Surfing Basics: Learning how to surf
A guide to ocean surfing: where to go, how to prepare, what to wear, what kind of board, safety precautions, and tips on technique.
Mahalo! The president was caught wearing a Hawaiian shirt on television. The Beach Boys are selling albums like never before. Kids are wearing seashells around their necks and using adjectives like "gnarly" and "tubular." You would have to be living under a rock to miss one the latest trends in fashion and sport- surfing. However, despite what some youth today might claim, surfing is by no means a "new fad". Rather, it is a lifestyle and culture passed down from many generations ago. The forefathers of the surfing pastime would be proud to see their favorite sport gaining popularity all over the world in this millennium, but they themselves truly understood the frightening power of the oceans, regardless of what continent or shore you?re on. This is significant for your first day learning to surf. It?s important that all groms hit the break with some knowledge and preparation, not to mention respect for mother ocean.
Let?s start off with the most obvious, yet most overlooked prerequisite for surfing- the ABILITY TO SWIM. If you are not a frequent swimmer, or are unsure of your ability to swim, it is important to gain a confident attitude. Spend a few weeks at your local pool swimming laps getting your body ready for intense physical activity. You should be able to swim a good 200 meters without stopping in order to be considered ocean worthy. Next, if you are not experienced with ocean water activities, take some time to accustom yourself with the saltwater and the waves WITHOUT a board. Just like Mom always said ?don?t talk to strangers?, surfers say, ?NEVER GO IN THE OCEAN ALONE?.
Secondly, you'll need a beach. One with an ocean and tides. This means no lakes. No ponds. No bathtubs! A lifeguard who will let you surf in his or her territory would be a plus, however unlikely.
The following water conditions are ideal for typical beginners for their first day on the water:
-clean, shore breaking waves anywhere from shin height to waist height.
-water temperature of at least 40 degrees farenheit
-smooth bottom, no rocks or boulders
Next, you need a surfboard. Yes, world famous surfing competitor Kelly Slater did in fact once surf a large wooden door; however, one wouldn't recommend hauling Grandma's back door to the nearest beach. Instead, head to your local surf shop and rent yourself a real log. Choose one as big as you can carry. Ask the storeowner about board recommendations for your height and weight. A general rule of toe is to get a board a little taller than your self. However, with so many different types of boards, uses and preferences revolving around surfboards these days, this rule may not suit you. When choosing a board, look for one that is light. This is important should you ever lose control of your board, or if it ever hits you, expected or not. A heavy board is more dangerous.
For your first trip, don't worry about how pretty the board looks, or if it has appealing colors. A rental board has most likely been used many times, and thus will not be a Brad Pitt. Just keep an eye out for dings, water, and cracks. As far as shape, a 'fish' is probably your best choice. Wide in the tail, thick rails, and round in the nose...this configuration gives beginners excellent control and buoyancy. Take care of your board. A good one takes a lot of time to design and make. Treat it with care.
You're going to need a leash. This is how you will keep track of your board when out on the water. The board is attached to your ankle by way of a long leash. The leash should be about one and a half times the length of the board. It should be sturdy and strong. You do not want to lose your board when out on the water!
You are going to need some board wax. There are many specialty types available in all surf shops. Just ask for what is best for you. Go cheap! Don't fall for marketing scams- you don't need anything fancy. This wax is your lifeline. When rubbed all over the top of your board, it will provide the traction necessary to keep your feet and your body from slipping off the board.
Depending on the temperature and condition of the water, you may need some protective garments. A wetsuit of appropriate thickness, hood, gloves, and/or booties may be necessary. Be smart. Keep your head and body warm. Your body cools much faster in water than it does in the air!
Take a course in oceanography. Ok, so the thought of teachers and chalk scratching on the board doesn?t send you running to the nearest school. Well, educate yourself. It is very important to learn about the ocean and its tides and currents. These factors differ depending on the area so it is your responsibility to ensure you are not endangering you or your peers. Find out if your spot contains prevalent ripcurrents, undertow, or dangerous underwater creatures. The resources are out there. Ask around; contact your local coastal environment centers or Harbor Master Department. Check out your local library, and don't forget the Internet. Try talking to locals in the oceanside community. Be aware of any dangers that may inhibit your enjoyment of surfing.
Last but not least, get stoked! It's time to ride some swell! It is impossible to read how to surf and then automatically be Maverick material. Practice, practice, practice! Surfing takes practice! If you've always ignored this familiar word before, stop now, it's unavoidable! Getting up on your board will take determination and concentration. You will get frustrated. You will get upset. You will get sand in your pants and seaweed in your ears. But alas, stay strong. Stay persistent.
Paddle, paddle, paddle!
Once you have gotten comfortable with floating belly down on your board and keeping balance while still in rocky waters, try paddling! When you're comfortable with that, it's time to try for a wave. Watch the water. Take the time to notice where the waves tend to be breaking in the water. Next, when the time is right, quickly paddle beyond that point, and then turn yourself, board parallel with the shoreline. If the waves are too close together or too big, you must swim through one, do not attempt to go over! You will only end up right back where you started from, if not further. To avoid this, go under the wave in a duck dive.
Look left and keep an eye on the shore. Wave to your Mom and say cheese to the camera. It is time to ride your first wave. Look right and keep an eye out for a swell that makes you feel in your heart like it could pick you up and carry you home. As soon as you see it, paddle TOWARDS THE SHORE. FAST! Move those arms like Fred Flintstone's legs! If you feel it pick you up and it just goes right under you... you missed it. Try again. BUT, if you suddenly feel this intense sensation like a giant hand is picking you up by the back of your pants and you are suddenly racing towards the shore at speeds you didn't think were possible without an engine....congratulations! You caught your first wave!!
Next time just try it standing up!!
The contents of this article should give you a good start for things to think about when heading out to ride some waves for the first time.
Glossary of slang terms:
1. grom-someone new to surfing
2. gnarly-term of exclamation
3. tubular-term of exclamation
4. log- big, long surfboard
5. Brad Pitt-beautiful
6. duck dive-a maneuver involving pushing the board down into and under the wave with all your body weight, allowing the wave to roll over your head and body with minimal resistance.
7. Tail-back of board
8. Rail-side of board
9. Nose-front of board
Have fun, be safe, and hang ten.