose which feels the most comfortable way to ride, and go with it. 

How do I know which way to stand? 

So, if you aren’t sure which stance you have, try getting a friend to push you from behind from a standing position. When you fall forwards, generally this will be the way you will stand on the board. So, if you fall and put your right foot at the front, you are goofy. If you fall and put your left foot at the front, you’re regular! Check the video below if you don’t understand what I mean! 

THE POP UP

So, you know how to paddle, how to catch a wave, and which way to stand on the surfboard. Now you need to get to your feet and ride the wave. To really master this will take years, and a tonne of practice so don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. If you think about it, you are riding a small piece of foam, in a moving ocean, trying to stand on a moving wave – so go easy on yourself, this is difficult! 

Follow these pointers when practicing your pop up

  • As if you were about to do a push-up, position your hands flat on the side of each rib cage, an inch or two from the edge or rails of your surfboard.
  • When a wave approaches you push your chest up the board, arch your back, and gently move one knee closer to your stomach, giving you ample room to stand up.
  • Because waves generally move pretty fast, you’ll have to move quickly. Still, keep in mind that your feet will have to leave and land the board in a nice fluid motion.
  • When your feet are finally positioned firmly on the board, you can push the rest of your body up. At this point, allow your legs to carry your balance as you rise.
  • Bend your knees and stretch your arms forwards to maintain forward momentum – A good tip is to point both hands towards the beach, which will help to rotate your upper body so that it is perpendicular to the board.
  • During all of this, look forward, keep an eye out for the wave, and shift your weight as needed.
  • IMPORTANT: Make sure you keep both knees bent and try not to bend at the waist.    

Say it out loud! “Bend at the knees, not at the waist!”

PRACTICE

Learning to get your pop up down will take you a while – consider each surf session as a practice session. Conditions will be different each time, and every subtle little change will broaden your knowledge and experience.

One day it might be super windy, one day big and stormy – surf as much as you can, and be positive going in to every surf. A wise man once said to me, you need to practice on the bad days, so that on the good days you’re prepared and ready to rip! 

HOW TO DUCKDIVE

In order to make it out the back to the lineup (the part where the green waves break) you will most likely need to learn to duck dive. Again, similar to learning to popup, this takes years to really master, but once you have it dialled, it will be second nature, and you will catch a load more waves as a result. We have included a brief explanation below, but if you really wanna get it sussed, check out our Ultimate Guide To The Duck Dive.

If you are riding a mini-mal, mid length or longboard, you’ll need to practice the eskimo roll or turtle roll as these bigger boards are too difficult to duckdive. 

The Eskimo Roll or Turtle Roll

Step 1. Paddle Fast

Paddle as fast as you can into the on coming wave to ensure you have momentum to drive you forward when the wave hits you. 

Step 2. Roll

Put one hand on the rail next to your body and the other hand further up the board towards the nose. Roll the board and your body over, so that you are underwater, and under the wave.

Step 3. Hold On!

When you are under the wave, pull the board towards you and hold on! Let the wave pass by.

Step 4.  Roll Back Over

Once the wave has passed roll back in to an upright position and slide back onto your board to resume paddling.

The Duckdive

The duckdive will take a while to really master, but is amazing in how effective it is to help you get out back and into the lineup.  

First up, it’s important to remember the energy of a wave is cyclical – in that it moves around in a circle towards the shore. When the waves are barreling and powerful, this circular motion is even more evident and timing your duckdive is critical! 

Step 1. Paddle Fast

You need some forward momentum to get past the energy of the incoming wave. Ensure you are paddling at average to fast pace as the wave approaches.

Step 2. Prepare

Get ready to duckdive when the approaching wave is around 6-8ft in front of you. If you wait too long, the wave will smash you. If you start your duckdive too early, you will lose all forward momentum and end up popping back up to the surface as the wave  hits you – not ideal!

Step 3. Submerge The Nose

Put your hands on the rails (or the edge) of your board, inline with your pecs, and perform a kind of press up motion – although you do not want to pop up, you want the nose of the board to sink down. Try to extend your arms and straighten them, getting the board as deep as you can underwater.

Step 4. Push The Tail

Push down on the tail or deckpad of your board using your foot, or your knee – whatever feels most comfortable. You can bring your opposite leg up in the air for balance, or tuck it next to your other leg. 

Step 5. Stick To Your Board

When you are underwater, and under the wave hopefully, try to pull your body down close to your board. Do not pull the board up to your chest – do the opposite to maintain your depth under water.  Let the wave pass you by, and try to hold on to your board if there is any turbulence from the wave. 

