Although surfing is joyous, soulful fun, there are risks associated with our sport. The thing is, though, is that these risks are extremely easy to avoid and manage with the correct information and know-how.
Learning how to surf safely should be at the top of your priority list before paddling out into the water for the first time, so here is all you need to know about surfing safety:
A safe surfer is comfortable swimming in the water with and without their surfboard. They can swim without tiring quickly, hold their breath while swimming underwater, know how to tread water, etc.
Before paddling out into the ocean, you must be a comfortable swimmer with enough stamina and strength to swim yourself out of sketchy situations (like a broken leash) when they do occur. For more insight on improving your surfing fitness, check out the linked article.
Although inexplicably beautiful, the ocean is massively wild, and sometimes, it's downright intimidating. To be a safe surfer, you should take plenty of time learning about the ocean and how it works.
And any other similar, ocean-related information you can research and digest, as there's never such a thing as too much knowledge of the sea.
Before you go surfing, check the surf report to know what the swell, tides, and winds are doing throughout the day. Don't know how to read a surf report? Take some time to learn.
In your early stages of surfing, your best bet is to stick to sand bottom waves (beach breaks) before progressing to a reef break.
One of the best ways to surf safely is to surf with someone with ample amounts of experience in the water. They can help teach you the basics, keep an eye out for you in the water, and can provide real-time advice as you begin navigating the ocean and learning how to surf.
However, with that said, only heed advice from someone you know and trust is a valid resource based on their own experience and time spent surfing.
If anything, you should always, always surf with a friend, even if you are both learning. It's good to have someone looking out for you. Really good.
A beginner, safe surfer understands that their inexperience can equal a potential hazard to others in the water. As you journey into surfing, try to locate beginner-surf spots without many people. And this means both other surfers and also swimmers.
Oftentimes, lifeguards at public beaches will create surfing boundaries. Always stick to these boundaries (often indicated by flags) and listen to the lifeguards.
To increase the efficacy of your surfing safety, it is suggested to ride a soft-top surfboard as you gain experience, as these boards are less of a threat to your own and other surfers' noggins.
Please, please, learn surfing etiquette and follow it like the law. Sometimes, people are your worst enemy, so be respectful and stash your car key somewhere nice and safe. Trust me, pissed-off locals are unpredictable.
Before paddling out, give your equipment a quick run down to ensure everything is set up right, and pay special attention to the leash. Make sure everything is secured to your board, that your wetsuits are worn/zipped properly, that there are no major dings, etc.
Perfectly functioning equipment allows you to focus on how to surf safely without distraction, and nobody likes swimming for their board under the pier anyway, right?
Always surf with a leash, and if surfing cold water, please ensure that your suit is thick enough! Refer to our wetsuit guide for more information on this critical component of surfing safety.
As you walk your board out from shallow to deeper water, carry your surfboard close to your hip by wrapping your arm tightly around the nose. If you keep the board in front of you and 'push' it out, a wave will take it and smack ya clean in the nose.
A key to learning how to surf safely is to keep in mind the surf safety of others in the lineup and the water. When paddling out, identify a channel where the waves do not break/break as powerfully, as this is the best spot to paddle out.
As you paddle, never ever ditch your surfboard to avoid a breaking wave unless absolutely critical, and always look behind you to check for others. If a surfer is riding towards you while you paddle out, paddle strong in the opposite direction they are riding to avoid them.
You'll spend more time falling than you will surfing when first starting out, and there's no getting around that! Learning how to fall is synonymous with learning how to surf safely, as this is the primary cause of injury while surfing.
If you fall, your priority is to create as much distance between yourself and your board as possible. Try to anticipate your bailout early so that you can use the deck of your surfboard to jump off and away from it.
As you do so, you can even kick your board in the opposite direction to create more distance. The goal is to avoid getting hit by your board or your fins anywhere in the body.
When you fall, never dive headfirst, as this is a recipe for a strained neck on a sandbar or a bloody forehead from the reef. Oh, and a safe surfer always wraps their arms tightly around their head as they fall.
The impact zone is where the waves have broken into whitewash, making it the most difficult zone to paddle back out in and the most dangerous zone. You're going to get stuck in the impact zone at some point, so when you do, the best advice is to stay calm, focus on your breathing, and keep a clear head. If the situation becomes too dangerous, you might choose to turn your board around and bodyboard the whitewash back towards the beach. If needed, wave to the lifeguards or call for help.
Understand that the absolute worst spot to be in is the immediate moment where a wave first breaks and the lip makes contact with the water. Do your best with positioning yourself in the lineup and timing your paddle-outs to avoid being caught by a powerful lip.
Ahhh, the wildlife. This one is usually a new surfer's biggest concern. Seriously, don't worry and don't be afraid, and practice respect for the wildlife, and you will also receive respect.
As we know, dusk and dawn are the sharkiest times, but also when the waves tend to be the best, so make your decision accordingly. Staying with the lineup always helps, as does surfing with one or more friends, and take note of any recent shark sightings in the area. You might also choose to refer to a shark tracker for any recent pings that might be close, and remember, some seasons have more sharks than others, so do your research to find out.
Never, ever disturb the wildlife (sharks, manatees, anything!) and do your part in protecting it by picking up trash when you see it.
Check lifeguard towers for insight on the jellyfish, and wear rash guards or a wetsuit if needed. When walking your board out, shuffle your feet to avoid a brush with a stingray.
If an interaction with an animal does occur, seek immediate medical attention if necessary and don't delay.
The key component of how to surf safely lies in knowing what your limits are. Please, do not paddle out if the waves are out of your comfort zone or if the conditions are unruly. If you feel intimidated, then that's a good sign to listen to your instinct. Sure, fear isn't always bad, and we need to push ourselves in order to progress. But we can still do so safely by taking our time in gaining experience in the water before progressing to more.
Start small, take it slow, and progress into bigger and more critical waves as your experience allows.
Learn them, live them, love them.
Being safe allows you to have more fun and to become a better surf far more quickly than thinking you're invincible, all while protecting yourself and others. So really, please do take surfing safety seriously. And if you have any questions at all, always feel free to reach out to your friends at Boardcave!