Surfing Tips - What to look Out For!
- The Surfing Philosophy – Fun!
- Getting The Right Surfboard
- Finding A Beginner Surf Spot
- The Surfing Popup
- Riding Prone
- Standing Up
- Getting Outside
- Catching Your First Wave
- Paddling Technique
- Surf Wax
When you learn to surf, it’s all about the FUN!
It’s challenging to learn to surf and can take years to master. When you take up surfing you should have realistic expectations. Many beginners get discouraged that they’re not carving backside 360’s on their first attempt. Without trying to sound too philosophical, surfing is all about the journey, whether you are just starting out or have been doing it for years.
It’s great to have a goal of being able to do advanced maneuvers, but set small goals along the way. I guarantee you, those “first times” will get you so stoked! From the first time you stand up, to the first time you steer the board even a little, to the first time you ride the green unbroken face…it’s truly an experience. Celebrate the small steps. You WILL learn to surf.
Before you begin, decide that you won’t get too frustrated. Surfing is supposed to be fun! It can be fun to just sit on your board and enjoy the beauty of the ocean without catching a single wave. If you’re not having fun, take a break. The last thing you want to do is get so upset that you vow never to return to the water again. Ask any surfer and they’ll tell you it is NOT an easy sport to learn. It can take a long time to develop the experience needed to do certain moves and read weather and wave patterns. Surfing generally favors those with a “try try again” attitude, so try to adopt this mentality. The only way to get better is to keep practicing!
The younger you are the easier it is to pick up any sport, and that includes surfing. Rest assured, however, people from all ages can successfully learn to surf! I started to learn to surf at age 18, and I was also afraid of the ocean. If I can do it, so can you! People also surf well into their 80’s, so don’t think that you’re “too old” to surf. Some of the best surfers in the water are the older folks.
Now that you’ve got the right mindset, let’s keep going!
Back to top
Getting The Right Beginners Surfboard
The first thing you need is a good beginners surfboard! Certain boards are great for learning, and others will probably make you hate the sport if you attempt to learn on them! The key ingredients to a beginner surfboard are how well it floats you, and how stable it is. We cover the details of surfboard design in our surfboard guide, so if you want more in-depth information, check it out.
New, Used, or Rental?
The best thing a beginner can do is search for a used surfboard. Used boards make the best beginners surfboards. They’re cheaper than new ones, and you won’t have to worry about damaging it as much since it’s not such a huge investment. Beginners tend to put a lot of wear and tear on their boards, so I wouldn’t subject a shiny new board to all the abuse. You can find used beginners surfboards at surf shops, yard sales, and the classified section.
You can also rent boards from most shops, although if you really damage it you might have to pay. This is a good idea if you’re not sure you’ll like surfing. You might decide it’s not for you. In that case, you won’t have purchased a 300-400 dollar board.
If you have a little experience and you took a few lessons, you have a little extra cash saved up, and you REALLY like one of the new boards you saw in your local shop, by all means go for it.
I rented a Bic board for a week when I first started surfing, then I bought a new fun-board. I took really good care of it, and four years later it still only has a few minor pressure dents and a small chip on the nose. If you make sure you take good care of your boards, they’ll last a long time.
Fiberglass or Foam? Epoxy??
There are several different brands of foam surfboards on the market today, and these boards are excellent beginners surfboards. They are safe and have a ton of flotation. The downside is that they can be heavy and almost as expensive as a regular surfboard.
Foam boards are made of the same materials as boogie boards, and won’t cut you or knock you out if you accidentally get hit on the head. Foam boards are generally made to be beginners surfboards. Since beginners flail and fall a ton, you might want to consider this option. It’s easy enough to sell them once you’re done learning.
Fiberglass boards are made from a foam core surrounded by fiberglass. They’re still regarded as the best all around surfboard material on the market. It’s not too expensive, and it has just the right amount of float and flex. Fiberglass is hard, and will hurt if it hits you. It’s also delicate, and banging it against your car bumper can put a hole in it. If you get a fiberglass board as your first board, try to get a heavier glass job.
Epoxy “pop out” boards are becoming more popular these days. These boards are entirely machine manufactured rather than shaped by hand, and they are based on established board designs. The good thing about epoxy boards is that they are TOUGH. It’s really hard to ding them. Bic boards are a good example of an epoxy board. These are also a good option as beginners surfboards, but if you really want my opinion, I wouldn’t get one. I’m a purist, and I like to ride fiberglass boards. Epoxy boards float differently and react differently in the waves because they’re more buoyant. Many experienced surfers don’t like this aspect.
