Is Surfing Hard? A Beginner’s Guide To Tackling Waves

Surfing is enjoyed by millions of people all around the world. It’s the perfect way to get in touch with nature, challenge yourself physically and mentally, and have fun.

Surfers make gliding along walls of water look easy but looks can be deceiving and you may find yourself thinking, is surfing hard?

Surfing is a very demanding sport to approach as a beginner. Between the steep learning curve, the physical demands of an ever-changing ocean and the mental fortitude required to throw yourself down the face of a wave, surfing is hard.

Now you know what you’re in for let’s find out what makes surfing so hard and share some of our tips for conquering surfing’s biggest obstacles.

Is Surfing Hard? A Beginner's Guide To Tackling Waves

What Makes Surfing So Hard?

Let’s take a look at why so many people find surfing so hard and follow it up with some helpful pointers to help ease you into this complex sport.

Learning curve

Before you can start, you need to get your head around the basics of surfing. This includes:

  • Understanding the equipment you’ll need
  • Basic knowledge of how waves break
  • Simple water safety
  • Surf etiquette
  • Techniques for paddling, standing up, and riding a wave

That last point is never really mastered either, even the most experienced surfers in the world are constantly working on improving their skills in the ocean.

Getting better at surfing takes lots of patience and many beginner surfers get disheartened when they compare themselves to the likes of Kelly Slater or Gabriel Medina.

*Pro tip – Don’t undervalue your hard work by comparing yourself to other advanced surfers, go at your own pace and focus on improving your skills.

If you want to fast-track your surfing progress in the early stages then don’t miss our definitive guide on how to catch more waves.


One of the main challenges around the sport is dealing with ever-changing weather patterns.

Getting motivated to surf when it’s snowing outside is its own unique kind of challenge (especially if you’re not in the habit of ritually dunking yourself in icy water like some sort of psychopath;).

Peeling on a freezing cold, sandy wetsuit from this morning’s session is a harrowing experience and the motivation and passion for surfing have got to be pretty strong to force yourself through it.

While I may not have as much sympathy for warm water surfers and their plight, a nasty dose of sunburn after surfing through mid-day can still ruin your day.


If you’ve ever paddled out a world-renowned surf spot you’ll probably;y have a good idea of just how gladiatorial the takeoff zone can become.

From seasoned locals wanting to get their pick of the set waves to pros jostling to take off on just about anything, catching a wave can be hard at times.

More experienced surfers tend to thrive in these conditions while people just starting out can find it stressful and downright intimidating.

This sharing of resources between the skilled and unskilled makes surfing one of the hardest sports to progress at full stop.

Irregular opportunity to surf

Finding the right wave or right styles of waves for your ability is hard, especially if you live in a swell-starved location. 

Big waves, messy waves and even offshore winds that are too strong, there’s only a limited window for 

Getting the reps in you need to improve is tricky with low-quality or non-existent swell and for many of us, myself included, it’s the majority of what we surf.

My best advice is to learn ways you can practice surfing at home like using a balance board, starting a good bodyweight exercise regime or taking up longboarding (the one with wheels).

Getting your body ready for when good waves do eventually arrive is going to help you maximise your time in the water.

Danger and fear

When it comes to the general population I think it’s fair to say that the majority have a natural fear of surfing.

And it’s no surprise, the ocean is a scary place and the mere thought of deep water is enough to keep people on dry land for good.

While there are some very real dangers surrounding surfing unless you’re surfing in sharky waters or taking on giant waves you should be relatively safe.

That’s not to say you won’t fall prey to a jellyfish sting or a start board but the chance of death is relatively low.

How You Can Make Your Surfing Life Easier

Now we’ve covered all the doom and gloom let’s give you some surefire ways to make surfing even more enjoyable than it already is.


Having the right surfing equipment is key to your progression out in the waves. You need all the right surfing equipment and more importantly the right sizes.

When you’re learning your surfboard needs to have plenty of lengths and a good amount of buoyancy to help stabilise your paddling surfing efforts.

Get this right and you’ll be up and catching waves in no time. Try to learn on a 6ft long high-performance shortboard and you’ll make life incredibly hard for yourself.

*Pro tip – A good-quality but low-cost foamie is the perfect surfboard when you’re just starting out.

