The Beginner’s Guide to Surfing
Hopefully you felt inspired by our June Athleta Journal “Learning to Surf Before I Turn 45” enough to consider getting on the board yourself this summer. We asked surf instructor and Executive Director for the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Michelle Sommers to share her tips for beginner surfers.
After teaching hundreds of women to surf over seven years, and offering many helpful tips for those who are just beginning their surfing adventure, I’ve realized that there are several things that everyone new to the sport should know. As Executive Director for the Eastern Surfing Association, I have learned from working with thousands of ESA members and elite surfing coaches that the following information is imperative for anyone learning to surf to succeed — and have fun.
Tip #1: Make sure you invest in the right surfboard for your ability. Too often, beginning surfers choose the wrong surfboard for their ability and body type. When learning to surf, it’s best to use a board that is the longest, widest and thickest you can handle. The bigger the board, the easier it will be to catch and ride a wave. Surfboards that are soft are better for beginners — and may keep everyone safer in the water.
Tip #2: Learn proper safety and surfing etiquette. This is one of the most important tips for surfers who are new to paddling out, to learn. These include keeping your head covered when wiping out; never having the board between yourself and the incoming waves; and staying a good distance away from everyone else. Learning accepted “surfing etiquette” is important to keep others safe and be respectful to everyone in the line-up. Other good ways to earn respect from fellow surfers include knowing who has priority for the next wave; where to paddle out or where not to; and how to act in the water.
Tip #3: Take a surf lesson with an experienced, qualified instructor. There is a lot to learn about surfing, including basic techniques, local wave knowledge, safety, and etiquette. Find an instructor who you are comfortable with and take a few lessons to really get you going. One lesson usually isn’t enough, as most of the information you receive during your first lesson is quickly forgotten when you’re so focused on learning the basics. Many women have told me that things really began clicking for them during subsequent lessons when they are a bit more relaxed and know what to expect.
Tip #4: Learn how to read and understand a surf report, along with the weather. Experienced surfers can determine the best days and times to paddle out. Surf reports are available for most locations, but it’s important to understand all the information given in order to figure out if it will be worth driving to surf, or finding a babysitter so you can catch some waves. Ask your surf instructor to explain how to read a surf report and as well as how the wind and tides affect your local surf break.
Tip #5: Have all the right gear. It’s obvious you will need the basics for surfing – a good surfboard, wax and leash – but having the right apparel is just as important. Depending on where you’re surfing, a wetsuit may be required, or preferred. These keep you warm in various water temperatures. Rash guards are useful for sun protection and also prevent rashes from wax, sand, and salt (what they were originally developed for). They also keep things from slipping out when you don’t want them too!
Invest in a few good swimsuits that hold things in place and stay put when you’re being thrashed through the waves. Athleta’s swimsuits and rash guards are some of the best I’ve found for surfing. Don’t forget a good sunscreen with zinc oxide for the hours you will be in the water. I prefer natural sunscreens that won’t put unnecessary chemicals on my skin or in the ocean. Coco Janell Organics has a great line of sunscreens that work as a sun block to stay on while surfing.
Tip #6: Be patient. Surfing is something that no one will ever master. It has one of the highest learning curves of any sport and takes a long time to progress. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t catch and ride a wave your first time paddling out. Make sure you only go out in conditions that are good for beginners so you can help yourself progress and have fun. When in doubt, don’t go out!
Tip #7: Have fun! Surfing should always be about having fun. There will be days that you are frustrated, and bumps and bruises will occur, but the most important tip for any surfer at any level is to remember to have fun out there. Even in less than ideal conditions, paddling out into the ocean is the best part of any day — you will agree! Photos by De Vita Photography by Sarah Schwind