Learning To Surf – The Ultimate Guide

Surfing is one of the most rewarding sports out there. It’s great for your body and can do wonders for washing away life’s troubles while you focus solely on catching your next wave.

That’s why it’s important to know when to learn to surf, and how to get the right help and advice. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about learning how to surf properly so you can skyrocket your surfing progression and start ripping in no time.

Learning to surf the right way

Your first experience with surfing can be the difference between a lifelong passion and one truly unpleasant experience. If your first session is in crystal blue water on a warm sunny day then chances are you’ll be hooked on surfing for the foreseeable.

Try learning to surf when it’s 6ft+, raining and cold, you’ll quickly be heading for the beach with absolutely no desire to ever attempt surfing again.

We want your first experience with surfing to be one that gives you a true insight into why so many people all over the world devote themselves to the art of riding waves.

We’ll take you step-by-step through how to find the best surf conditions for beginners, picking a surf school (and if you need to), surfboards/gear/accessories and how you can progress into surfing regularly.

Picking the right conditions for learning to surf

Making sure you start out in the right surf conditions is going to be the most important factor when it comes to enjoyment. Let’s look at how you can use forward planning to make sure you’re learning to surf in the best conditions possible.

Checking the surf forecast

Surf forecasters like Magicseaweed and Surfline both provide live data on exactly what’s happening at beaches, reef breaks and point breaks all over the world. You can find out the wind speed, swell height/swell direction and they’ve even got live webcams to check the conditions in real-time.

Wind

Strong winds in any direction can make learning to surf a real challenge. Try to aim for offshore winds if you can, ideally under 15mph.

If you haven’t come across offshore and onshore winds in relation to surfing head over to our helpful guide on offshore vs onshore wind.

Swell

When you’re just starting out you don’t want to learn n waves much bigger than 4ft. Over this size and surfing can become dangerous if you’re not experienced the power of the waves will make the whole process exhausting.

The surf report will give you a predicted wave height, not be confused with swell height or swell period which are two bits of data forecasters use to predict the expected height of waves when they reach the beach.

Swing over to our deep dive on swell height vs wave height to learn more about how these two forces work together to create waves you can surf.

Waves

Stick to a beach break to begin with, while points and reefs can be great places to improve your surfing later down the line they pose too many obstacles for a beginner.

Try to aim for a large lifeguarded beach with nothing but sand underfoot, or if you’re lucky to live close enough to one of the many wave pools popping up you can check out some of their beginner lessons.

Surf school or try and teach yourself?

Thirty years ago the thought of teaching yourself to surf without any guidance from an instructor or someone who’s surfed before seemed crazy. But now with helpful guides, you can easily teach yourself the basics of surfing.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each approach.

Learning to surf with an instructor

how much is a surf lesson link

Pros:

  • You’ll receive guided instruction
  • Learn safely alongside qualified lifeguards
  • Your board and wetsuit will be supplied

Cons:

  • If you book, the conditions may not arrive on the day
  • You may learn at a busy surf spot
  • Group lessons can have minimal individual attention

Self-teaching

People regularly ask me, can you teach yourself to surf? The answer is a resounding Yes! With the revolution of the internet and most specifically helpful surfing guides that are there purely to help you progress in your surfing journey, just like this one.

Whether it’s a structured online guide like the one you’re reading now or a YouTube tutorial there’s an absolute ton of really helpful content created by real surfers who’ve experienced exactly what you’re about to go through.

Pros:

  • You can pick the perfect conditions to learn
  • You don’t have to pay for surf lessons
  • It’s a great feeling when you master surfing without help

Cons:

  • You need to buy or rent a board and wetsuit
  • You don’t get someone offering real-time guidance
  • You don’t get to share the experience of surfing with others

Picking a good surf school

To make sure you have a great time when you learn to surf it’s important to find a surf school with great instructors. You’ll never know exactly what a surf school is like until you visit for a lesson but there are a few things to look out for to make sure you pick a reputable organisation.

