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Top 10 things to know when you start surfing

Starting to surf is more than grabbing a board and jumping into the water to catch some nice waves. There are surf etiquette rules to follow, safety aspects to think of and wave conditions to check. We list the top 10 tips every beginner surfer should know!

Let's rip off the bandaid shall we: surfing is hard. Some may even argue that it is one of the world's most difficult sports. It's not for lazybones. It is mentally and physically challenging, and mother earth is completely in charge of the daily conditions. The ocean is powerful and can be quite intimidating even for experienced surfers. Therefore It is important to get familiar with the ocean safety factors that will keep you, the ocean and everyone around you safe. Knowing what to do, and what to not do, will make you feel more confident in the water and you'll have more fun. 

1. Practice your swimming ability 

Don't put too much trust in your board for safety in the water. If you get separated from it for any reason you must be able to manage it on your own. Hence: you need to be a good enough swimmer. Swimming laps in a pool is a great way to practice, but keep in mind that the ocean is next level. Therefore it might be a good idea that you improve your ocean swimming skills too. That will make you better prepared if anything were to happen. 

4. Read surf reports to get familiar with the wave conditions

Doing a bit of planning before going out for a surf might be a good idea to know where and when to go. You can check the surf forecast on apps like Surfline and Windguru.

Check out this blog post that explains how to read surf forecasts and which websites to check for wave conditions.

5. Know the ocean safety aspects

By simply knowing common things that can occur in the ocean, and what to do when it happens, you will feel safer and more comfortable. There are a few safety rules that are important to keep in mind to avoid danger for yourself and your fellow surfers in the water:

  • As a beginner, it's wise to avoid surf spots that are too crowded and only surf the spots your ability allows you to. You will catch more waves and have more fun. 

  • Hitting yourself with your own board is a common way to get hurt in a wipeout. Therefore it's important to get as far away from your board as possible and protect your head with your arms when you fall. 

  • Stay away from the impact zone. The impact zone is where the wave is the most powerful and is about to break, if you get caught here you can forcefully get dragged down towards the ocean floor. By paddling to the white water you can avoid that happening. 

  • Avoid being too close to other surfers to lower the risk for collisions.

  • Pay close attention when your surf coach is demonstrating the emergency signals, you never know when you might need to use them. 

  • When you paddle back to shore after a session, never paddle against the rip current. The rip is where you paddle out from the shore, not in. This current is strong and helps you on your way out. However, paddling back in the rip current will require a great amount of energy. Even advanced surfers can't fight the rips sometimes. But no need to panic if you get caught here, the rips are narrow (often not wider than 10-20 meters or around 30-65 feet) so by paddling out to the side, parallel to the shoreline, you can make a quick escape. 

  • Never surf without a leash.

  • Find a spot on the beach to use as a reference point when you start your surf session, that makes it easy to see if the currents have pushed your position.

6. Stay calm

When you are a beginner the experience can be quite overwhelming (pun intended) and panic can creep in when a wave hits you and you get rag-dolled. As a beginner surfer, it's also easy to panic when getting caught in a rip, but if you just keep your calm everything will be alright. When you panic it's easier to lose your breath, which will make it scarier. Therefore you need to be able to stay calm. A good way of practising this beforehand is to do meditation or breathwork.

7. Follow the surf etiquette and follow the rules 

How tempting it may feel, you can't jump into the water and do whatever you'd like. There are rules that you are expected to follow in the water to avoid collisions and other accidents. To avoid being the star of the next kook-collision video here are some of the golden rules to follow in the lineup:

  • Respect the priority rule and who has the right to the wave

  • Don't drop in on other surfers

  • Don't snake

  • Avoid chicken dives, aka don't throw your board away

  • Apologize when being wrong, be friendly and communicate

Making mistakes is a normal part of the learning curve. If your drop-in wasn't intentional, experienced surfers are usually able to tell. Use your common sense, learn the rules and be respectful with your fellow surfers in the water.

Check out this blog post for more surf etiquette and surf ethics.

10. Start surfing with a surf school

Are the previous tips starting to feel a bit much to keep in mind? Don’t worry. If you start surfing with an experienced friend or a coach at a surf school they will help guide you through it all. Your coach knows how to keep you safe, which location to surf at and how to read the waves. You'll also learn the right technique right away. You will progress faster – and have more fun than going alone! Learning to surf with a surf school will also provide you with the opportunity to meet other beginners and make friends.

After all, the community is a major thing in surfing! 

Stay safe and enjoy the ocean!

Now you know ten important tips to keep safe in the ocean. Want to know more? Check out this blog post about which board to choose and 19 other tips for beginner surfers.

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