If you’re a parent and you’re looking for a beginners surfboard for your kids, epoxy boards or foam boards might be your best bet. They’re much more durable than fiberglass boards, and this is an advantage since kids aren’t the most careful with their boards when they’re young. One misdirected turn in the parking lot with a fiberglass board and you’ll have a broken board on your hands.
What size board should I get?
Most people recommend getting a 9’ longboard (or “log”) to start out. This is great advice, but if you’re a 5 foot tall, 100lb female, lugging that 9’ board around might be a bit of a hassle, not to mention difficult to safely manage in the waves.
Before you buy that hot looking 6’ Al Merrick, STOP. People DO learn on shortboards sometimes, but it’s pretty darn difficult. Even after mastering surfing on my 7’8” board, switching to a 6’ board was a big challenge. Yes, shortboards might look cooler, but you won’t look so cool when you can’t catch any waves.
A good beginners surfboard is thick enough to float you well so you can paddle easily, and is wide enough so it is stable in the water and not so tippy. Most people can learn comfortably on a wide board that is about 7’8” or longer, and 21-22″ wide. Any shorter or narrower than that and the board starts to get really tippy and unstable. If you absolutely must go smaller though, lose the length and keep the width. The advantage of a smaller board is that it’s easier to control and less cumbersome. It’s also more maneuverable once you’re up and riding.
If you’re between 100-150 pounds I’d try for a 7’6” or 7’8” funboard. If you’re 150-200 pounds I’d try an 8’ board. Anything over that you’ll want a full fledged longboard
If you think you have at least some athletic prowess, try to go for a 7’6”-8’ funboard. Funboards are a cross between longboards and shortboards. They’re sometimes referred to as “mini mals.” A good funboard will be about 22” wide and 2.5-3.5” thick. It should have a round nose and a good amount of rocker.
The round nose helps you catch the waves, and the extra rocker makes it so that you won’t pearl or nose dive on your takeoff. A board with no rocker is flat, and it’s easy to dig the nose into the water and wind up with a fun wipeout!
The good thing about funboards and longboards is that if you own one, they’re a ton of fun on small days for any skill level.
Longboards are not just beginners surfboards, either. There are many advanced maneuvers that can be done on a longboard, and Long board riding is considered different than shortboard riding. If you like longboarding and think you’ll only ever want to longboard, get a longboard as your beginners surfboard.
What about these sharp pointy things?
Those are called fins. Fins are essential, and your board should come with fins. If it doesn’t, make sure you demand them from your dealer. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for fins.
Funboards usually have a tri-fin setup, but they sometimes have a single fin. Either setup works fine, although it’s a bit easier to turn a tri-fin. Longboards also come with a single fin only, or a long center fin with two stabilizing fins on either side (called a 2+1 setup).
Beginners should DEFINITELY get some Pro Teck fins for their boards. I can’t recommend this enough. Most surfing injuries come from the fins of your board. They are sharp and will cut your skin without much difficulty. Don’t kid yourself—-you’re just starting and you’re going to be spending a lot of time falling off your board, which means that the board will have a lot of opportunities to nick you.
Back to top
Finding a good beginner break to learn to surf
Finding a good spot to learn to surf is an important ingredient when you’re just starting out. Small, gentle waves and a sandy beach are the keys. You wouldn’t want to begin your surfing career at Pipeline!
Key ingredients to a good beginners surf spot:
- Relatively uncrowded—you want a few people around for safety, but you don’t want to be in a crowd, either.
- Sand bottom—much easier on feet and boards, especially for beginners.
- Calm, crumbling waves—don’t try to learn to surf where the waves are very steep and hollow. In certain areas, it’s hard to find a crumbling wave, but it’s worth a little investigation.
- Big sandbar—it’s important to be able to wade out and catch the lines of whitewater at first, so try to find a nice big sandbar with knee to waist-high water.
Things to watch out for when selecting a surf spot:
- Don’t go where the more experienced surfers are. You’ll only get in the way, create dangerous situations, and annoy everyone.
- When you’re just starting to learn to surf, find a peak to yourself if possible.
- If you’re very new, make sure there’s at least some people around. Sometimes you can surf near a lifeguard, but don’t surf between the lifeguard’s flags.
