We've all seen it—someone giving a surf lesson on the beach, demonstrating how to "pop-up" on a soft-top, laying in the sand before paddling out.
It seems that nearly 100% of surf lessons start this way.
Throw in a few basic physics lessons on keeping the board pointed into the wave when it's coming at you, and away we go...
But what if the way beginners are "taught to surf" is completely backwards?
Don't get me wrong, if the sole aim of the lesson is to let someone stand up in the white wash, and snap a quick photo, so they can check "surfing" off of their bucket list, then this approach is probably perfectly suitable.
But if the aim is to become a surfer, I'd like to propose an entirely different strategy.
My suggestion is that the novice surfer ride the first 8-10 waves on their soft-top, on their belly. Within the first 10 waves, I think a novice could begin to learn to belly-ride a surfboard down the line, actually riding the wave instead of simply standing in the whitewash.
Far too much emphasis is placed on "popping up to your feet", so we're going to take that out of the equation. It doesn't matter how great the novice is at (circle one) (skateboarding/snowboarding/wakeboarding/skiing/balance) the reality is, catching a wave and successfully harnessing its power for a long ride is an entirely unique situation—and one that can't be replicated elsewhere.
My proposed method may require a bit of humility out of the gates, but the ocean is more than capable at continually serving up humility.
The focus of the "lesson" would be on the wave itself and how to position yourself on that wave in order to get the longest ride possible. Ancillary lessons about priority and courtesy in the lineup are much more easily digested when "popping up" isn't the focus.
The novice gets to build confidence in the ocean, in the lineup, and on the face of a wave. Then, and only then—when the art of riding a wave starts to become more comfortable—should the novice start introducing the element of getting to his or her feet.
Delayed gratification is usually a sign of going about things the proper way, and in the case of learning to surf, I think a little delayed gratification would pay dividends in speeding up the overall process of becoming a capable surfer.
Disclaimer: This is all theoretical, as I have rarely participated in the ritual of surf lesson instruction, so I'd love to hear your feedback on putting this theory into practice.