If you live near the water, or are planning a beach trip, giving surfing a try has probably crossed your mind. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone riding the waves with confidence and enjoying themselves as they glide across the water.
If you’re like most people, you’re going to feel intimidated when learning how to surf for the first time. There’s no need! With the right gear, attitude, and planning, you can have a blast even on your first time paddling out.
Your goal on day 1 of surfing should be simple: standing up on a wave. Why is this? Getting to stand up on your board and ride at least part of a wave will feel like booking a huge win, and make you want to get back out in the water for future sessions. It’s super fun, and the feeling of riding a wave into shore is indescribable.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through some tips to help you stand up on a surfboard on your very first day in the water…
1. Bring Some Buddies
If you’re going to learn how to surf, bring some friends along with you. Regardless of whether they have experience or not, it’s great to share the ocean with buddies. Having some friends along for the ride will allow you to bounce suggestions off of each other and maybe even add a fun competitive element to the day.
Think of it this way: if any of your novice friends start to figure out how to surf before you do, you can ask them for some tips. While they’re still new, you can get an idea of how they figured it out. If you have an experienced surfer in your group, you can ask them for advice on how to improve.
2. Pick the Right Beach
When you’re learning how to surf, you need to pick the right beach for your skill level. Most surf areas have a clear beginner friendly beach that you can find out about online. It will be obvious if you show up to an expert’s only beach with huge waves and less-than-welcoming locals. Try to find a beach with small waves and an easier current to give you a safe learning environment.
After picking your beach and making it to the water, watch the surfers for 15 minutes or so. What’s the current like? Where are the waves breaking best? As you read the water, you can get a general idea of where you want to paddle out.
3. Bring the Right Gear
If you’re a beginner surfer, you’re definitely going to want to start out on a soft top surfboard. As opposed to a traditional hard surfboard, soft top boards (also known as “foamies”) are much more forgiving when it comes to catching and riding a wave. Our favorite board for beginners is the South Bay Soft Top Surfboard:
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Surfboards come in different lengths, and you’ll want to pick the right length for your size and weight. Check out our surfboard size guide for some recommendations and size charts.
5. Practice On Shore
This may seem weird, but you can get ready to surf by practicing on the shore. I did this, and while I felt awkward, it was super helpful when I got into the water. Start by laying your surfboard on the sand and lying on top of it. This puts you in the starting paddling position you will be as you’re picking up speed with a wave behind you.
Next, figure out if you’re a regular footed (left foot forward) or goofy footed (right foot forward) rider. With that in mind, practice “popping up” on the surfboard. You need to pop up quickly and confidently – if you don’t, the wave is going to toss you fast.
Here’s a helpful video with tips on practicing on shore:
If you don’t feel comfortable practicing this at the beach, then you can try it at your home in the backyard. Either way, spend a good amount of time on your “pop up” out of the water, so you’re prepared when a wave arrives.
6. Catching a Wave
When it comes to catching a wave, you need to try and find the perfect spot where the wave rises. Stay in front of that spot on your surfboard. Wait until you find the right wave and start paddling to go with the wave. From here, you need to start looking at the front of your surfboard and see if it starts dipping downward slightly.
Once you see the nose of your surfboard begin to dip, stand up as fast as you can and start surfing. Keep in mind that you probably won’t nail it on your first try. You may notice that your board slows down and doesn’t catch the wave, almost like you’re falling off of the back of the wave. If this happens, just hop off of your board into the water and try again.
This is an excellent video on mastering the timing of catching a wave:
Keep in mind that if you try to pop up onto your surfboard too late, you run the risk of the waving crashing right on top of you.
7. Balance and Control
Once you catch a wave and start to surf, you need to get ready to keep your balance as the wave pitches you across the break. Make sure to stick your arms out so that you can center your gravity and make it easier to adjust yourself. This way, if you start to fall to the left, you can move the right side of your body to readjust yourself.
Make sure that you spend some time perfecting your surfing stance so that you can keep a solid foundation of balance on the board. From here, remember to control your board and lean either left or right to move your board in that direction. It’s similar to a skateboard in that regard; use your body’s balance and movement to control the board.
Maintaining control of the board is extremely important if you’re near other surfers (learn more about this and other surf etiquette here). If you don’t, you could launch your board into other surfers as you wipe out.
8. Keep Trying
Above all else, keep on trying. For me, learning how to surf frequently felt like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Just when it felt like I was getting the hang of it, I’d have a terrible session where I couldn’t pop up for the life of me.
One thing that can help is mixing up the beach you go to. If you’re struggling to progress at one break, switch it up and try out another beginner friendly spot.
You’re not going to become an all star surfer by going to the beach once. You need to return and continue practicing. As you keep trying, you will naturally become better at surfing. Just keep at it and look for ways to improve.
A good day of surfing is hard to beat. Hopefully these tips will help you stand up on your surfboard and ride a wave, on your very first time out. Have fun!