- Watch out for surfing restrictions in certain areas. Some places will not let you surf during certain hours of the day.
- Make sure you have the right parking permits! A parking ticket will kill your day and your stoke.
- Don’t surf in the shorebreak. This is very dangerous! Shorebreak is when the waves break right onto the sand at the edge of the waterline.
Back to top
Practicing the surfing pop-up on land
The surfing popup is essentially an explosive pushup. This is how you get to your feet on a surfboard! To make the popup easier, practice several popups on dry land every day. This will build up your arm strength and give you some muscle memory. When it comes time to do it on a surfboard you’ll have a much easier time.
Everyone’s surfing popup is slightly different, but for all intents and purposes the popup technique is basically the same for everyone.
At the beach, you can lay your surfboard down on the sand (dig the fins into the sand to avoid breaking them) and practice your popup before you go surfing. It’s helpful to avoid getting sand in your wax =)
Easy steps to a popup:
- Place your hands flat on the board at the bottom of your ribcage.
- Push your chest off the board with your pelvis and upper thighs still in contact with the board. (Don’t do a full body pushup with your weight on your hands and toes)
- Without relying on your knees, bring your front foot forward under your body to approximately where your hands are. This step is hard to explain, but your lower torso will twist a little to the right if you’re regular or to the left if you’re goofy.
- Your back foot will naturally follow—just check to make sure that your feet are parallel to your board’s stringer.
More Tips on the surfing popup:
- Some people like to plant their back foot first and use that as leverage to slide their front foot up to the front. This is an acceptable method—just make sure you can do it with balance.
- Some people grab the rails of their surfboard, claiming it gives them more control. Grabbing the rails makes it easier to slip off and give yourself a fat lip or botch a takeoff, but give it a try and see what works best for you. When surfing a shortboard it can help to grab the rails and pull the board under you in a steep takeoff.
- The popup should be a single fluid motion. Don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right the first few times. It will come with practice. You’ll also need to build up some muscles.
- Try not to end up on your knees. This is a tough habit to break for some people. It happens sometimes, though, so don’t worry too much.
- It’s easier to do a pop-up while you’re surfing a real wave. When you catch an unbroken wave, the action of the popup pushes the wave down the face a bit. Plus, the excitement of catching a wave makes the popup even easier.
- When you’re just starting to learn to surf, practice pop-ups on the floor anywhere you can when you’re not surfing. Do 20 or so a day until you can do it without thinking. It’s also great exercise and will build your surfing and popup muscles.
Back to top
The first step to surfing: Riding prone
Catching and riding prone (on your belly) in the whitewater is the first step to surfing. This step serves mainly to help you get used to the board.
You’ll notice that after a wave breaks it creates a wall of whitewater that rushes in towards shore. Some people need some extra time in the whitewater, and some might poo-poo it and say it’s stupid, but everyone should spend at least a little time in the whitewater.
Take your board under your arm and walk the board out into the water. Once you get to about waist high water you can rest the board on the water.
Important: Never let the board get between you and the waves. The waves are more powerful than you think, and will fling your board at you before you can blink. This is a great way to get hurt. Always stay to the side of your board, and always keep the nose pointing directly into the waves.
While you’re standing next to your board, keep a hand or two resting on the deck. When a wall of whitewater comes towards you, lift the nose of the board up and over the whitewater. As you do this, jump a little and then put your weight onto the board. Watch out, the whitewater can surprise you with its strength.
When you’re far enough out into the whitewater, turn around and point the nose of the board towards the shore and wait for another line of whitewater. Just before it hits you, push the board towards shore and jump on top of the board so you’re riding prone on your stomach. Hang on and enjoy the ride!
You have to get a little momentum towards shore before the whitewater hits, otherwise the board will get thrown around. The wave will also have to do too much work to get the board going.
Surfboards can be about as tippy as the tippiest canoe or kayak, so you might wobble a bit or fall off at first. Don’t get discouraged! You’re surfing! Go out and do it again. Riding prone like this might seem silly, but it’s a great way to get used to how your board moves around in the water. Experienced surfers often ride the whitewater in after their session on their belly.
Back to top
Now that you’ve gotten the hang of riding the whitewater on your belly, it’s time to try standing up! All that popup practicing you’ve been doing on land is going to pay off. Surfing is not too hard once you’re on your feet, but getting to your feet and staying there is 90% of the battle.
