Are you learning how to surf or considering learning how to surf? If so, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve got several surfing tips for beginners that are sure to shorten your learning curve.
Learning to surf is one of the most amazing experiences, but also one of the most trying ones. There’s certainly something humbling about trying to keep your balance on a big piece of floating foam while getting tossed around in the ocean. Trust me, I know- I vividly remember learning to surf, and how hard it was! Since the days of learning how to surf, I’ve spent several years teaching surf lessons, watching my friends, family, and all the beginners around me learn how to surf, and I’ve learned a few (well, several actually) surfing tips for beginners that will make learning to surf so much easier. Seriously, I wish someone had sat me down and told me these things while I was learning. It certainly would have shortened the process!
Here are 34 surfing tips for beginners that I wish someone told me while I was learning to surf:
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Surfing tips for beginners: How to set yourself up for success
1. Surf at a beginner-friendly spot
One of the most crucial beginner surf tips I can give you, is to learn to surf at a beginner-friendly surf spot! If you paddle out somewhere with huge waves, riley locals, rip currents, and tons of rocks your first few times surfing… It’s going to be at best discouraging, and at worst super dangerous!
Look for beaches with gentle waves and a sandy bottom to make learning easier and safer. Avoid spots with strong currents or rocky terrain, and do your research to find the best beginner spots in your area. If there are local surf schools around, either sign up with them for a lesson, or paddle out where the surf schools go!
I’ve also written a few guides about surfing spots for beginners in different parts of the world I’ve surfed in- check out my guide to the best beginner surf spots in Portugal, best beginner surf spots in California, and best beginner surf spots in Costa Rica.
2. Be sure you’re using the proper equipment
I think the #1 thing that hinders progress with beginner surfers is riding a surfboard that’s too small. I’ve seen so many beginner surfers riding boards that are way too small for them, and they wonder why they can’t pop up, and why it’s so hard to catch waves. Often, they’re doing everything right, they’re just on a board that’s too small.
As a beginner, you’ll want a larger, soft-top surfboard with plenty of stability and buoyancy. For adults, 9 foot foam boards & even 8 foot foam boards for people on the smaller size are perfect for learning.
The larger your surfboard is, the more buoyancy and stability you’re going to have. It’s going to not only be easier to paddle into waves, but you’ll also be able to catch the wave earlier, and have a less critical drop-in.
Larger surfboards are also more forgiving, and easier to keep your balance on.
Using the proper equipment doesn’t just end with surfboards either- if you’re surfing in cold water, make sure you have the right thickness of wetsuit on too. If you’re freezing cold and uncomfortable, it’s going to be hard to focus on surfing.
This also applies in tropical, warm water! The last thing you want while you’re surfing is to have to fuss with your swimsuit or board shorts coming off. Make sure to invest in a solid pair of surf shorts, or a nice surf bikini. Personally, I love & surf in Jolyn swimsuits. For more on what to wear surfing, check out my guide to surfing attire.
If you’re on the right surfboard, catching waves and standing up much easier. And don’t forget to wear a rashguard and sunscreen for protection against the sun.
3. Learn the best surfing conditions for your break
Another of the most important surfing tips for beginners is to learn the best surf conditions for your local break. All surf breaks have their own ideal conditions, and it’s important to learn the best tide, swell direction, and wind conditions for your local break. That way, you can paddle out when the waves are at their best (or at their best for beginners!) and have the best chance of catching waves.
When I was learning to surf in Pismo Beach, California as a kid, I had no idea about ideal conditions- I paddled out totally at random, clueless to why some mornings the surf was so entirely different from others.
If I had known the best tide & swell direction to surf, I would’ve been able to time my surfs better, catch more waves, and progress quicker.
I recommend giving a quick google search of your local break to find out the best surf conditions, or even better- head on over to your local surf school or surf shop and ask them!
Familiarize yourself with the local tides, swell direction, and wind conditions to maximize your chances of catching waves. Each break has its own unique characteristics, so spend some time observing the conditions before paddling out.
4. Learn to read surf forecasts
Being able to understand surf reports will help you choose the best days to hit the water, and learning to read surf forecasts is one of my top surfing tips for beginners. Key factors to consider include swell size, direction, period, and local wind conditions. Many surf websites and apps provide detailed forecasts for your area. I use Surfline, used to use Magic Seaweed (rip), the Windy app, and Swellinfo.
5. Learn to pop-up on land first
Before you try it in the surf, I highly recommend practicing your popup on land. Whether it’s in the sand on the beach, a yoga mat at home, or wherever, practicing your popup on land is going to make a huge difference to your popup in the surf.
Even if it’s not your first time ever surfing, I recommend practicing your popup on land. You can even film yourself, to really hone in on what you’re doing, and improve.
