Can I teach myself to surf?

Yes, 100% you can teach yourself to surf without an instructor or lessons. Good swimming, balance and endurance skills will help you to progress quicker and finding small clean waves at a lifeguard beach is essential if learning to surf alone.

However, if you’re going to skip the surf instructor there are some key lessons you’ll need to learn to avoid slowing your progress.

How can I teach myself to surf?

I’ve broken down every element of teaching yourself to surf into a detailed guide for you. Learning to surf at any age is a great way to get fit and have fun, doing it by yourself can be truly liberating but making sure you’re doing everything correctly will considerably speed up your progress.

Learning how to read waves

Before you enter the water it’s a really good idea to try and understand how waves form and break.

Spending time observing the ocean is a great way to familiarise yourself with waves before you start surfing. Watching how waves break and how other surfers act in different situations will help you when you begin to learn to surf.

Pay close attention to where the wave breaks first and what happens afterwards.

It’s also so really important that you learn about some elements of water safety for surfers before you get into the ocean. Learning to surf at a lifeguarded beach is always recommended.

Try to learn about how currents and rips are created and how you can spot them from the beach.

Study surf etiquette to ensure that you act respectfully when you enter the ocean. As a beginner, learning how to respect fellow surfers will help you make friends and avoid dangerous accidents and collisions.

Pay close attention to any signage at your local beach indicating where to surf where to swim and where potential riptides may be.

Water Safety

Spending time understanding the different elements of water safety will be really important if you’re teaching yourself to surf. Things to be aware of:

  • Tide times
  • Where the surfing areas are located
  • Where any rips or currents are
  • Rocks close to the shore or concealed under the water
  • Dangerous marine animals

Knowing what the current tide is and if it’s incoming or outgoing is essential. Often incoming tides will increase wave sizes and outgoing tides can increase rips and currents. Certain waves like river mouths can be very dangerous during large tides and you should only surf if you are completely sure the spot is safe for the duration of your surf.

Look for flags across the beach, these will indicate surfing and swimming zones. When you’re teaching yourself to surf you should always stay in the surfing zone shown by the flags, these areas are lifeguarded and you’ll likely be amongst other people learning to surf. If you’re unsure what the flags mean check the signs as you enter the beach for more information.

Look for potential rips and currents in the lineup. When you’re starting to surf you want to surf breaking waves so avoid any flat areas as this often indicates currents below. Stick to the allocated surfing areas on a lifeguard beach to avoid any issues.

Check with other surfers and observe the beach for any rocks or objects that you might hit while surfing. Collisions in the surf can be dangerous and board repairs expensive so being prepared will help you dodge any mishaps.

Some surf spots may have marine animals that can harm humans in some way. Check with local authorities or local signage for any of the following:

  • Sharks
  • Jellyfish
  • Urchins
  • Crocodiles
  • Stingrays

In many cases surfing with these animals is safe but be aware, as with all wild animals some incidents can occur.

Surf etiquette

Properly learning and comprehending surf etiquette is key to having an enjoyable surf. Dropping in or back paddling in surfing can lead to dangerous collisions and in some cases localism and violence.

Spen some time learning about who has priority on the wave, how you take turns, and how to paddle out safely.

Swim regularly to prepare for surfing

Learning to surf involves a lot of paddling, swimming in the sea or at your local pool can really help with paddle fitness.

Try to stick to front crawl and butterfly, both swimming strokes closely mimic paddling on a surfboard.

Improve your balance on a surfboard at home

Check out our guide on how to practice surfing at home for some great ways to replicate balancing on a surfboard alongside some tips on getting surf fit.

Get comfortable in waves without a surfboard

Going out swimming or bodyboarding is a great way to familiarise yourself with waves. Try to find beaches where the waves break near to the shore, this is called a shorebreak and offers the opportunity to play in and around waves without swimming long distances.

Practice holding your breath as you swim under waves to replicate duck diving and try some bodysurfing.

Get help from other surfers

If you have a friend or family member that surfs ask them for advice on board selection, understanding conditions and where to surf. Ideally, try to ask for advice from surfers that have been involved in the sport for longer than you have.

Other surfers at your local beach will often be happy to help with tips and advice to help you learn to surf. Without lessons or an instructor, advice from others is really important to speed up your surfing progression.

Learn to surf with online guides

Online guides like this one and Youtube tutorial videos are great ways to teach yourself to surf. You’ll find guides for all levels of ability here at Honest Surf alongside real advice from years of experience surfing.

If you’re worried about the cost of surfing lessons you can take a look at our guide on how much are surfing lessons for some prices across different surf schools.