Side Note: Some people learn to stand on the unbroken waves, but I wouldn’t recommend this to the very new. Unless you have an instructor or experienced friend, standing up in the whitewater is a good way to get started.
First, catch a wall of whitewater like you’ve been doing. As soon as the board starts to stabilize and glide in front of the whitewater, pop up to your feet! It sounds so simple, but unfortunately the act of standing up well is very elusive.
Some people will want to get to their knees first. That’s fine, but I would caution against making this a habit. You should be able to smoothly pop up from a prone to standing position. This takes time to get the hang of, and it’s a different motion than getting to your knees. Why waste time making a habit of something that you’re going to have to break eventually? Standing up is hard enough without the bad habits.
Surfboards are more stable at speed, like bicycles, so don’t be afraid of standing up if the whitewater is pushing your board fast. In fact, it’s advisable to catch a nice, meaty wall of whitewater instead of a piddly little trickle.
Sometimes waves will break on an outside sandbar and then the whitewater will disappear into deeper water and lose its power. If this is happening you might want to come back at a lower tide, or move to a beach where the sandbar extends all the way from shore to the outside break. This will give you better results.
Once you finally get to your feet, even for a few seconds, it will feel like you’re riding on top of the world. It’s ok to let out a hoot of pure joy. Go ahead =) You’re surfing!
- Don’t ride your board onto dry sand. This will damage the bottom and the fins.
- When falling, make sure to fall away from the board. Don’t dive off in front of the board or in such a way that the board will potentially conk you in the head. Cover your head with your arms when you wipe out and when you surface.
- NEVER dive off headfirst in shallow water. Shallow water is primarily where you’ll be starting out. Even if you think it’s deep, the ocean floor is not uniform and it can be deep in one area and then ten feet over it can be very shallow.
- Always wear a leash. Don’t let the self professed soul surfers fool you into thinking that surfing with a leash is stupid. You can decide if you want to wear a leash or not when you’re able to surf without wiping out or losing your board.
- That said, if you can safely maintain control of your board at all times, do so. Relying on the leash is a bad habit.
Standing up is the main goal of surfing, but once you can stand up in the whitewater it’s time to graduate to unbroken waves.
Back to top
Getting outside: the Turtle Roll and Duckdive
Using the turtle roll, duckdive, and getting outside the breaking waves.
Paddling to the outside can seem like a harrowing experience at first, and even experienced surfers can have difficulty paddling out on big days. There are a few techniques that will make your life much easier when battling oncoming waves. These include observation, currents, timing, duck-diving and the turtle roll.
When you first arrive at the beach it’s important to observe the ocean and wave patterns. How big are the waves? How often are they breaking? Waves come in sets and lulls, which means that there will be several waves that break in succession and then the ocean will quiet down for a bit before the next set of waves rolls in.
Some surf spots have a channel that make for an easy paddle out. This is a deep spot where waves break less powerfully or sometimes not at all. Although it’s more common to see well defined channels at reef or point breaks, it’s possible to find channels at beachbreaks.
Rip currents can also assist you to the outside. They act as a conveyor belt as all the water pushed towards shore by the waves heads back out to sea. It’s advisable to leave this trick for when you have a bit more experience. Don’t immediately jump in a rip current if you’re a beginner.
When you’re ready to paddle out, you’ll want to carry or float your board next to you until you get to deep water. Some surf spots don’t require this, but others have very long, gradual sandbars. Don’t waste paddling energy until you have to. Also, you don’t want to paddle your board if the water is only a few feet deep because you might run your fins aground. Watch what the other surfers are doing and use your head. Wait for a lull between the sets, and then hop on your board and start paddling with a moderate, deliberate speed. Don’t blow all your energy in a frantic rush to get outside unless there’s a very short lull between sets. Again, use common sense.
Dealing with oncoming waves
It’s easy to deal with oncoming waves when the conditions are small. As you encounter whitewater, paddle straight at it to gain momentum and meet it head-on. Just before it hits you, push up on the board and allow the whitewater to pass between you and the board. You can do this for smaller unbroken waves as well. Paddle hard and punch through. It’s not fun getting slapped in the face by a wave, but occasionally it’s necessary—especially if you’re on a longboard. Sometimes the only option to make it through a wave is to paddle hard, grab the board in a death-grip, put your head down and slam through it. It takes a little persistence and guts, but it works ok. Unfortunately this does not work very well if the waves get above three foot.