6. Learn and follow the rules of surfing
If you don’t know the rules of surfing, it’s time to read up! Understanding surf etiquette is crucial for a positive and safe experience in the water. You’ll want to at least earn the basics, such as who has priority on a wave, how to avoid dropping in on someone else’s wave, and how to communicate with other surfers in the surf lineup.
I know it’s a lot to focus on when you’re first starting out, but being aware of and following the rules of surfing is seriously important for the safety of not just you, but everyone else around you.
7. Try to avoid the crowds
I know it’s not easy to avoid the crowds- surfing is super popular, and it’s easy to understand why. However, if you’re a beginner surfer I highly recommend trying to surf in one of the less crowded spots on the beach while you’re learning. Even if this means the waves aren’t as good, it’s still better because you’ll be able to catch more waves, and minimize any potential conflicts or collisions.
Honestly, I still try to paddle out at the least crowded part of the beach, even if it means I’m further away from the main peak and the waves aren’t as good.
8. Make sure your leash is on the proper ankle
Attach your leash to the back foot of your surf stance (right ankle for regular stance, left ankle for goofy stance). This way you’re less likely to get tangled up and trip on your leash while surfing.
If you’re not sure if you’re goofy or regular, do the push test!
9. Take lessons from a qualified surf instructor to accelerate your learning process
An experienced surf instructor can provide valuable guidance and feedback, helping you progress faster and more efficiently than learning on your own.
They can also teach you to surf the right way, that way you’re set up for success from the beginning. I learned how to surf all on my own without a lesson, and it took me much longer to progress than if I had taken surf lessons, or booked a surf camp.
10. Take care of your equipment
After each surf, you should rinse your board, leash, and wetsuit with fresh water to prevent damage from the saltwater. You should also store your gear in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to extend its lifespan.
Technical tips for beginner surfers: common surfing mistakes and how to learn to surf the proper way
11. While popping up, don’t grab your rails
Grabbing the rails (edges) of your surfboard during the pop-up can throw off your balance. When you do this, your dominant hand will usually push that side of the board down deeper, and your surfboard will tip to one side.
Instead, place your hands flat on the board near your chest and push up with your arms.
Trust me, this surfing tip for beginners will make your popups much easier!
12. While popping up, try not to go to your knees first
Ideally, you’ll want to popup to your feet in one fluid motion, without going to your knees. When you’re starting out, if you develop a habit of going to your knees, it’s likely going to slow your progression. im to go directly from a prone position to standing on your board in one smooth motion.
With that said:
Everyone’s bodies are different, and different people have different physical limitations. If you need to popup from your knees and that’s what works for you, do it!
13. Lay on the right spot of your board while paddling
If you’re struggling to catch waves, make sure you’re in the right spot on the board. Find the sweet spot where your board is level in the water, allowing for smooth and efficient paddling. This will also make it easier to catch waves and pop up.
While that sweet spot is different for every surfer, it’s generally going to be the position on your board where the nose of your surfboard is either one inch above the water or one inch below the water.
If you’re too far forward on your board, you’re going to pearl when you paddle for waves- aka the nose of the board going water and you sliding forward off the front of your board.
Learning the lingo? Check out my surfing terms dictionary.
If you’re too far back, you’ll have too much weight on the back of your boardand will have a tough time getting into waves.
14. Don’t pop up too soon
One of the best basic surfing tips for beginners is to not pop up too soon! Attempting to pop up too soon is something I see all too often with beginner surfers. If you try to pop up too soon, before you’re really in the wave, you’re going to fall back out of the wave.
I recommend padding until you really feel that wave start to propel you, and lift your board, and then pop up.
15. Try not to nosedive, or pearl
This goes back to finding that sweet spot on the board- you don’t want to be too far forward, or you’ll nosedive. However, there are instances where you need to be pretty far forward on the board to catch the wave. If you’re dropping into a wave and you feel like the nose of the board is going to go under, grab the rails of your board, lift up and toss your head back (cobra pose), and this will help prevent the pearl.
16. When you pop up, keep your feet on the stringer
The stringer is the central line running down the middle of your board. Keeping your feet on or near the stringer will help you maintain balance and control.
17. Learn the proper surf stance
Adopt a comfortable and balanced stance with your front foot pointing forward at about a 45 degree angle with and your back foot at almost perpendicular to the tail of your board. Keep your knees bent and your arms relaxed, and turn your back knee in.
18. Bend your knees
Keeping your knees bent will lower your center of gravity and provide more stability while riding a wave. It’ll also give you more control, and help you to eventually work on turns and other maneuvers.
What you don’t want to do is fold at the hips- this is known as the “stink bug” or “poo stance.”
19. When learning to catch green waves, take off at an angle
When catching a wave, angle your board slightly toward the direction you want to go, rather than dropping straight in. This will help you smoothly transition into the wave face, and will prevent pearling.
