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The guide to safe surfing: 13 safety aspects you need to know when you learn to surf

By knowing some of the basic surf rules and how to read the ocean, many accidents and scary situations could have been prevented before they even had to happen. How do surfers stay safe in the water? And what are the most important surf safety rules? We list 13 tips for beginner surfers to stay safe and minimize the risk of problems while learning how to surf. 

Being well-rested, having a good fitness level and surfing on the right board are all important aspects of safe surfing. The more you practice, the more comfortable and safe you’ll feel. While experienced surfers know which risks are associated with surfing and how to keep themselves safe when they face tough conditions, beginner surfers on the other hand often lack this knowledge. So we have put together a list that addresses some of the most common dangers in surfing. Here’s how you protect yourself and others in the water!

Our top 13 tips on how to stay safe while learning to surf

Here’s our list of the most important things that you should know to stay safe while you’re learning how to surf.

Surfing safely tip #4. Identify, avoid and know how to escape a rip current 

How to identify and avoid a rip: The current that flows out to the ocean, away from the shore, is called a rip current. Dark spots of water and gaps between waves are usual indicators of a rip, the waves are breaking on the sides of a rip but not in the rip. Experienced surfers use the rip current when they paddle out to the lineup, but for beginner surfers, this current can be quite scary.

If you get stuck in a rip current, it can feel natural to paddle against it to get back to the shore, but the current is strong and will drain your energy and may result in you getting exhausted and drifting even further away out to sea. 

How to escape a rip: First thing first: don’t panic if you get caught in a rip! Even though rip currents can be long perpendicular to the shoreline, they are often quite narrow from side to side. Usually around 25 meters. Therefore, the best way to escape a rip current is to paddle parallel to the shore to calmer water. Once you are out of the rip, the breaking waves will escort you back to the beach.

Surfing safely tip #5: Know what’s under your board – What kind of bottom is it?

Knowing what’s under you when you surf is important to stay safe. Is it sand bottom? Rocks? Reef? Knowing this will make it easier for you to be prepared when you go out to the waves (if you would need reef shoes for example) and for the landing, if you fall or jump off your board.

Surfing safely tip #6: Know how to fall correctly – Protect your head first

It is important to know not only what kind of bottom you're surfing over, but also how deep it is. If the water is shallow you need to be more careful regarding how you fall than if the water is deep. When you fall off your board, the most important thing is to protect your head with your arms.

If the water is shallow and the ocean floor is rock or reef it's safest to fall on your stomach, doing a so-called “belly flop”, where your body hits flat against the water surface. This will prevent you from falling with full force to the bottom. If the bottom is sand or if the water is deep then you don’t need to worry as much.

Surfing safely tip #8: Know and follow the surf etiquette and rules

To avoid danger in the water it’s crucial to know the rules and etiquette in the lineup. You don’t want to collide with another surfer, especially when knowing that it could have been avoided if you had just known the rules in advance. Catching up on the basics is the responsible thing to do before you surf, both for yourself and your fellow surfers in the water.

Some of the most important surf rules:

  • Don’t drop in on the wave that another surfer has priority on

  • Communicate with the surfers in the lineup when you are going after a wave

  • Don’t snake on other surfers

Check out this post to find out more on what you need to know about surf etiquette and ethics.

Surfing safely tip #9: Be aware of your surroundings – Keep an eye out for wildlife, boards and other people in the water

Have a check for what kind of wildlife lives in the water you were thinking of surfing in. Are there any jellyfishes around for example? Sharks? The best person to ask about this is the lifeguard, otherwise, the local surfers and the internet are good options. Although, you are more likely to collide with another surfer or your own board than you are to get attacked by a shark or stung by a jellyfish.

Surfing safely tip #10: Use sun protection

Here comes a different kind of safety tip; wear sun protection! Surfers who spend their days in the water are usually exposed to more UV than other people. This can really damage your skin and lead to skin cancer. So make sure that you’re using enough sunscreen with zinc.  

Surfing safely tip #11: Check your leash and fins

Make sure that the rope that attaches the board to your feet (the leash) is attached right and that it’s looking okay. It’s neither fun nor safe if your leash breaks or gets detached when you’re in the ocean. It’s also a good habit to check that the fins are properly attached since they can get loose with time.

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