  • Check Google, TripAdvisor or TrustPilot reviews to see how other people just like you found their first surf school experience
  • Check if the instructors have a water safety qualification
  • Ensure all equipment will be supplied for the lesson (surfboard, wetsuit, surfboard leash and fins)
  • Check the group sizes, the smaller the better
  • Consider having a private lesson or find another learner willing to spilt the cost

All of these bits of information will help you make an informed choice about the best surf school for you.

Preparing for your first surfing experience

If you’ve never attempted surfing before there are a few things that you need to be aware of to help you through the experience. While these aren’t all essential they’ll definitely make for a better surfing lesson.

Go for a swim

Paddling on a surfboard is hard work so any training you can get in beforehand will do wonders when you enter the ocean. Front crawl (freestyle) is a swimming stroke that closely mimics the same movement as paddling on your board.

Try to do 20+ lengths a week and you’ll be surprised how much easier you’ll find paddling and catching waves.

Bring sun cream

A day out at the beach can be hard on your skin but a day learning to surf will likely need some form of protection. The sun’s rays are reflected off the surface of the ocean giving you a double dose of UV rays, add wind and salt and you’ll want some good quality sunscreen to protect your skin.

Aim for spf50 to ensure you catch the sun and consider using a cream made with natural ingredients for an environmentally friendly option.

Bring a packed lunch

If you’ve ever spent long periods of time in the water you’ll be well aware of its calorific requirements. You’ll probably be starving after you’ve been surfing so make sure to bring some fuel to help you out (especially if you’re going for a full day of surfing).

Buying your own wetsuit and surfboard

Once you’ve tried surfing and you’re truly hooked on this wonderful sport you’ll want to start getting all the equipment you need to continue your progression. This will involve at the bare minimum investing in a surfboard and in many cases a wetsuit as well.

Let’s take a quick look at what you need to think about before you go buy a new surfboard.

How to choose the right surfboard when you’re learning

Choosing the right surfboard for your size and ability is going to be really important if you want to progress quickly. At this early stage, you’re going to want to pick a surfboard with lots of volume, more volume means more float so you’ll paddle and catch waves much more easily.

A good board should be:

  • The right size for your body type and height. If you are a short person, you’ll want a smaller board; if you’re tall, then a larger one will work better for you.
  • Shaped in such as way that makes it easy for paddling into waves. A board with little rocker (the curvature between nose and tail) is ideal for beginners because it helps you to plane across the water quicker and catch waves.

While it’s tempting to go and buy a brand new surfboard you can find some real bargains if you’re willing to shop around for used surfboards. Head over to our guide on buying a second-hand surfboard for more tips on board selection and some quick checks you can do to make sure your board’s watertight and ready to surf.

Understanding the basics of wetsuits

Wetsuits aren’t all equal! If you live in an area that requires you to wear a wetsuit for parts or all of the year then here are some handy tips before you buy your first wetsuit.

  • Don’t go cheap, aim for a quality wetsuit from a brand like O’Neill, Cskins, Rip Curl etc
  • Buy from your local surf shop where you can try wetsuits on and find the right fit
  • Ask about which wetsuits you’ll need for different times of the year
  • Don’t forget wetsuit boots and gloves if needed
  • Try to buy a chest zip to avoid water flushing down your neck

By heading into your nearest surf shop you’re supporting a small local business and you’ll get the expert advice you need to pick exactly the right wetsuit for you.

Improving your surfing and heading out alone

Now you’re all set to start heading to the beach to improve your skills and start performing surf tricks and manoeuvres. Here are a few best practices to help you start shredding in no time.

  • Set simple goals like how often you surf
  • Try to find a friend to join you out surfing
  • Never surf without other people in the water
  • Try a few different surf spots, you never know you’re favourite beach could be around the next headland
  • Ask for advice from better surfers
  • Always be respectful of other surfers and water users
  • Don’t paddle out in waves beyond your skill level

Conclusion

Learning to surf should be an absolute breeze with all these first hand tips on how to get up and riding in no time. If you’re ready to dive into learning more about surfing as a whole head down to our other guides below packed full of helpful advice from real surfers with years of experience.