Every surfer loves a dry-hair paddle out where they are never challenged by a breaking wave. Unfortunately, not every paddle out is a piece of cake. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to help you deal with larger waves that are difficult or impossible to punch through. These are the duck dive and the turtle-roll.
The Turtle Roll
If you’re on a longboard, it will be very difficult or impossible to duck dive your board. You’ll be using the turtle-roll. When you see an oncoming wall of whitewater, paddle straight at it to get some speed, grab your rails and flip the board so you’re beneath it underwater. Hold the board very tight and pull the nose down slightly. Your body will act as an anchor and the wave will pass over the board, keeping you from losing ground. The turtle-roll is a little tricky, but is an essential tool for longboarding. Just make sure you’re holding on tight and you’ll be OK. Remember: if you lose the board, it might hit someone else in the head.
The Duck Dive
The duck dive is a more advanced maneuver that’s a lot of fun when done right. If you have a shortboard, you can simply dive under the turbulence and pop out the other side unscathed. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Executing a proper duck dive takes a lot of practice. Click here for **LINK NEEDED duck-diving 101.
Getting to the outside can be a bit challenging the first few times, especially if you’ve chosen a day with rough waves and small lulls. Don’t worry, over time it gets easier and easier. Keep practicing your turtle roll and duck-diving skills and over time they will improve. You won’t have instant success, so don’t expect too much and get frustrated.
Now that you’re finally on the outside, take a minute to take it all in. Sit up on your board and relax!
Back to top
Catch Your First Real Wave
Ah, yes. To catch a wave and ride its green, unbroken face is an amazing experience. Unfortunately it’s also a very difficult skill to master for most people. Catching an unbroken wave involves a combination of ocean experience, timing, feel, balance, and plain old paddling strength.
Paddle out to the takeoff zone
Once you’ve made your way outside the breakers, take a moment to observe where you are in the lineup. The lineup generally refers to the line of surfers waiting patiently for a wave. It can also be called the takeoff zone or peak. Beachbreaks often have several peaks where waves will break.
Etiquette Tip: Hopefully you have not paddled smack into the middle of a group of experienced surfers. This is a no-no in the world of surfing. Until you can catch and ride most of the waves you paddle for and have a handle on surfing etiquette, it’s wise and polite to steer clear of the better surfers. When you’re learning you’re going to be wasting waves and falling all over the place. Experienced surfers don’t mind beginners as long as they don’t act like a kook and become a nuisance. Instead of heading for the main peak where most of the better surfers will congregate, try to surf at one of the other peaks down the beach where there are less or no people surfing.
Assess the situation
Ok, now that you’re sitting outside at an appropriate peak, sit up on your board and point yourself out to sea. Note how the waves come in sets and lulls, and how steep they are where you’re sitting. Learning the rhythm of the ocean takes time, and the ocean will have a different rhythm every day. It’s a good idea to just take a few moments to assess the mood of the ocean once you’re on the outside. It’s a slightly different perspective than from the shore. Also, take a moment to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. This is one of the best parts of surfing!
Where to sit/Positioning in the lineup
The best place to sit on the outside depends on the length of board you have. If you have a longboard, you will be able to sit further outside since longboards are easier to paddle fast. If you have a shortboard you’ll want to sit a meter or two just outside where the waves are breaking. Once you gain experience you’ll be able to instinctively tell where to sit.
One of the longstanding feuds between shortboarders and longboarders involves the fact that longboarders can sit way outside and catch waves before the shortboarders can even begin to paddle for them.
When to catch the wave
As waves approach shore they gradually become steeper and steeper until they hit a critical depth. Once the wave reaches a shallow sandbar or reef the bottom of the wave is abruptly slowed and the top/crest of the wave continues at the previous speed. This is what causes the wave to crash. These mechanics are the reason for different shapes of waves, which will be discussed in the wave science section of this website.
The point at which you want to catch the wave is when it is steep enough to push you along, but not so critical that it’s moments away from breaking. Paddle for a wave too early and it will just roll right under you. Paddle too late, and you’ll probably get sucked up the face and go over the falls. This is the part where it’s helpful to have someone push you into waves, or an experienced friend to show you just when to catch the wave. Without those aids you’ll just have to do some trial and error.
