What Does Surfing Feel Like? Catch Your First Wave

what does surfing feel like

If you’ve never caught a wave before you’re probably curious about what it feels like to surf.

Surfing is a feeling like no other, adrenaline flows through your body, your heart rate increases and endorphins are released that can make you feel happy, excited and content.

Riding walls of water isn’t the most natural experience for a human but there’s a reason such a large number of surfers devote their lives to looking for good waves.

Let’s take a dive into the ocean to guide you through exactly what surfing feels like so you know what to expect the first time you head out to catch some waves.

what does surfing feel like

What does surfing a wave feel like?

Not all waves are equal, the feeling you get from surfing one foot waves is very different from surfing gigantic walls of water at a spot like Nazare in Portugal.

What does surfing small waves feel like?

As a beginner surfer, heading out in small waves for a surf lesson can be one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences you can ever have (providing all goes well and you catch some waves).

You’re first time up and surfing the green wave face (as opposed to the white water) feels like you’re genuinely at one with nature, using unseen forces to travel on water magically.

Your surfboard glides along as you watch a wall of water stretch out in front of you, presenting an ever-changing track that can speed you up, slow you down and if you’re unlucky, send you plummeting to the sea bottom. 

This magic connection with the ocean can lead to the best times alone or with friends and if you haven’t tried some form of surfing are really recommend getting out there and giving it a go.

What does surfing a big wave feel like?

A small minority of the best surfers spend their lives chasing down the biggest waves they can find.

This experience couldn’t be further from the small, clean, waist-high waves that the majority of surfers enjoy.

We’re talking giant, barreling slabs like Teahupoo in Tahiti or powerful mountains of water like those found at Mavericks in California.

Let’s take you on a first-person ride down one of the world’s biggest waves so you can find out exactly how it feels.

When the wave approaches you’ll use every ounce of your paddle power to scratch and claw yourself under the lip, fast enough that you can successfully match the wave’s speed to catch it.

You’ve got to leap to your feet with wind and spray blowing directly into your eyes. Below you is an ever-steepening ramp of water, growing and shifting as it starts to take shape.

The wave starts and you begin to accelerate down the face of the wave, not unlike dropping in on a giant vert ramp at a skatepark.

Wind and spray buffets your face as you start to skip down the face of the wave, the smallest change in weight and balance will quickly shoot you up or down the face of the wave.

I can’t overstate how fast it feels when your surfing gigantic waves, you’ll reach speeds that feel almost impossible to maintain and it’s a challenge just to keep your feet stuck to the deck of your surfboard.

I don’t know whether to call it nerves or excitement but one of the most amazing feelings you can ever experience on a large wave is getting barreled (other names include tubed, pitted, shacked etc).

The lip of the wave starts to fold over creating your own private room inside mother nature. It feels like time stops when you’re getting barreled, sound muffles and you can see every single drop of water as it rotates through the face of the wave.

This moment of absolute perfection only ever has two outcomes.

If you’re in the right place on the wave you’ll fly out of the barrel as the roaring wave crashes behind you and spray licks at the back of your neck, truly victorious.

A little bit off with your timing and a solid wall of seawater will erupt on and around you as the ocean gobbles you up.

Why does surfing feel so good?

So why are surfers such a content bunch and why does riding a wave seem to translate to a happier life?

I’m not talking about the positive impact of negative ions or anything that jargony but more just the holistic benefits of surfing on both your physical and mental health

Just spending time in the ocean surrounded by salt water with sunshine on your face is going to have benefits for your mood and brain activity.

You’ll be soaking up vitamin D which helps you regulate your calcium and phosphate levels, both key to bone and muscle health.

The seawater you surf in is packed full of beneficial minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium which are all absorbed via your skin helping with skin conditions and the like.

As your surf fitness increases, you’ll start to feel better in your body. Your muscles will tone and excess fat will start to disappear as you devote yourself and your calories to finding and surfing waves.

All of this adds up to equal a real sense of well-being that really can’t be put into words but has positive effects that run into every part of your life.

*Extra reading – Find out how many calories surfing burns per hour.

Are there any times when surfing doesn’t feel good?

I wouldn’t be being honest if I said surfing was all smiles, great manoeuvres, beach life and sunshine.

When you’re just starting out learning to surf the long, gruelling paddle outs and constant falls can actually lead to some negative feelings in the surf.

There’s nothing fun when the sea acts like your puppet master and starts rolling you around underwater.

It can even be a scary experience if it continues for longer than you expected and these hard times aren’t just reserved for beginners.

Another issue with surfing is that waves are a limited resource and surf spots around the world are only getting busier.

This can lead to feelings that people wouldn’t normally associate with surfing like a scarcity mentality and frustration when you don’t catch as many waves as you thought you would.

What kind of feelings do surfers get from surfing waves?

Now we know exactly what it’s like when you’re riding the ocean let’s look at some emotions surfers associate with the sport they love.


For me personally, this is all about looking forward to surfing.

Whether it’s laying in bed waiting for the next day’s waves or planning your next surf trip with friends, that feeling of excitement you get from looking forward to surfing is unparalleled.


Joy comes from spending a lot of time in the ocean surfing waves.

It’s almost like the feeling you used to have to play in the waves as a child, that sense of joy never really leaves you as a surfer.


Happiness comes from the community surfing creates.

Surf ethics and lifestyle mean surfers share a common goal and understanding in the water and this leads to friendship in the ocean.

Some of your happiest surf moments will often be filled with fellow friends and surfers.


The feeling of serenity you get when you’re out in the ocean.

For me, this is all about quiet, peaceful waves with not too many people out. Dawn and dusk surf with not a thought in your mind but the next wave. True peace. 


Large waves and brooding skies can be scary when you’re surfing.

This feeling of fear is not a negative but a challenge to overcome, conquering your fears in surfing means progression and there really is nothing more satisfying than exceeding your own limits and charging bigger waves.