The ABC’s of Surfing

Do you want to learn how to surf? Sure, you most likely have a romanticized idea of gliding seamlessly across a cascading wall of water, carving up and down the face of the wave, riding all the way to the beach… right?

Wrong. Chances are, if you’ve never surfed before be prepared for…ummm let’s just say a very humbling experience. Hate to break it to ya, but learning to surf is not easy. Sure, anyone can take a lesson and be technically ‘surfing’ within as little as a few minutes on mushy, crumbling white-wash waves. But c’mon any surfer will tell you that’s not really surfing. If you want to experience the thrill of surfing so indescribable its said “only a surfer knows the feeling,” then you’re going to need lots of practice, patience, and most likely some helpful tips and suggestions.
If you stick with it, past the embarrassing wipe-outs and initial awkwardness, you’ll eventually experience that amazing ‘thrill’, but be warned it could change your life!

Paddling a Surfboard: 3 Tips for the Beginner Surfer

1) Position yourself on your surfboard with your hips centered and balanced. Imagine your surfboard is like a seesaw; you want the nose and tail evenly balanced. If you are positioned too far forward your surfboard will pearl, too far back and you’ll sacrifice speed and have a hard time catching waves. As a rule of thumb, keep the nose of your surfboard hovering only a couple of inches out of the water while paddling.

2) ‘Ankle to ankle’: To help prevent swaying side to side (left to right), you’ll want to keep your ankles glued together. This may seem difficult at first, but the key to effective paddling is a strong core. Keeping your ankles together while paddling your surfboard will tighten your core and improve your balance. Just remember ‘ankle to ankle’ the next time you feel wobbly and I guarantee this little trick is sure to help.

#3) Cup your hands as if holding water in them to drink. This is how you want your hands to be when paddling. Stretch your arms straight out in front one at time and plunge your cupped hands down deep following through all the way. Try to prevent your shoulders or hips from swaying too much from side to side by keeping your core balanced and straight. This will help your surfboard plane across the water improving speed and ultimately making it easier to paddle.

*Special tip: Take note of which surfers seem to be catching the most waves. Watch them closely and notice their paddling form. Are their ankles apart? Does the nose of their surfboard hover only a few inches out of the water? Is their paddling stroke even and steady? Chances are they’ve been surfing for years, so don’t worry so if you’re not catching as many waves as them. Learning to surf is a process that takes time and lots of practice.

Practice your stance on the beach first.

The very first thing you should know before you try standing up on a surfboard is whether you are a ‘regular’ or ‘goofy’ surfer. No, not whether or not you look goofy surfing, because trust me, all beginner surfers look goofy while learning to surf.

So what am I talking about? Well, the terms regular and goofy refer to which foot you naturally place forward on your surfboard. A ‘regular’ footer surfs left-foot forward, while a ‘goofy’ footer surfs the opposite, right-foot forward. If you have ever tried skateboarding or snowboarding, then it’s usually same stance.Not sure?

These three techniques should help you figure it out:

#1 Bend your knees and find a relaxed and balanced stance as if you were surfing. Try to determine which foot forward feels the most comfortable. Usually the stronger foot is placed towards the back to help put weight on the tail of the surfboard for turning purposes.

#2 Lay on your stomach as if paddling and then quickly pop-up into your surfing stance. Notice which foot you naturally place forward.

#3 This simple trick requires help from a friend. Find a level place to stand, close your eyes and relax, and without announcing when, have your friend lightly push you in the back so that you naturally step forward. The foot you place forward to catch your balance will most likely mirror your natural surfing stance.

Still not sure? Don’t worry you should be able to figure it out after a few rides.

Note: Its important to always place your leash on your back foot. This will help prevent your leash from getting tangled around your legs.

Where Should a Beginner Learn to Surf?

Now that you’ve picked out that magic surfboard, the next choice an aspiring surfer needs to make is where to go? The answer may seem obvious, right?…just head down to the beach dummy, launch that surfboard into the water and head out, duh… Well, not exactly.