Beginner surfing tips: How to have an easier time in the water
20. Stretch before & after to avoid injury
Warming up and cooling down with dynamic stretches can help prevent injuries and improve your flexibility- which will in turn help your surfing! Focus on your shoulders, back, and legs, which are essential for paddling and popping up.
This is especially important when surfing in cold water, as you really don’t want to pull anything.
21. Hold your surfboard perpendicular to the surf when entering and exiting the water
This will prevent the waves from knocking your board into you, which isn’t just annoying, but it can also hurt!. Also, always keep a firm grip on your board when walking through the surf. When you’re using a longer board especially, it’s pretty easy for the surf to rip the board out of your hands.
22. Don’t let your surfboard get between you and the waves
Similar to my last beginner surf tip- When you’re walking out to the surf, always, keep your board to the side at your hip. If you stand behind your surfboard and push it out… The surf is going to pick that board up and smack you with it!
23. Bring positive energy to the lineup
A friendly attitude and respect for others will go a long way in creating a positive atmosphere in the water. Seriously, a smile goes a LONG way in the lineup. Surfing is supposed to be fun- don’t take yourself too seriously, leave the ego at home, and share the stoke.
24. Don’t take it too seriously
This is a beginner surf tip I really wish someone told me while I was learning.
Remember, surfing is all about having fun. Don’t get too caught up in trying to be perfect; just enjoy the process of learning and improving. And, when you’re loosened up and enjoying yourself, you’re likely to progress faster anyway.
25. Find a surfing buddy
Having a friend to surf with can make your sessions more enjoyable and help you stay motivated. Plus, it’s always safer to have someone watching your back in the water.
For more surf tips, check out my post about important surf safety tips.
26. Master the whitewater before hitting the green waves
Practice catching and riding whitewater waves before attempting to catch unbroken waves. This will help you build confidence and hone your skills in a more forgiving environment. Plus, if you can master the popup in the white water, learning to catch green waves will be that much easier.
27. Use rhythmic paddles
Develop a smooth and consistent paddle rhythm to maintain speed and momentum while catching waves. Long, deep strokes are more effective than short, frantic ones.
28. Learn how to wipeout
Wiping out is a natural part of surfing, and learning how to do it safely can prevent injuries.
When you wipeout, be sure to jump away from your board so you don’t get hit by it in the wave. If you’re surfing in shallow water, don’t pencil drop straight down, land softly and flat like a starfish, so you don’t get hurt on a sharp rock or the bottom if it’s shallow. Most importantly, protect your head by covering it with your arms when you wipeout so you don’t get hit hard by your surfboard or fin.
If you’re surfing on a board with a sharp, pointed nose, you can even get a surfboard nose guard that makes the tip less sharp and dangerous.
29. Learn to turtle roll
If you’re learning to surf, you absolutely need to learn how to turtle roll. The turtle roll is a technique used to pass through breaking waves while paddling out.
To turtle roll, you basically paddle fast straight towards the wave, and right before it hits you, flip your board upside down and hold onto the rails as the wave passes over you. Ideally, the board will pass right over you, and you can continue paddling out. This skill will help you conserve energy and avoid getting caught in the impact zone. It’s also much, much safer than letting go of your board.
30. Have patience with yourself and don’t compare your progress to others:
Everyone learns at their own pace, and it’s important to focus on your own journey rather than comparing yourself to others. Embrace the process and enjoy the small victories along the way.
31. Have fun
This might be the most important of all my surfing tips for beginners. Ultimately, surfing is all about enjoying the ocean and having a great time. Embrace the stoke, share the waves, and remember to smile and laugh, even when you wipe out!
Safety tips for beginner surfers:
The question “Is surfing dangerous?” is something a lot of beginners wonder. Surfing always has some inherent ricks, but like any sport, there are many ways to make it safer. I have a full guide that breaks down surf safety tips if you want to check it out. However, here are a few tips that are pretty specific for beginner surfers:
32. Know your limits
Another important tip for beginner surfers is to know your limits! Don’t push yourself too hard, especially as a beginner. Stick to waves that are within your skill level and gradually work your way up as you gain experience.
33. Stay relaxed and calm in the water
Tension and stress can negatively affect your surfing performance. Stay calm and focused, and remember to breathe deeply and regularly while in the water. This especially applies if you wipeout and get held under water- it’s better to relax and go limp and then smoothly swim to the surface, rather than frantically fighting to get to the top.
30. Learn to identify rip currents
Rip currents can be dangerous for inexperienced surfers. Learn to spot them by looking for areas with different wave patterns, darker water, or floating debris. If caught in a rip, don’t panic; paddle parallel to the shore until you’re out of the current.
Surfing tips for beginners- final thoughts
That’s a wrap on my list of the best surfing tips for beginners! I hope some of these tips help you to improve your surfing, or at the very least, have more fun out in the water.