The next key thing to get right is your wetsuit. 

You need a suitably thick wetsuit to keep you toasty wherever you’re surfing.  Your main options are:

  1. Rashguards– Ideal for warm water temperatures of 75°F (24°C) or higher. They offer protection against sunburn, jellyfish stings, and minor abrasions.
  2. Springsuits – Springsuits are also known as short-arm, short-leg wetsuits. They’re suitable for water temperatures between 60°F (15°C) and 70°F (21°C).
  3. 3/2mm Wetsuits – These wetsuits are designed for water temperatures between 55°F (12°C) and 65°F (18°C). They have a 3mm layer on the torso and a 2mm layer on the arms and legs.
  4. 4/3mm Wetsuits – Perfect for water temperatures between 50°F (10°C) and 60°F (15°C). They have a 4mm thick neoprene layer on the torso and a 3mm layer on the arms and legs.
  5. 5/4mm Wetsuits – For cold water temperatures between 45°F (7°C) and 55°F (12°C). 
  6. 6/5mm Wetsuits – These wetsuits are for the chilliest conditions between 40°F (4°C) and 50°F (10°C). They have a 6mm thick neoprene layer on the torso and a 5mm layer on the arms and legs.

If you’re in need I strongly recommend Xcel Wetsuits, I’ve been using them for years and their wetsuits last a good few seasons, unlike some other brands.

*Pro tip This is just a guide and my biggest recommendation is to ask fellow surfers (just don’t forget everyone thinks they can handle the cold so take answers with a pinch of salt).


Paddling out, navigating the lineup and catching waves is hard work, it’s energy intensive and it requires short bursts of intense exercise.

Whether you’re getting your training in the ocean or doing it at the gym or the pool, getting in good shape is going to make surfing infinitely easier and more importantly, more enjoyable.

There’s nothing worse than puffing out after a few duck dives and unceremoniously washing into the beach.

Having a good understanding of the mechanics of paddling and doing exercises that replicate and build muscle memory is your first port of call.

Swimming is ideal for working on your stamina and replicating the physical challenges of a lengthy paddle out.

Secondly, you can start with exercises that improve your core strength like squats, this is going to help with balance on the board and allow you to progress into tricks, turns and manoeuvres that require strenuous rotation of the body.


From a dry wetsuit to a spare leash and some surfboard wax, good prep before you head off for a session will make sure you have a great time.

There’s nothing worse than being the guy rounding up the car park for some wax or the guy standing in the car park looking sombrely at perfect waves he can’t surf because he forgot his fins.

If you drive to your local surf spot I strongly suggest getting a small carry-all for your trunk packed with all the essentials.

And last but not least, always rinse and dry your wetsuit it’s key if you want your suit to last more than one season.

It takes a couple of seconds to do and could save you some serious headaches and cash later down the line.


Put simply, misery loves company. Nah, I’m just kidding but surfing with a friend is a guaranteed way to keep spirits high and motivation up.

I can’t count how many times we’ve had to pysch each other up to surf less than stellar conditions.

But every time we end up having the most fun despite freezing winds and/or dribbly surf.

Without others there to share the froth it’s easy to give yourself an excuse to not paddle out but the accountability of a surf buddy is like kryptonite for procrastination (that one’s a tongue twister!).


Now when I say training here I don’t mean physical surf fitness, I’m talking about training yourself to learn surfer etiquette, how waves break, positioning and how to properly read a surf report.

Now the beauty here is you don’t need great waves hell you don’t even need to surf waves, just by watching other surfers on clips you’ll be learning more about surfing.

Try to work out the perfect position to take off on different kinds of waves and when the best time is to paddle out in between sets.

All of these little things are going to add to your awareness and decisions when you surf and they really can’t be overlooked.


So is surfing hard?

In my opinion, the same thing that makes surfing so hard is the exact thing that makes it such a special sport to me you and everyone else.

The feeling you get when you finally stand up, do your first turn, and get barreled for the first time is truly unlike no other and that’s what keeps us smiling through what can be some fairly miserable conditions.

If you’ve enjoyed this read and you’d like to the world of surfing then don’t miss our other posts below packed with fascinating insights into our sport.

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