If you’ve never surfed before or you are still in the learning stages then you may need some suggestions for picking an appropriate beach to learn to surf. Let’s start by providing a simple explanation of the different types of surf breaks:

A) Beach Breaks: Sandy bottom, typically break in shallow water close to shore. Often, these waves break best near piers or rock jetties. The shape of the wave is formed by the shifting contour of the sand below, therefore wave quality can vary greatly by season or even daily as underwater currents constantly adjust the sand’s position underneath.beach break wave A Beach Break is probably the best place for a beginner to learn to surf (initially). The shallow water makes it easy to stand when you fall off your board, and the sandy bottom usually has few hazards to step on. However, look out for swimmers! Most beaches during the summer have designated areas for swimmers only. Look for the ‘blackball flag’, and stay clear of that area. You’re a surfer now, so you gotta hang in the surf zone from here on out 🙂

B) Reef Breaks: These types of waves are formed by either rock or reef bottoms. Some of the most treacherous waves in the world break on uber-shallow coral reef. The world famous ‘North Shore’ of Oahu is comprised almost exclusively of shallow reef breaks. However, as a beginner you may not be ready just yet to conquer humongous spitting barrels. Don’t worry the greatest thing about reef breaks is their diversity. As you advance past the initial stage of learning to stand up, you’ll most likely want to head towards a reef break that offers gentle slopey waves.reef break wave Tip: Look for the ‘longboard’ spots. Reef breaks can provide longer rides than beach breaks and give you that opportunity to really feel the glide of your surfboard underneath your feet. That first ‘face’ wave you catch will stick with you forever. Note: reef breaks can often be more crowded than beach breaks, so make sure you’ve mastered the basics (paddling, turtle diving, and turning your board around quickly) to avoid clashes with other surfers.

C) Point Breaks: Point Breaks can offer some of the best shaped and longest rides available. Appropriately breaking against a ‘point’: these waves typically bend around the outer edge of a bay or peninsula, and can have sand, rock, or reef bottoms. Famous examples include my personal favorites Rincon in Santa Barbara or Honolua Bay, Maui. If you’re not familiar with these places, search on Google and you’ll see photos of long, smooth, perfectly contoured waves just begging to be ridden.point break waveThe kind of waves the daydreaming student-surfer would doodle on his or her notebook during class… just perfection! Note: perfection usually doesn’t go unnoticed, so be prepared to battle it out with a bunch of other wave-hungry surfers looking for that perfect ride. Caution: Intermediate and advanced surfers only.

D) The Rivermouth: often the most fickle of surfbreaks, rivermouths are essentially beach breaks with sandy bottoms, but under the right conditions can occasionally rival the shape and form of any of the best reef or point breaks out there. Rivermouth surf breaks usually turn on after a hard rain when an onslaught of water trying to reach the sea pushes a temporary build up of sand in just the right spot to funnel incoming swell into jacking walls of water. Caution: beware of water pollution in urban runoff areas.

In summary, stick to the beach breaks while you master the fundamentals of paddling, and balancing on your board, but don’t be afraid to endeavor out to the ‘longboard’ reef breaks for some real adventure!

Surfing Terms for the Beginner Surfer.

The following is a mini-glossary of surfing related phrases and keywords, some of which have been used thus far:

Black-Ball: A yellow flag with a black ball in the center used by lifeguards to warn surfers of an area off-limits to surfing.

Barrel: The ultimate ride is when the crest of a wave folds over itself and forms a cylinder shape with enough space to provide a “tube” for the surfer to ride through. Related terms: pulling in; getting shacked, pitted, tubed, or otherwise barreled; filthy pits; the green-room.
surfer dropping in on another sur

Nobody likes to get snaked!

Dropping in: Refers to the critical point when a surfer stands up on a face-wave that is cresting. (Dropped in on), used to describe the act of one surfer wrongly riding in front of another surfer on the same wave. Also see: snake

Face-Wave: The crest of a wave that surfers ride. Usually breaks on the outside peak. Could be considered the opposite of white-wash waves.

A Fish

(a) Fish: No, not the kind that stealthily swim underneath and around you. A Fish in this sense refers to a type of surfboard. Usually shorter and wider than a typical modern shortboard, often modeled after vintage 70’s designed surf boards.

(a) Gun: Taller sleek and narrow surfboard used by advanced surfers for riding bigger waves.

Kook: A derogatory term used to describe, well… usually beginner surfers who don’t know what they’re doing out in the water. Basically equivalent to the not so flattering term “idiot”. If you can’t spot one then chances are it’s you…nah just kidding! ?

Pearl (ing): This happens when the nose of your surfboard dunks under water while riding a wave causing your surfboard to come to an abrupt stop, most likely pitching you forward and off your surfboard.

Rip-current: Strong undertow current of water headed straight out to sea. Look for slightly brown or discolored and choppy water. If caught in current, swim parallel to shoreline to escape.

Snake(d): Describes getting unjustifiably cut-off by another surfer. See also: dropping in (on someone).

Stoked: To be super pumped on something, friggen awesome!. Ie. The waves are going off, I’m so stoked right now!

White-Wash: The white-foamy type of waves that have already broken upon themselves and are tumbling toward shore. Beginners usually practice surfing these waves first before tackling the faster moving face-waves that break on the outside peak.