Surf’s Up – The Basics

posted by Pretty Tough
Monday, July 13, 2009 at 1:43pm EDT

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Girl Surfing

Girls Surfing

Summer is in full swing so what better time to head to the beach and try surfing? If you’ve never tried it, surfing can be a bit intimidating. But fear not, we have all the tips you need to get you started.

The Basics

Learning to surf is not as scary or hard core as you may think.  It does, however, require patience so don’t be disappointed if you’re not riding your board upright by the end of the first session.  In fact, until you become competent, you might just walk your board out, turn it round to face shore, climb on, paddle like mad when a wave approaches and enjoy the ride lying down.

We’ve all seen pro surfers riding massive breaks and barrels but you don’t need really big waves to enjoy surfing. If you have a longboard (exactly as it sounds – a longer, more buoyant board) you can surf in waves as small as a foot high.  Most surf schools use longboards for beginners, often with a foam surface to help avoid injury.

If you’re just starting out, it’s usually easier to learn to surf a beach break – meaning the waves break as they approach the beach – as opposed to a reef break (like in Hawaii) where the waves break where they hit the reef. A beach break is generally less intimidating and you don’t have to paddle your board out far.

Catching a Wave

The truth is you’re never going to learn to surf by reading a tutorial.  You just have to get out there and try it.  But the feeling you get when you catch your first wave will be one you will remember forever.

Basically, here’s what you’re going to try to do:  As a wave approaches, turn the nose of your board toward the beach, lay down and begin paddling.

As you feel the wave lift you and your board, paddle as hard as you can and lean your weight forward. The natural tendency is to lean back to keep the nose from going under water, but that will only slow your momentum and make it more difficult to catch the wave.

Lean forward but raise your chest so that your weight is just above the center of the board. You’re going to want to begin standing just as you feel the pull of the wave.

Presumably, you’ll first practice standing on your board on dry land. Lie on  your surfboard on the sand  (remove your fins to avoid damage) and do a basic push-up quickly. Once your arms are at full extension, pull both knees toward your stomach and hop to your feet. Do this repeatedly to program your subconscious to be ready for what you will do in the water. Whether you stand with your right foot or left foot forward will establish your membership into a long standing rivalry between regular foot and goofy foot surfers.

So once on the water, you’re going to paddle for a wave, and just as you feel the momentum of the surfboard flow faster than your paddling speed, you are ready to hop up on your surfboard.

1.  With your hands firmly grasping each rail, push up quickly.

2.  Simultaneously, extend your arms completely and pull your knees quickly up to your chest. Be sure to keep your weight centered with just a little slant forward.

3.  Place your feet firmly on your board, one foot near the tail and one foot

4.  Don’t stand up completely erect. Keep a low center of gravity by crouching down and focusing your weight on the midpoint of the surfboard. Balancing on a surfboard is no different than balancing on a skateboard or even a bicycle. Just keep your arms out and your eyes looking forward (remember: your surfboard will always follow your eyes and head, so focus on forward motion.

Master standing up and riding the wave in and then you can practice wave-riding and all the fun stuff that goes along the next level of surfing.

Surf Etiquette

Once you do learn to actually ride a wave, surf etiquette is essential. The first and most basic rule of surfing is that the surfer who gets to his/her feet first and is closest to the whitewater  has priority and theoretically owns the wave.

So, if you don’t want to be an outcast or a target for aggression, never drop in on another surfer.  Taking off in front of that surfer is a serious breach of surfing’s most coveted rule.

Camps & Clinics

If you’re looking for a camp, class or clinic to help get you started, check out our database.


Oh, and before you head out,  make sure you know how to talk the talk.

Pretty Basic - Surf Lingo

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