That First Wave Feeling
The following is an excerpt from our upcoming Almond's Guide to Your First Year of Surfing
Ask any surfer about their relationship with surfing, and chances are they talk about the feeling of riding their first real wave.
Test me on this.
Read any interview with any prominent surf figure on their origin with the sport, and you will almost certainly find a reference to their first real wave, that magical feeling they felt gliding across the surface that had them immediately hooked.
As surfers, we are always chasing that first-wave feeling.
But one of the greatest things about surfing is that the first-wave feeling almost never goes away. In fact, the more you surf, somehow, the better it gets!
Quick sidebar: let’s not get hung up on the language here... If your “first wave” was a clumsy wobble followed by a big splash, that just means you’re like the rest of us. What we’re talking about here is the first time you feel like you are soaring across the ocean in an effortless glide, and you instantly recognize you’ve never felt anything like it before. It might take time to get there, but it will be worth it, and worth it time and time again.
Even if the clouds don’t part and the angels don’t sing after your first real wave, don’t lose heart. There is so much joy ahead of you. Some stories are a slow burn, some are earth shattering, singular moments. Whatever yours is, embrace it fully and enjoy every moment. Even the brutal days, because you’ll have plenty of those.
How do you harness the power of that first wave feeling?
You need to be able to predict what a wave is doing, and you need to match the speed of the wave with your arms.
If it seems like the other surfers around you are having more success and catching wave after wave, it’s simply because they have spent more time in the water, can better predict what each wave is going to do, have built up better arm strength, and, as a result, can react and respond better to the ever-changing surf landscape. But this will be you soon!
In the meantime, you can practice popping up to your feet on dry land; you can practice keeping your center of gravity low; you can practice turtle-rolling your board (you aspiring longboarders will thank me) under oncoming waves. All very important skills. But predicting the wave’s behavior & being able to paddle for it accordingly, are the two tallest walls you’ll have to climb to get your first REAL one.
While you are still learning to read and predict wave behavior, I’m gonna say it again, watch & try to emulate what the best surfers in the lineup are doing. If you see them all sitting in the same spot, start 10-20 yards off the shoulder from them with the goal of getting comfortable enough to eventually surf from where they are.
Or better yet, be aware of the surfers who seem to be just ahead of you in the process. Watch what they do too, because they were just you maybe even as soon as two weeks ago. See how quickly you can match their proficiency, then find the next person to catch. Because I’ll admit, only drawing from the best surfers is like watching a Formula 1 race on a flat screen, then heading out & trying to do the same in your mom or dad’s 25 year old station wagon with them in it because you’ve only got a permit. Totally unrealistic & completely unsafe.
Crucial to point out: If you see everyone frantically paddling toward the horizon as fast as they can, don’t ask questions, just do the same. Use the body language of the surfers around you as clues and use those clues to start getting a sense of what is going to happen, because there might be a few waves barreling down on you shortly where turtle-rolling might not be enough.