17 Crucial Surf Safety Tips {From a Surf Instructor!}

While surfing is super fun, it’s also inherently dangerous. I mean, you’re paddling out into the ocean, often surrounded by other surfers, and riding powerful, sometimes massive moving walls of water. Of course it’s going to have risks! However, if you follow these 17 important surf safety tips, you’re likely to have a much safer, and more fun surfing experience. 

17 important tips to surf safely

Here are some important surf safety tips to follow to keep yourself and others safe while you’re surfing! 

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1. Learn from a qualified surfer or instructor

One of the most important safety tips for surfing I can offer you is to set yourself up for success, and do things correctly from the start! The best way to do this is to learn how to surf from a qualified surfer, surf camp, or surf instructor. 

While you certainly can go out and teach yourself how to surf without any instruction, it’s going to take way longer to learn this way than it will if you attend a surf camp, or get some surf lessons. Additionally, it’s not going to be as safe, because you won’t have anyone out there supervising you and making sure you learn the fundamentals properly. 

If you’re interested in learning to surf and want to do it safely, I recommend either reaching out to a local surf school in your area, or booking a surf camp online. 

2. Cover your head when you fall

I’ve been surfing for almost 14 years, and I still cover my head every time I fall. This is an important surf safety tip because on the off chance your surfboard is up in the air and going to come down on your head, this keeps your head from being smacked by the surfboard, or worse- the fins! This is also a good practice for when you fall and you’re underwater too- just in case the wave pushes your surfboard into your head. If you’re just starting out surfing, I highly recommend forming the habit of always wrapping your arms around your head when you fall to protect yourself. 99% of the time you won’t need to, but it’s worth doing it every time for that 1% chance your surfboard is about to get smacked into your head at max velocity. 

3. If in doubt, take out a foamie

Foam surfboard, surf safety tips

If you’re just starting out surfing, and deciding what surfboard you want to take out, I highly recommend taking out a foam board rather than a hard top. Foam boards are much, much softer, and while getting hit with one doesn’t exactly feel good, it hurts a heck of a lot less than getting smacked by a hard top. 

4. Do the stingray shuffle

Stingray shuffle, surf safety

This one only applies to surfing in places where there are sting rays, you want to do the stingray shuffle whenever you’re walking in the water, and not on your board. 

The stingray shuffle is when you simply drag/shuffle your feet on the ground, rather than picking them up and stepping down. The point of this is to avoid stepping directly on a stingray, which is usually why they sting people. 

5. Know how to read the ocean

Knowing how to read the ocean is an essential surf safety tip that can help you not only avoid potentially dangerous situations, but also to catch the best waves. The ocean is constantly changing, and understanding its movements and patterns can help you stay safe and make smart decisions while surfing. Some important ocean reading skills include identifying rip currents, understanding wave sets and swells, and recognizing changes in wind and tide. Before entering the water, take some time to observe the ocean and assess the conditions. By knowing how to read the ocean, you can surf with confidence and have a fun and safe surfing experience. 

6. Know your limits

One of the most important surf safety tips is to know your limits. If the surf is a little bigger and heavier than you’re comfortable paddling out in, then do yourself (and any potential lifeguards at your home break) a favor and stay out of the water. There will always be more days to surf- don’t push it. 

7. Surf with a buddy 

Surfing with a buddy is always safer than surfing alone. If you’re out surfing alone and the worst happens, there may not be anyone around to help you out. However, if you surf with a buddy, you can look out for each other and keep each other safe! 

8. Use the proper equipment

Another great tip to surf safely is to use the proper surfing equipment– whatever that means for you. If you’re surfing in a place with cold water, make sure you have a warm enough wetsuit, booties, gloves, a hood, etc. If you’re surfing a reef break with razor sharp rocks below you, you might want to invest in a good pair of reef booties so you don’t slice your feet up. 

You also want to make sure you have a trustworthy surf leash that will keep you attached to your board. Which leads to my next surf safety tip…

9. Double check your equipment

Before paddling out, I recommend always double checking your surf equipment to make sure it’s working properly- especially your leash! Surf leashes aren’t infallible, they sometimes snap! To stay safe in the surf, I recommend checking that your leash doesn’t have any cracks in it, that the velcro on your ankle or calf leash is secure, and that the leash is properly secured to the surfboard, and that your leash string hasn’t frayed. 