Step 6. Get To The Surface

Slide your hands closer to the nose of your board and let yourself slowly pop back to the surface – you want the nose of your board to lead the motion so you are balanced when you break the surface. Then, keep paddling cos there’s probably another wave coming! 

SURF EXERCISES FOR BEGINNERS

Call it magic the way pro surfers ride the waves so effortlessly if you want. But by now, we all know it takes a lot of endurance and practice to become a good surfer. Learning how to dance with the sea on a surfboard is one thing, but making it look easy is another. 

Here are the best training exercises for new surfers.

POP UP EXERCISES

With experience, you’ll begin to learn how all of these conditions affect your particular surf spots and what conditions are best suited for your ideal surfing experience. These main five elements of a surf report will give you a solid understanding of the surf forecast at your local beach. Beyond these basics, there’s plenty more depth you can dive into to really get to know how all of these factors work together to produce different outcomes at different locations.

PADDLING EXERCISES

With experience, you’ll begin to learn how all of these conditions affect your particular surf spots and what conditions are best suited for your ideal surfing experience. These main five elements of a surf report will give you a solid understanding of the surf forecast at your local beach. Beyond these basics, there’s plenty more depth you can dive into to really get to know how all of these factors work together to produce different outcomes at different locations.

SURF AT HOME EXERCISES

SLACKLINE

Squats should come as no surprise in this article. Observe every pro surfer, and automatically, you will notice that

TOE CLOCKS

Squats should come as no surprise in this article. Observe every pro surfer, and automatically, you will notice that they’ve all mastered a standing position while lowering their hips. That said, basic squats are a critical surfing workout habit. While many argue that squats are primarily leg exercises, they very much improve one’s overall form. So, really, this is a full-body workout.

SQUATS

Squats should come as no surprise in this article. Observe every pro surfer, and automatically, you will notice that they’ve all mastered a standing position while lowering their hips. That said, basic squats are a critical surfing workout habit. While many argue that squats are primarily leg exercises, they very much improve one’s overall form. So, really, this is a full-body workout.

CRAWLING

Squats should come as no surprise in this article. Observe every pro surfer, and automatically, you will notice that they’ve all mastered a standing position while lowering their hips. That said, basic squats are a critical surfing workout habit. While many argue that squats are primarily leg exercises, they very much improve one’s overall form. So, really, this is a full-body workout.

PUSH UPS

Pushups are a staple in many sports, and this includes surfing. Like squats, pushups strengthen your entire core, too, improving your shoulder control while engaging your whole body. In the context of surfing, a robust upper body means better duck dives and smoother pop-ups.

You also better your chances of preventing shoulder injuries when your arms are strong and well-stretched.

Begin by mastering your alignment, then work on increasing your repetitions. Once you’ve aced the classic pushup routine, you can proceed to clap pushups when you push yourself explosively, then clap when your hands leave the ground. If you have access to dumbbells, dumbbell pushups should be terrific exercises too. These types of pushups increase your arm strength and help build chest muscles, all of which are helpful when surfing.

PULL UPS

Pushups are a staple in many sports, and this includes surfing. Like squats, pushups strengthen your entire core, too, improving your shoulder control while engaging your whole body. In the context of surfing, a robust upper body means better duck dives and smoother pop-ups.

DO I NEED A WETSUIT? 

With experience, you’ll begin to learn how all of these conditions affect your particular surf spots and what conditions are best suited for your ideal surfing experience. These main five elements of a surf report will give you a solid understanding of the surf forecast at your local beach. Beyond these basics, there’s plenty more depth you can dive into to really get to know how all of these factors work together to produce different outcomes at different locations.

WHAT TO WEAR UNDER A WETSUIT

With experience, you’ll begin to learn how all of these conditions affect your particular surf spots and what conditions are best suited for your ideal surfing experience. These main five elements of a surf report will give you a solid understanding of the surf forecast at your local beach. Beyond these basics, there’s plenty more depth you can dive into to really get to know how all of these factors work together to produce different outcomes at different locations.

WHAT TO WEAR UNDER A WETSUIT

With experience, you’ll begin to learn how all of these conditions affect your particular surf spots and what conditions are best suited for your ideal surfing experience. These main five elements of a surf report will give you a solid understanding of the surf forecast at your local beach. Beyond these basics, there’s plenty more depth you can dive into to really get to know how all of these factors work together to produce different outcomes at different locations.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Here are some final thoughts. 

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