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How to Surf for Beginners: Part 1 of 3

Basic Surfing Tips and Surfing Etiquette

Learning how to surf requires an understanding of the entire ecosystem of surfing, and it goes far beyond only what occurs when in the water. How to surf for beginners is a big question, and we want to take things steady, slow, and precise to present to you all the information required for a successful surfing journey.

We are stoked you're here, and we are stoked that you want to learn how to surf, so let's get right into the good stuff.

Surfing Etiquette

Take us seriously when we say this: understanding proper surf etiquette (the unspoken rules of the lineup) is crucial to your and other surfers' success and safety in the water. Maintain a complete understanding of these rules as you begin your journey in discovering how to surf for beginners.

  1. The Right of Way

Like driving a car, certain surfers have the right of way when catching and riding a wave. This is known as wave priority, and how do you establish wave priority when learning how to surf? It boils down to these shared rules:

  • The surfer who is the furthest out in the lineup has the main priority over the wave if they can catch it.
  • The surfer closest to the peak (the first point of the wave to break) has priority. Only paddle for a wave if the surfer most relative to the peak pulls out or falls.
  • If a surfer is riding a wave before you, you cannot drop in (aka snaking) on them.
  • Waves sometimes break in two directions, left and right. You can share a wave with another rider if going opposite directions, but you must ensure their direction choice before dropping in is not the same as your own. Communication is an excellent means to do so.
  1. Paddling Out

When paddling out, it is your job to avoid other surfers who might be riding a wave towards you. The best method to paddle out is to follow a channel with no breaking waves. If you get stuck in the impact zone, as another surfer approaches, paddle hard in the other direction to avoid them.

  1. Never Ditch Your Board

It might be scary as a wave crashes towards you, but it is vital that you do not throw your board away to dive under the wave, as this can seriously injury nearby surfers. Always rely on the proper paddle-out techniques, such as duck diving and turtle rolling, to successfully pass under a wave. Tossing your board aside should only act as a worst-case measure, and please, always look around you to make sure no surfers are near if this is your only option.

  1. Respect

Always remain conscious of providing ample respect to the locals and other surfers around you. Respect must be shared by all who are surfing. Let's put it this way: don't be an asshole!

  1. Never Drop-In

Don't you do it! If another surfer is riding a wave, that is their wave. Never drop into a wave that another surfer is riding, as this is a huge disrespect (some aggressive locals will seek revenge), and simply wait for another free one to come.

  1. Don't Snake

Aggressively paddling around other surfers to place yourself in priory is a frowned-upon practice. Keep your position in the lineup, but don't snake around other surfers just to give yourself the right of way.

  1. Surf to Your Abilities

As you learn how to surf for beginners, remember just that: you are a beginner! Don't try and surf waves out of your skill range, both for your own and others' safety. Riding small waves of less consequence is always a better answer of how to start surfing anyway, as this is the best practice for mastering the basics.

  1. Respect the Beach

See some trash? Pick it up! And don't even think about littering.

Choosing a Surfboard

The first step in learning how to surf is to choose a surfboard that is ideal for your beginner surfing level. A majority of surfing journeys begin on a longboard, most commonly a soft top, and this is an excellent place to start as soft tops considerably lower intimidation levels.

When looking for your first surfboard, you want a high-volume board to promote buoyancy, nice and wide, and overall extremely stable.

If you don't already have a shred stick, refer to our article "The Ultimate Guide to Beginner Surfboards" to find the ideal surfboard to best promote your journey in discovering how to surf for beginners, and continue learning about board choice with "How to Choose the Right Surfboard".

Setting Up Your Surfboard

Properly setting up your surfboard must be addressed before paddling out. You need your equipment to work with you, and the good news is that setting up a surfboard only requires a few small steps to ensure total success with how to surf for beginners.

Refer to our article "How to Set Up a Surfboard" for the complete guide, or follow the below tips for a brief summary on the required steps.

  1. Placing your Traction Pad

With a clean, fresh surfboard deck, begin setting up your surfboard by placing your traction pad a few centimeters above the tail. Line up the pad, peel off the adhesive, and stick the pad on to be as straight and symmetrical as possible. Wait 24 hours after doing so before surfing to ensure that the pad permanently sticks.