Executing the maneuver
When you see a nice juicy wave approaching from the horizon, lean back on your board and egg-beat your legs to turn yourself around so you’re facing the shore. Leaning back on the board will lift the nose out of the water and make it easier to pivot the board. If you’re swinging to your left, grab the left rail with your left hand and lift a little while you do this, and vice versa if you’re swinging around to your right.
Get yourself quickly into paddling position, and start paddling with strong, deliberate strokes toward shore. You can sneak looks back at the wave to see what direction it’s breaking and whether or not you’re too far in front of the wave or too slow. If you think the wave is going to break earlier than expected, slow down your paddling for a bit and then speed up when the wave gets closer.
Once the wave reaches you, it’s going to lift the back of your board. If you’ve timed it right and paddled hard, you’ll begin to feel the wave taking over and pushing you. There is a distinctive “feel” to this, and after doing it a few times you’ll quickly know when you’ve successfully caught the wave. When you’ve got it timed exactly right, it’s pretty sweet. When you feel that the wave has caught you, give a couple more paddles just to be sure, and then…Pop up!
The first time you do this you might be so surprised that you immediately fall over. Don’t worry, get back out there and do it again!
Angling along the wave
While you’re learning, you can just ride the wave straight into shore the first few times to get the hang of actually catching the wave. However, once you’ve got that pretty much down, you’re going to want to start angling your board so that you can ride the face of the wave. To do this, you can paddle for the wave at a slight angle so that when you stand up, you only need to lean a little bit to get your board in trim. Trimming is when the board is effectively locked into the wave and is gliding along just in front of the curl or breaking part of the wave as it peels along. Paddling at an angle also helps prevent “pearling” or nose-diving. This happens when you’ve caught the wave too late and/or you’re too far forward on your board.
A few common problems that beginners often face can be solved with a few changes in technique.
Make sure that you’re not too far forward on your board. When you paddle your board the nose should be 2-3 inches out of the water.
You may be catching the wave too late. Try moving further outside and paddling hard to catch the waves.
Missing the wave:
Check to see that you’re not too far back on your board. If you’re too far back then you won’t be able to paddle the board efficiently and get it up to speed because you’re essentially pushing the board through the water instead of allowing it to glide.
Paddle!!! One of the biggest things that beginners don’t do correctly is paddle. They also don’t paddle nearly as hard as they need to. The easiest way to spot a beginner is to see how someone is paddling. Make every effort to make deep, deliberate strokes. Don’t “lily-dip” or splash around needlessly. An effective paddling stroke should look very clean.
Don’t stop paddling too early. Make those extra few strokes to make sure you’re in the wave.
Well, that concludes our beginner’s guide! You’re now well on your way to becoming a great surfer. Remember to keep at it and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Back to top
Surfboard Paddling Technique
Proper surfboard paddling technique:
Paddling technique is one of the most important skills in surfing. You spend most of your time paddling around during your session. Having the right technique will make your paddling more effective and less tiring.
You should lie on the board so that the nose is only a few inches above the water. If you lay too far back on the board and the nose is way up in the air, your board won't plane across the surface and you’ll be pushing against the water. On the other hand, if you’re too far forward and the nose is under the water, you won’t go anywhere and you’ll probably just end up falling off! Most beginners make the mistake of being too far back on their board.
Once you’ve got yourself lying at the right spot on your board, the next step is to arch your back a bit so your weight is on the bottom of your rib cage. Your feet should be together and lifted out of the water so they don’t drag. This position is HARD for the very new because of the muscles involved. You’re going to get tired quickly, but you’ll soon build up the necessary muscles.
The arm stroke itself should be deep. Don’t “lily-dip!” Girls and women tend to be guilty of not extending their arms fully down into the water, but guys do it too! Girls do have the disadvantage of less upper body strength, but that doesn’t seem to stop the women’s pro surfers from ripping! As you paddle more, you’ll build up your muscles.
Reach your arm fully out towards the nose of the board, cup your hands with your fingers spread apart just a little, and bring your arm down through the water making a small “S” shape that goes slightly under your board. This is the most efficient way to paddle and is utilized by none other than Kelly Slater himself. Learn from the best!
I’d advise against using a butterfly stroke. It’s not really necessary, and you lose speed when you bring both arms out of the water. It’s more beneficial to constantly have an arm pulling you. If you make your strokes deep and powerful, you’ll need less strokes to gain speed. Sometimes you see people windmilling their arms at a thousand miles per hour, splashing around like a wounded seal, but they’re not really gaining much extra momentum. In fact, they’re probably slowing themselves down. Calm, deliberate strokes are the key. It also looks much better!