10. Know how to handle a wipeout (stay calm!)

wipeout, surf safety tips

Knowing how to handle a wipeout is an essential surf safety skill. My biggest piece of advice for when you’re caught in a wipeout, is to remain calm and avoid panicking. Hold your breath and stay relaxed, allowing yourself to be carried by the waves until you come back up. Trust me, if you panic and flail about, the wipeout will be worse and you’ll go through your air more quickly!  If you relax and stay calm, the experience will be much better. Wipeouts are a normal part of surfing, and by being prepared and confident, you can minimize your risk of injury and enjoy surfing safely.

11. Know the rules of the surfing lineup

One of the biggest dangers of surfing is other surfers! Knowing the rules of the lineup is crucial to staying safe while surfing. When surfing in a crowded area, it’s important to be aware of the surf etiquette and follow the established rules of the lineup. Some common rules include giving priority to the surfer closest to the peak or the first one up on a wave, not snaking or cutting off other surfers, and not hogging the best waves. When applicable, it’s also important to communicate with other surfers in the lineup, to avoid collisions and ensure everyone has a fair chance to catch waves. By following the rules of surfing, you can avoid dangerous situations like collisions and everyone can enjoy a safe and respectful surfing experience.

12. Warm up properly 

Warming up properly before hitting the water is another important surf safety tip. Surfing requires tons of repetitive motions like paddling and popping up, which can lead to strains or injuries if your body is not properly warmed up.5 minutes of jumping jacks, push-ups, and stretching your arms, back, and shoulders on the beach before paddling out might save you from a potential two weeks out of the water due to injury. 

13. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is an important surf safety tip that is often overlooked. Surfing is a physically demanding activity that requires a lot of energy and endurance, and the hot sun and salty water can quickly dehydrate you. It’s important to drink plenty of water before, after your surf session to stay properly hydrated. 

14. Be mindful of your surroundings(sharks sighted, rocks, rips, tide changes, freak swells)

Another very important surf safety tip is to be mindful of your surroundings. As you walk out to your local beach break, keep an eye out for any signs on the beach noting the risks of the area, like sharks, rips, rocks, etc. Also, many beaches use a flag system for whether or not the water is safe. If the flags are red… proceed with caution or stay out of the water. Also, if you notice anyone congregating on the beach, it might be worth saying hi to see what’s going on….

A few weeks ago, Rowan and I were about to paddle out to surf at Playa Grande in Costa Rica. A group of surfers were all standing on the beach, looking at something and not paddling out. Turns out, they had spotted a shark circling the lineup! 

Another important way to be mindful of your surroundings is to pay attention to where you are in the water. When you paddle out, if there is a lot of current in the water, odds are you will drift. Make sure you’re not drifting towards any dangerous rocks or other hazards while you’re out in the water. 

15. Learn proper turtle rolling or duck diving techniques

duck dive, surf safety

Learning proper turtle rolling or duck dive techniques is crucial to surf safety, especially when surfing in larger waves and/or around other people. These techniques allow you to quickly and efficiently move through breaking waves and paddle out to the lineup. Turtle rolling is commonly practiced by longboarders, and involves paddling quickly towards the wave, flipping your board upside down while holding onto the rails to get through the wave. 

Duck diving is a technique used by shortbards which involves sinking their surfboard all the way underneath the wave.

Both techniques require proper timing and coordination, as well as practice to master. However, these techniques are very important to learn, because they allow you to paddle safely out to the lineup without losing your board, or having it hit you or someone else. 

16. Cover up from the sun

Surfers spend hours upon hours in the sun. While that exposure to Vitamin D is a huge benefit of surfing, too much of it can cause serious issues like skin cancer. 

To stay safe, use a good reef safe sunscreen, or cover up with a rash guard, surf leggings, hat, gloves, etc. 

17. Be aware of local customs and traditions

Being aware of local traditions and customs is an important surf safety tip, especially when surfing in unfamiliar locations. Different beaches and surf spots have their own unique culture, rules, and traditions, and it’s important to respect and follow them to avoid conflicts or accidents. Some examples of local customs may include respecting the local surfers, giving priority to certain surfers or groups, or avoiding certain areas of the beach for cultural or environmental reasons. In some countries, it might include respecting certain norms of attire and religious customs

Before visiting a new surf spot, take some time to research the local customs and ask for advice from experienced surfers or locals. By showing respect for the local culture and customs, you can avoid offending the locals and enjoy a safe and positive surfing experience.

Surf safety tips- final thoughts

In conclusion, surfing is super fun, but not without its risks. However, if you follow the surf safety tips outlined in this blog post, you’re likely to have a much better, and safer time in the water. Happy surfing! 

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