Beginners Guide to Surfing
There’s something quite special about experiencing the raw energy of the sea. Feeling the power of the waves in contact with the body has the ability to invigorate the soul and cleanse the mind. And on a clear blue sunny day with the light shimmering off the surface of the water, there is no place I would rather be.
Now is a great time to get into the water; and what better way to experience the wonder of the ocean than giving surfing a go. I started surfing a number of years ago; it started with a few trips to West Wittering in West Sussex which then developed into regular trips to Watergate Bay in Cornwall. And then everything shifted during a surf & yoga holiday in Sri Lanka where I finally cracked catching green waves. I’m still by no means an expert; my journey as a beginner is still very much present in my mind, which brings me to share this with you.
Your first step will be to find a good surf school and book either a group or 1-2-1 lesson. This will give you a good knowledge base: water safety, how waves work, hazards in the water and you’ll be taught how to paddle, catch waves and pop up. After this first lesson you’ll probably know whether surfing is or isn’t for you. There are some great surf schools dotted all over the UK, including those in Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk, Wales and Scotland. Another way to go about it is to book a surf holiday abroad where you can spend an intensive week or two picking up all the necessary skills in a top surfing spot. This is a great way to fast-track your progression.
You don’t need to buy anything for your first lesson. From the surf school you will be able to hire a wetsuit and a board, and booties and a hood during the winter months. You just need a swim suit to wear under the wetsuit and some sun cream if the weather is warm. After you’ve had a few lessons you can then continue to hire equipment for your own practice sessions for as long as you need to and perhaps you could invest in a wetsuit.
When you first start out you’ll be riding on a large foam board with lots of volume to help you to learn to paddle and pop up. But once you’ve cracked popping up and riding the wave you can then start to downsize the board and progress to riding a hard board.
Once you’ve found the right size and shape board for you, you might then like to think about investing in your own board. There is a huge range of different sizes and shapes of boards to explore, and if you get the bug you might end up owning a number of different style boards.
Once you’ve had enough lessons to feel confident without an instructor being in the water with you, it’s then a case of practicing as often as you can. You might like to book additional coaching sessions to allow you to progress from catching broken waves to getting out back beyond the white water to start catching green waves and learning to turn.
When you are taking lessons, the surf school will monitor the wave conditions and ensure that the area that you surf in is appropriate for your level of experience on that particular day. Many beaches have lifeguards which operate between certain hours and stipulate which zone of the beach is allocated for surfing versus bathing. Once you’re practicing alone it’s a good idea to check what the wave forecast is before deciding when and where to surf.
The wind direction, the wind speed and the tides will affect the quality, power and height of the waves and the intervals between the waves, all of which will affect your surf session. Websites and apps such as Magic Seaweed are a good reference for checking the surf conditions.
As you progress, you will learn that your performance in the water is linked to your mobility, flexibility and both upper body and core strength. This becomes really apparent as the fatigue sets in after a long session in the water or when you are surfing on multiple days in a row. Cross training is therefore really valuable so that you can make the most of your time in the water – especially if you don’t live close to the sea.
Bodyweight and weighted exercises such as lunges, squats, squat-thrusts, push-ups, Turkish getups and kettlebell exercises will improve your strength. Swimming is also great to improve your paddling performance. Yoga is great for developing core strength and flexibility to aid your pop-ups and upper body range of motion. It’s also a really good idea to practice your pop-ups out of the water to build muscle memory.
Every day in the water is different. With changing wave and weather conditions, on some days you will catch more waves than on others. On the off days, the important thing is to not take it too seriously. Take the rough with smooth and just remember what it feels like when you catch an epic wave. You have many glorious days in the water ahead of you. Enjoy every moment.
Article written by Felicity Wood