First-Time Surfer Cheat Sheet
There is no shame in not knowing.
For some reason, we tend to feel ashamed when we don't know something. So we pretend like we do, or we feel like we have to qualify it. There are plenty of subjects I know nothing about. When I rented cross-country skis for the first time, I didn't pretend to know one thing about cross country skis. I just asked the guy what I needed and he set me up.
Surfboards have been my career for over twelve years, and I find that people feel as though they need to apologize to me for not surfing or feel like they should know more about it than they do.
Being a novice is great—just be an eager novice. Read, listen, watch, and find ways of making measurable progress.
Surfing is fairly simple in theory and fairly difficult in practice. So, here are a few rapid-fire answers to questions you haven't asked yet.
Before you paddle out:
- The fins go in like this.
- Guys typically don't wear anything under their wetsuit. Gal's generally wear a swimsuit under their wetsuit.
- 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 to wax it at all.)
- This is the board we recommend for novices.
- Your leash—if you must wear one—goes on your back foot.
- When you carry your board to the beach, the deck should be facing away from you.
- Read our theory on learning to surf.
When you show up to the beach, watch the lineup before paddling out. Use this time to accomplish several things:
- What is the surf doing today and are you comfortable in those conditions?
- Where are surfers paddling out?
- Watch the best surfer(s) in the water: where are they sitting, which waves are they taking off on.
- Where are other surfers paddling out?
- What kind of boards are everyone else in the lineup riding? Are you on the appropriate equipment for today?
When you Paddle Out:
- Study the best surfers in the water and try to glean wisdom from observing.
- When you paddle out, sit down the line 20+ yards from where the best surfers are sitting. Wait for waves that sneak past and go for those.
- Be 100% sure nobody else is already coming down the line.
- 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, like they're riding a longboard skateboard. Surfing is the opposite, you want a low center of gravity and your weight should be either centered over both feet or over your back foot where the control of the board lies.
Build Up Paddling Strength
There is no exercise outside of paddling a surfboard that builds up the muscle-group for paddling a surfboard. You will be bad at paddling a surfboard when you first start. Focus on getting really, really good at paddling a surfboard—which entails more than just paddling straight ahead. Get comfortable turning the board quickly, get comfortable sitting, laying, accelerating.
That surfboard is your dance partner and you should be guiding it all over the dance floor—or in this case lineup—with ease. If you are wanting to progress in your surfing ability, keep in mind you spend way more of your time sitting and paddling than you do up and riding. Paddling is the barrier-to-entry for you to start catching tons and tons of waves. Get better at paddling and that will start earning you the reps to improve your surfing as well.