How to find the best surf conditions for beginners

When you’re just starting out on your surfing journey the waves you learn in can be the difference between falling in love with a sport and having a really, really bad time. Whether you’re booked in for a surf lesson or teaching yourself to surf the conditions you learn in will make a massive difference to your experience.

Beginners dream of small peeling waves breaking gently across a pure white sandbank with hardly anyone out as far as the eye can see. The reality is normally more like howling onshore winds, 6ft+ surf and a crowd of aggressive surfers fighting for every wobbly peak that comes through.

But it doesn’t have to be like this, finding the best conditions to surf as a beginner just needs some simple knowledge that you can apply to the surf forecast. So let’s take a duck dive into our simple guide on how to find the best surf conditions for beginners and you’ll be finding the waves you dreamt of in no time.

What makes a wave good for surfing

Good surfing waves typically occur in offshore winds and break for a long period of time. What constitutes a good wave for surfing does vary from surfer to surfer though with some opting for barrels or airs while others just like cruising on a longboard.

Arguably the best waves are the ones that you have the most fun in, some of my favourite waves weren’t down to perfect conditions rather than just being in the perfect place at the perfect time.

The best surf conditions for beginners

What makes a wave fun, exciting or enjoyable? Well, it varies massively from surfer to surfer based on their own preference and skill level but when it comes to learning to surf there are a specific set of conditions that are conducive to speeding up your surfing progression.

What is a good wave height for beginner surfers?

If you’re learning to surf you’ll likely be watching videos of Kelly Slater taking on Teahupoo or John John Florence out at 2nd reef pipeline. These are great aspirations but not ideal conditions for a beginner.

Aim for waves in the two to four feet range, anything larger than this will make manoeuvring your board much more difficult and dangerous. Don’t worry we’ll dive into how you can read a surf report and identify great conditions later.

What’s the best wind direction?

The ideal wind conditions for learning to surf is anywhere wind from an offshore direction. This means the wind is blowing from the land onto the sea, grooming the incoming swell, making it more organised and easier to surf.

You’ll be looking for the wind to be at your back as you look out to the ocean. As you learn to surf you’ll quickly be able to recognise the difference between clean, offshore waves and jumbled onshore waves.

Check out our short read on offshore vs onshore waves to find out more about wind conditions while you’re surfing.

What’s the best tide for a beginner?

How waves behave and change during different stages of the tide is down to lots of variables at each surf spot. As a general rule, the outgoing tide will decrease the power and size of the swell and an incoming tide will increase them.

If the waves are looking slightly too large for you to comfortably head out in the water consider waiting for the dropping tide, adversely if the waves are very small the incoming push of the tide might add enough size and power to make them surfable.

Find out more about surfing and tides inside our short read, what’s the best tide to surf?

Where should you surf as a beginner?

When you’re starting out learning to surf it’s really important you remove as many potential dangers as possible (you’re only a beginner after all).

This means heading to an exclusively sandy beach that’s lifeguarded for the time you intend to surf. I would recommend avoiding reefs and point breaks when you’re just starting out, while there are some sand-bottomed point breaks around they’ll likely be very competitive and not conducive to learning to surf.

How to use a surf report to find the best conditions

Surf reports like Magicseaweed are the perfect way to check the conditions before you get to the beach. They’ve got reports for thousands of surf breaks across the world and even if yours isn’t on there somewhere close by probably will be.

When you first find your report all of the data and arrows will probably look a bit daunting but once you understand the basic principles I’m about to teach, you’ll be surfing in no time.

Checking today’s conditions

If you’re lucky enough to have a webcam at your local surf spot it’s really easy to look and see if waves have all of the characteristics that make them a winner for learning to surf.

People surfing at Bantham Beach in South Devon have three separate views, talk about spoiled for choice!

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a swanky webcam you’ll be met with something that looks like this:

You can see that you get a few helpful bits of information:

  • The wind speed, direction and whether it’s onshore, offshore or cross-shore
  • The swell size, direction and period.
  • The estimated wave height
  • Air and sea temperatures

To keep things simple we’ll only need the predicted wave height, wind speed and wind direction to work out if the conditions are going to be suitable for you as a beginner.

The predicted wave height is very simple, you’re looking for anything in the 2ft to 4ft range. It’s important to remember that this is just a prediction and while they get it right most of the time the real surfing conditions can be vastly different.

When it comes to wind direction we’re looking for offshore winds, ideally nothing stronger than 25mph or 40km/h. When wind speeds increase above this range it can make catching waves harder due to the resistance of the wind, it also throws up spray straight into your eyes essentially making you blind (not ideal for learning to surf).

It’s worth noting that onshore winds below 10mph or 16km/h can still offer up great waves because they’re not strong enough to adversely affect surf conditions.

As you improve your ability to surf onshore winds will slowly improve, check out our guide is onshore wind good for surfing to find out more about onshore waves and why some surfers actively seek them out.

What is a swell period?

It’s really as simple as the time in between waves. Imagine standing in ankle-deep water at the beach, when a wave hits your ankles you start counting when the next wave hits you stop, this is the swell period (essentially just the interval between waves).

Typically onshore winds decrease the swell period and offshore winds increase it. The swell period can play a significant part in the size of waves. Longer swell periods in the 12+ second range can produce considerably larger waves with a smaller swell size, thankfully Magicseaweed takes this into account when calculating expected wave heights.

Checking conditions for the rest of the week

Now you’re all over checking the surf conditions for the day let’s look at how you can use Magicseaweed to predict the surf conditions for the rest of the week.

The surf forecast for the week is made up of several lines of data that can help you see what the surfs going to be like.

Here you can see two examples of lines on the surf report.

Each line shows the predicted wave height, the swell size and direction and wind speed and direction.

The first line represents great conditions for beginner surfers, the waves are in the 2-3ft range and the wind is blowing offshore which we ca easily identify by looking at where the swell’s coming from and the wind direction pointing straight at the incoming swell.

In the example below everything is right in terms of the wave height but the swell and wind are blowing in the same direction making it onshore and less suitable for learning to surf.

If you’re still a bit confused about offshore vs onshore winds then you can hover over the wind direction arrow for a helpful tooltip that will tell you exactly what the winds doing as pictured below:

Conclusion

Now you’re a pro at checking your local surf report you can start heading to other beaches. If the waves are too big or the winds too strong at your local beach you can use your new knowledge to start checking other spots that might offer more favourable conditions.

Wherever you choose to surf always be respectful of other surfers and water users and make sure you’re being safe in the water at all times.