Many people fear surfing because they fear the water and
surf. Even if you take part in other water activities, you
may still feel uncomfortable with the ocean and waves. This
is typically due to not understanding the movement and forces
of the water. Getting hit by the face of a wave, even a
small wave, can knock the wind out of you. Yet it could
have been easily avoided by moving slightly to one side
or ducking the wave. It's all a matter of reading the water.
This will be an important aspect of learning to surf.
Surfing started with the
Polynesians and was first documented in Hawaii by Captain
Cook's crew in the 1700s. Surfing was a large part of
the Hawaiian culture with references in their songs, chants
and prayers. It wasn't just for royalty: everyone surfed.
One of the most famous Hawaiian surfers was Duke Kahanamoku,
introducing surfing to the rest of the world. The Duke
first became renowned for his swimming. He held several
world records and won gold medals in swimming during the
1912 and 1920 Olympics. Duke passed away in 1968, but
is still remembered and revered by the surfing community
Entering the Surf
It is important to be comfortable
in the waves. You should be proficient at bodysurfing
and bodyboarding, and an excellent swimmer before you
head out into the surf with a board. If you have limited
experience in the waves, start off bodysurfing on small
beach break. Bodysurfing doesn't require any equipment,
though swim fins help. This will teach you to read the
waves and the water, and how to streamline yourself in
the water. After you've gotten a feel for maneuvering
in the waves, try some slightly bigger waves, around 3
feet. As the waves get larger the strength of the water
Next you're ready to try
out a bodyboard or "boogie-board". A bodyboard
is a short 3-foot foam board that you lie on. Most bodyboards
have a shock cord called a leash that attaches the board
to your wrist. This prevents you from loosing the board
and having to swim into shore to retrieve it. The boogie-board
will teach you how to duck the board through the waves,
and how to time to waves to catch them. For bodyboarding
you'll want to be farther out than bodysurfing. Once you've
master these you're ready to try surfing.
It's best to spend some
time watching surfers. Look for when they start paddling,
where they position themselves on the wave, how they get
up, which way they go on the wave, and how the waves are
breaking. When you first paddle out, you'll need to adjust
your weight and position on the board. Start by catching
a few waves and riding them in on your stomach. This will
help you get your weight right and allow you to get used
to the feel.
Many surf instructors will
tell their students to first come to their knees and then
their feet in order to stand on a surfboard. This is not
the best method, because it is difficult to balance in
that position and you're adding an extra step. You should
go directly from lying down on the board to a squat position
with both feet on the board and your center of gravity
low. This is often called the "pop-up" method.
Try this at home before you get to the beach. It is fairly
difficult to do on the floor, but will be easier on a
There will be a "channel"
of deeper water on the side of where the waves are breaking.
This is where you paddle out, so you don't have to go
through the waves. When you get out, try to stay to the
side of the pack of surfers. This way you won't get in
their way and they won't get in your way. There are specific
rules of the road when surfing. The most important rule
is the surfer that catches the wave closest to the wave's
break has the rights. If you don't have wave rights you
must stay clear or kick out of the wave.
As a beginner it's important
to find the right surf break to learn. The best break
has a sandy bottom, small waves (1 to 2 feet), and a fairly
long ride. The long ride can be the most difficult to
find. Beach break is usually the best location.
You'll need to find a board
to learn on. To begin with you should rent a board. Most
local surf shops will rent and may offer lessons, but
call around first. The board should be long enough to
float you and wide enough to be stable. A good way to
measure is to reach one arm up over your head. The board
should be as tall as your outstretched hand.
The only other equipment
you need is surfboard wax, a leash, and maybe a wetsuit
if the water is cold. The wax is rubbed onto the top surface
of the board to make it less slippery. Wetsuits are handy
because they'll protect your stomach from rubbing on the
board and keep you warm. They'll also protect your skin
from the sun and give you a little extra buoyancy. Don't
forget to wear lots of waterproof sunscreen all over,
including your back if you're not wearing a wetsuit.
Wipe-out - A wipeout
is when you fall off the board.
Inside - Being caught
inside means that you are inside of where the waves are
breaking. This is a dangerous spot, because you have to
fight all the incoming waves to get back out. Also, if
there are any loose boards, they're headed your way.
The first surfboards were
made of wood and could weigh up to 150 lbs. That would
be a little difficult to get down to the water. In 1926
surfboards began to get lighter, finding alternative methods
and materials. In 1935 saw the first fin or skeg attached
to a surfboard. Surfboards didn't see another major change
until the 1960s, when using resin and fiberglass was developed.
Two board types became available: the longboard and a
As your surfing skills improve
you'll want to buy a surfboard. You'll need to decide
whether to buy a longboard or a shorter board. Longboards
were considered the old cruiser, for the old fogies. But
that isn't really the case today. Longboards have benefited
from new design techniques, so they too can shred. Your
decision may be based on the general surf conditions in
your area. Longboards are great for small surf, which
is prevailing for most places. Shorter boards aren't able
to catch or ride small waves. So if you're not living
on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii or on a hot California
break, the longboard might be better.
An unfortunate aspect of
surfing is the politics. Most breaks get crowded, which
means waiting your turn and fighting for position. Usually
it just happens naturally, but sometimes it's a lesson
in diplomacy. The rule of thumb is to just be courteous.
If you get in someone's way just apologize. There is still
the odd sexist comment, something like "you should
be in the kitchen". But if you're a surf girl, it's
not stopping you cause you've heard it before. Besides,
the best way to change that mentality is to get out there
and shred with 'em.
Off the Lip Cut Backs
As you progress with your
surfing skills, you'll learn more aggressive moves and
tight maneuvers. These maneuvers take a long time to perfect,
the more radical the more difficult. Though surfing is
less about doing stunts than just about being out there.
Many surfers refer to the sport as a religious experience.
They feel closest to God when they're surfing. Probably
because it's one of the few sports that require very little
equipment: just you, the board and the waves.
Recently competitive women
surfers have made some progress with increased prize money
and more competition. It still has a long way to go though.
Women's International Surfing Association (WISA) was one
of the first organizations to promote women's surfing
competitions. It was founded in 1975 in order to run a
professional contest circuit for women. Shortly after
WISA, the International Professional Surfers group added
women's surfing to their events. Today the 2 most active
groups promoting women's surfing are Waterwomen and the
Association of Women Surfers.
- Don't take weather and
water conditions lightly. Find out what surf and weather
conditions are forecasted.
- Don't surf in waves that
are over your skill and comfort level.
- Don't' drop-in on fellow
- Respect fellow surfers
and respect the water.
- Don't paddle against
a rip tide. Ripe tides are relatively narrow so you
want to paddle to the side to get out of it.
- The leash is a must.
- If you don't need a wetsuit,
try the new surf shirts. They're made of thin nylon
material, like a swimsuit. They keep the sun off your
back and protect your stomach from rubbing on the board.
- If a surfboard is headed
at you, you should duck under the water and cover your
head with your arms.
- Stay clear of any fishing
lines or traps. They can get tangled in your leash and
around your legs, creating a dangerous situation.
- To begin with there should
always be someone on shore that can keep a look out
for you. Usually there will be a lifeguard.
- Be aware of the rip tide,
know where it is.
- Keep an eye on where
you are in regards to the shore. Currents can carry
you out as well as along the shoreline.