Top tips for beginner surfers

Being a beginner surfer can be frustrating and overwhelming. There are so many things to remember and so much going on around you. It takes time to make sense of the ocean and it takes practice to master what looks easy when the intermediates are doing it. But remember that they were also beginners once!

At an IN surf camp we take great care in providing you with the knowledge and abilities you need to feel safe when you venture out into the waves. Understanding the mechanisms of waves and currents and knowing what to do with yourself and your board when things get hairy, will enable you to feel in control over your own situation. We have one instructor to every two students on beginner surfer level to make sure you are always safe, but when it comes down to it, it’s all up to you.

If you are out there learning on your own, here are a few tips from the IN crew!


1) Do at least one lesson with a qualified instructor before you go out on your own

This is first of all for your own and others’ safety. Secondly, it is to get you onto the correct technique straight away. Trying to figure out how to catch waves and stand up on a board by yourself will take so much longer than if you get the basics explained to you. If you really want to learn to surf, treat yourself to a good start.

For a refresher on safety regarding you and your board, check out this video (Though we’d say cover the back of your head and neck with one arm, elbow up, fingers pointing down, and the other arm across the top of your head, elbow up – to cover as much as possible and protect your spine)

And for ocean safety look here


2) When you feel ready to venture out to the line-up, learn the proper surf etiquette first

Being a beginner surfer doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the rules. You will feel a lot more confident out there if you understand the system and you will know which waves are rightfully yours and when you should let others go. It will probably save you from being yelled at without understanding why and you will not be ruining other people’s surf.

This site is a great source to study.


3) Surfboards!

When you start learning; rent, buy second hand or borrow a board if you can. You will progress onto something smaller relatively fast and you will quickly want to get rid of that big soft top you bought. The first board you try should be super floaty and stable, probably around 9’ with lots of width and thickness. Stick with it until you can catch your own small, green waves and stand up relatively stable and consistently. Then move on when you want to start turning to go sideways.

When buying your first board, don’t go too small, too fast (google it for millions of explanations). Your technique and style will be so much better if you learn on a bigger board that takes power and commitment to turn. If you get a small board prematurely you will feel like you are doing great as the board feels so responsive, but actually, you’re probably just wiggling around, looking stiff and rigid. Yes, it is awesome to have a board that you can duckdive, but you are out there to surf, not dive under waves. The time for the duckdive board will come!

When buying your first board, ask people around you who have seen you surf, or ask for advice in your nearest surf shop.


4) Practice, Practice, Practice your pop up!

Doing a quick, smooth pop up is crucial to your progress and it is something you can practice on land as well. If you get the technique right on land, it will be so much easier in the water. Don’t get used to popping up on your knees, it will take you longer to get rid of the habit. Do 20 pop ups every morning to enhance your muscle memory and improve your fitness.


5) It’s all in the paddling

Having the proper paddling technique and positioning on the board when you paddle makes a big difference. Here are three things to note when you paddle:

  • How is your weight distribution? The nose of your board should not be submerged in the water and not be pointing too much up. If you are not sure, try moving a bit forwards or backwards to feel the difference, if you are too far back, the tail will be dragging and slow you down, if you are too far forward your nose will dig into the water.
  • With your actual paddle strokes, power is more important than speed. Imagine yourself pushing as much water as possible in every stroke, using power all the way from your shoulder blades through your upper arm. As your arm passes through the water, make sure it is close to the rails of your board and even push your hand slightly under the board in an S-movement. This will help your board to go straight forwards rather than side to side which would slow you down.
  • When you paddle for the wave, remember “three more paddles”. When you think you have it, add three more strokes before you pop up.


6) Bend your knees, not your back

As you get to your feet it is important to stay low to keep your balance. A classic beginner mistake is to stand up too straight and then lean your upper body forwards from your hips to get low. This will make it a lot harder to control you balance and you will probably fall off quite quickly. Imagine a line from you neck, through your spine and straight down to your board and then bend your knees in stead to get as low as you can.


7) Keep your arms up

Your arms are excellent to help you balance (think of balancing artists) and if they hang down by your side they will be completely useless. Your arms will also be the key to your powerful turns at a later stage so getting used to actively involving them in your surf from the beginning gives you an advantage.


8) Look where you want to go

You will end up where you are looking. If you look down, you will fall, if you look at a person, you will be heading for that person. Always look in the direction you want your board to go, already when you are paddling for the wave.


9) Get someone to take pictures of you

Seeing pictures of yourself is the best way to improve. When you have been surfing for a couple of sessions and feel like you are starting to get the hang of it, it is time to look at what you are actually doing. It probably feels like you are doing something totally different from what you actually are.


10) Focus on one thing at a time

If you try to correct everything at the same time you will probably not improve anything. Pick one thing to focus on and repeat it in your head as you are paddling for the waves. When you feel like you are mastering that thing, move on to the next.


11) Do it!

If you are hesitating to go out for whatever reason, instead of just quitting, do something that benefits your surfing. If the reason is that no one wants to come with you, go by yourself and push yourself to talk to new people in the water.

If it seems too big to be safe for you, hang out on the beach and watch – there is so much learning in watching.
Or if it is big and scary, but still not unsafe, push yourself a bit. Maybe just to get out back and hang out on the shoulder without trying to catch waves to get used to the feeling. Or stay on the inside and get used to the current and power in the white wash.
If the conditions are just generally bad, lower your expectations and head out anyway – if nothing else, you can work on your paddle fitness and understanding of the ocean.

Remember, every minute spent in the ocean or watching the ocean, whether you are a beginner surfer or an intermediate, teaches you something, even if it’s not what you came to learn. Paddling out is never a waste of time.


12) Talk to people

As a beginner surfer you should have so many questions. If you are paddling out at a new spot, ask other surfers on the beach to give you the lowdown. What are the waves like, what is the crowd like, is there any hazards under the surface, where is the best place to paddle out, how do the rips work etc. Sometimes more experienced surfers are not too enthusiastic about beginners in the water, but if you have a humble approach, show that you want to learn and that you have respect for them, they will probably soften up pretty quickly. Going out with something to prove will not take you very far.


13) Enjoy the process and set small goals!

This is definitely one of the most valuable tips you can get as a beginner surfer. If you expect to master it straight away and only long for when you can stand up perfectly and turn on a smaller board, you will probably never get there. Surfing takes a long time to master, but the process of learning is so much fun if you keep your focus right. Even if you don’t stand up in your first session (I sure didn’t, not in the second either!), enjoy being in the ocean, feeling the power of the waves and currents, feel your body getting stronger, laugh at your funny attempts of standing and falling off and give yourself credit for sticking with it and not giving up. You will have so many sessions where you feel like you should have done better and the way to push through it is to change your focus and reward yourself for the little things.

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