First-Time Surfer Cheat Sheet
They say the height of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.
Surfing is fairly simple in theory and very difficult in practice. So, here are a few rapid-fire answers to questions you maybe haven't asked before.
Before you paddle out:
- Before paddling out for the very first time Learn How to Watch Surfing
- The fins go in like this.
- Guys typically don't wear anything under their wetsuit. Girls generally wear a swimsuit under theirs.
- If the zipper is vertical, it goes on your back. If the zipper is horizontal, it goes across your chest.
- The wax goes on the top—it's to create sticky bumps so you don't slip off. (Unless it's an R-Series board, in which case you don't need wax at all.) For the full treatment, use basecoat first followed by the right wax for your local water temp.
- Your leash goes on your back foot when standing on your board.
- When you carry your board to the beach, the deck (wax side) should be facing away from you.
- “Lefts” and “Rights” are determined by the perspective of a surfer paddling for a wave, and look opposite from the beach. Lefts tend to be more attractive to goofy-footed surfers, and rights are more desirable for regular-footed surfers with your body facing the wave face. If you are paddling for a peak, and the surfer next to you says, “I’ll go right,” the left is freely yours.
When you Paddle Out:
- Study the best surfers in the water and try to glean wisdom from their experience. (Again, plugging this article: Learn How to Watch Surfing)
- When paddling, the nose of your board should only be an inch or two off the surface of the water.
- When a wall of white-water is coming toward you as you manage your way to the peak, paddle straight at it with the nose of your board pointed directly into the oncoming wave, and decide quickly whether it’s better to go over or under the whitewater. Most of the power of the wave is right at the water’s surface, so you have to get off the plane you’re paddling on to make it through. When you’re on an 8’0 or longer: the smaller the wave, the more realistic it is to go over. The bigger the wave, the more likely you’ll want to go under by turtle rolling (see link below). Whatever you do, don’t get caught with your board upright between you and the wave, or it’ll likely come back and pop you.
- When you make it to the lineup, sit 20+ yards away from where the best surfers are sitting. Wait for waves that sneak past them and go for those.
- Be 100% sure nobody else is already on the wave.
- Whether you decide to stand, kneel, or lay prone, ride every wave as far to the beach as you can.
- Bend your knees. Far too often I see surfers standing stiff-legged with their weight on their front leg. You want a low center of gravity with your weight either distributed over both feet or a little more heavily over your back foot where the control of the board lies.
We are working on a more comprehensive Guide to Your First Year of Surfing, but this is sort of the Cliff's Notes version. Keep an eye out for the full length guide in the coming months.
In the meantime, you can go deeper by reading Almond's Guide to Surf Etiquette