I want to learn to surf. What do I need to know?

The title says it all…
I’m a moderate swimmer (I can do laps for hours in a pool, but just not that quickly or elegantly) Should I further develop my swimming skills before venturing into the ocean? Everything I’ve read suggests that it’s all about core strength - a strong back, abs, etc is key, so I’m searching for a gym to get my soft puffy centre into shape (Wish me luck :stuck_out_tongue: )
I understand that there is a definite surfer etiquette, but I’m a little unclear on the details.

Anyone have any advice for the newbie?

I can’t help you much, as I’m a rank novice. But I will note that swimming skills aren’t particularly relevant. Athletic ability and general fitness (which swimming might help to develop) are assets. You will certainly benefit from working on the type of balance that snowboarding, skateboarding, waterskiing (especially with one ski) and windsurfing tend to emphasize.

The most important thing will be finding a beach that produces the right kind of “learning waves”. You need small waves that gently break about 100 or so feet from shore. The first kind of wave that you will ride is one that has already broken. You will have the “white water” push you toward the beach. Just lay on the board at first to just get the feel of how the waves push you. Next you have to learn how to catch a wave by paddling the same speed as the wave until you feel it start to push you. After you feel comfortable and can balance on your stomach pretty well, catch a wave and do a quick “push up” to get to your feet, but you should immediately squat down to lower your center of gravity. Next you’ll have to learn how to catch a wave that haven’t broken yet and ride it straight toward the beach. Finally you’ll learn how to ride a wave either to the right or left on the face of the wave.

This will all take LOTS of practice.

Where are you? There should be someone around that offers lessons.

I second the location question. Surfing at Corona Del Mar is much different than “surfing” off of Hilton Head. Doubly so for Hawaiian and Aussie beaches.

What kind of board do you have?

Have you done any boogie boarding? I found that to be a good intro into the basics of riding a wave, and being able to resurface after being plowed under by a wave.

Depending on the weather and season where you are, a wetsuit of some sort may be necessary.


Actually Waikiki has some of the best “learning waves” I’ve ever seen. The surfing schools there have tourists “standing up” after only a few hours.

I just meant that all beaches have different waves, and beach features.

dnoonan, I have no board, never tried boogie boarding or anything.

I’ve just moved to the Bay Area, so I was thinking of trying a learn to surf place in the Santa Cruz area. Any thoughts?

My current overall fitness can best be described as “pale and puffy”, so I may have to work on that first.


Hmm Santa Cruz in the summertime. Get a wetsuit and git when the locals tell you to.

I started learning to surf a few summers ago. I think the best thing to do is to find a local place to get surf lessons… depending on where you are there are HUGE surf cultures, and “surf law” type things between the local surfers, if you’re on a crowded beach, getting surf lessons and learning the ropes helps A LOT.

Don’t forget after you’ve been knocked off your board and held under a wave a whille, that when you come up, do it with a hand over your head so as not to get knocked out by your board.

If your real name is “Charlie”, forget it.

IIRC, Jimmy, you’re female, and I think there are a couple girl surf schools in the area. There are some breaks north of Santa Cruz- Montara, Pacifica, Corona del Mar- that might not be so packed, and may be easier to learn on. And get a 4/3 suit- especially if you’re a cold body.

You need to have upper body strength and a good sense of balance. You either have it or you don’t. If you don’t, you’ll be sucking a lot of salt water.

Good luck!

I grew up in SoCal, but only learned to surf a few years ago in Hawai’i. Swimming isn’t exactly irrelevant (as noted in a post above), as you are in the water and may spend time away from your board! :wink: But even average swimming should be fine, considering the waves you will be riding at first.

I absolutely recommend professional instruction, rather than your buddies. I have friends who are great surfers but not great teachers, and that is so important. Several schools are run by former pros in the area.

Most of all, have fun! Your athletic state should be fine (know how to swim, generally coordinated)- after all, kids as young as 5 learn it, so can you!


You could check out a couple of these schools-

Santa Cruz Surf School

Richard Schmidt School of Surfing

Club Ed Surf Camp

Shoreline Surf Shop

I’m sure you can find a bunch of others, though!