  1. How to Use Surf Wax

Learning how to use surf wax is essential to promoting grip on the board when standing up. Make sure that you wax your surfboard with the right type of wax and the correct waxing techniques to ensure that there is plenty of friction under your feet to keep from slipping out on your first couple of waves.

Want to know how to wax a surfboard? We got you covered.

  1. How to Attach a Surf Leash

Your leash is your lifeline, especially when you begin experiencing waves of higher consequence, as this handy device keeps you attached to your surfboard. To promote safety in the water when learning how to surf, you have to learn how to attach a surf leash.

First, begin with choosing the right leash based on the size of your surfboard and other characteristics outlined in "The Ultimate Guide to Surfboard Leashes". Once you have your leash, locate the leash plug on your surfboard and insert your leash tie by pushing it under the small metal rail, looping it back through the tie so that it is locked in.

Always ensure that your leash tie is not long enough to extend past the rails (the edges) or the tail of your surfboard, as the pressure of a wave can cause the tie to press into the surfboard and damage it.

With the leash tie in, insert the velcro leash attachment (the rail saver) through the loop, secure it down, pulling the second velcro strip towards you, and then attach the last strip. Then attach the leash cuff to the ankle of your back foot.

  1. Surfboard Fins

There's a wide variety of surfboard fins out there, and choosing the right set for your board, the wave conditions, and your skill level will significantly enhance your surfing. After you learn the different types of fins:

  • Simply unscrew the fin screw.
  • Insert the fins in their correct box.
  • Tighten the screw down.

New fin systems like the FCS II require no screws, and you can effortlessly pop them in and out of your board.

Surfing Fitness

Surfing is a rigorous physical activity, and keeping your surfing fitness levels on point will lengthen your surf sessions, increase your skill and power, and keeps your body ready for more significant conditions in the near future.

  1. Surfing Workouts

To promote your journey into learning how to surf for beginners, you can do things outside of the water that will increase your stamina, breath-hold, and overall strength. Creating a simple surf workout routine is a key fundamental in learning how to surf, and certain workouts are better for surfing, as you want to focus on lean strength, balance, and cardio.

  1. Stretching

You should always stretch before a session, no matter how long you plan to surf. Stretching helps to ward off the risk of injury and helps get the blood flowing before strenuous activity. Follow our pre-surf stretch routine before you paddle out to feel nice and loose during paddling and riding.

  1. Recovery

Recovery is just as essential as working out. Whether recovering after a workout or recovering after a surf session, recovery helps you learn how to surf by keeping you apt and ready to ride every day possible.

It doesn't take much to recover, and we've outlined the perfect guide to surf recovery to enhance muscle growth and surfing improvement.

How to Surf for Beginners: Do I need a Teacher?

Plenty of surfers master their skills without a teacher, and becoming a self-taught surfer is entirely viable. With that said, having a surf teacher is never a bad idea!

You might find a surf school to act as a beneficial resource in mastering your surfing basics, and you can even hire a one-on-one coach if you so please, as they will take all the guesswork out of surfing.

Learning how to get better at surfing is the best approach with someone who is a master at the sport, and a surf instructor is never a bad idea.

You may also refer to outside resources, such as this article and others, as well as videos, to help visualize and further better your skill sets, both in and out of the water.

How Hard is it to Surf?

Learning how to surf is a never-ending journey. Even the most talented surfers work to progress day in and day out. But exactly how hard is it to surf?

This answer will vary for everyone, but the truth is that surfing isn't easy. With the right equipment, the right training, and lots of practice through consistent dedication, you'll eventually nail down the basics and begin working towards more progressive surfing.

Learning on the right waves without pushing yourself past comfort zones is key, and never feel frustrated if you go an entire session without catching a wave. We've all been there, and many of us who are years into our surfing journey relish the memories of our first waves, and you will too.

Never take this for granted, enjoy every moment of the process, and always reach out to your friends at Boardcave if you need any advice or help!

Ready for the next step in learning how to surf for beginners? Visit our next article in the series “Paddling out, Duck Diving, and the Pop Up” to begin gaining an understanding of these crucial surf basics and to better ready yourself to catch that first, beautiful wave.