Practice in the whitewater first
Before you try to paddle to the outside, past the breaking waves, practice your paddling technique on the inside in the whitewater. Once you’re good at pushing the board for momentum in the whitewater, you can start to try and paddle to gain momentum. As the whitewater comes towards you, climb on the board and start paddling towards shore. Once the whitewater catches you, grab the rails and hang on!
Remember: Proper paddling technique is a huge piece of being a good surfer.
Back to top
Applying Surf Wax
Applying surf wax can be somewhat mystifying to the inexperienced. Once you do it a few times, however, you won’t even have to think about it.
Surf wax is for the deck of the board, and keeps you from slipping off. It’s hilarious to watch surfing newbies take their shining new board straight from the shop to the beach and try to surf with no wax. What are they thinking!? I’ve also heard stories of people waxing the underside of their board. I don’t know how people get this idea. Maybe they think the wax is supposed to help the board glide on the water.
Get the proper wax
There are several surf wax brands, including Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax, Mrs. Palmers, Sticky Bumps, Bubblegum, and several others. I like Sticky Bumps wax the best, but most waxes work just fine. In my experience Sticky Bumps is easier to apply.
It’s important to get the right wax for the temperature of the water you’re going to be surfing in. If you get a cold water wax but you’re surfing in Hawaii, the wax is going to melt right off. It seems like a strange idea, but the wax WILL disintegrate and rub off faster than you can believe. Harder wax has a higher melting temperature, and softer/tackier wax has a lower melting temperature. Wax companies make several different grades of wax:
- Basecoat — Definitely get a few bars of this. It’s the hardest wax. In some very hot climates this is the only wax that won’t melt.
- Tropical — For 75 F degree water and above
- Warm — 64 – 74 F degree water
- Cool — 58 – 68 F degree water
- Cold — 60 F degrees and below
These degree ratings are for Sticky Bumps brand surf wax. Each company might have slightly different temperature ratings, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself.
There aren’t really any instructions on the bars of surf wax, so beginners are often left wondering just how the heck they’re going to put the darn stuff on. The result that you want when you wax your board are small bumps. The bumps help improve the grip of the wax. You don’t want a smooth sheet of wax since that can be almost as slippery as no wax.
Tip: Don’t wax your board in the sun, especially in the summer. It will probably start to melt. You want your wax and board to be nice and cool for the best application.
Rest your board on something soft, and either take the fins out or make sure they are not going to be stressed by the pressure of waxing. Get a bar of basecoat (basecoat isn’t necessary, but it helps a ton) and put down a very thin and even layer. Don’t press too hard for this step. Then start rubbing the wax on the board lengthwise, parallel to the stringer, and then crosswise, from rail to rail. This crosshatching will help the wax start to form small bumps. Sticky bumps puts a little slogan on their wax bars: “Nose to tail and rail to rail.” You don’t have to press too hard, just keep a firm pressure. Too much pressure will wreck your newly forming beads.
Sometimes the wax will get hot from all the friction and will start to get too tacky. If this happens, the wax might look like it's shredding. Shredding wax doesn’t make for a good wax job. Take a break or switch to another bar.
Once you’ve got a good layer of topcoat on there, grab the regular wax and start rubbing it on. Once you’ve got some well established beads you can start to rub diagonally or in circles. It’s really up to you. Wax isn’t permanent, so you can experiment. If the beads are starting to look elongated, switch to another direction.
One wax application tip I found is to “draw” on the basecoat wax in a diagonal crosshatch pattern. Basically you take the corner or edge of the wax and draw parallel lines about 2 inches apart from the upper right rail to the lower left rail. You then draw another set of lines on top of that from the upper left rail to the lower right rail. It should look kind of like a fence. Make sure the lines are nice and heavy. Once you’ve got the lines established you can go ahead and start to form the bumps.
Where to apply your surf wax
You might be wondering WHERE you should put the wax. Basically you want plenty of wax on the board, so don’t skimp. Longboards are customarily waxed all over the deck, from the tail to the nose. This is to allow you to walk the deck and hang 10.
However, you probably won’t be doing moves like that for a while, so you don’t need to wax the entire deck. If you have a shortboard or funboard you also don’t need to wax all the way to the nose. You’ll want to wax approximately the back ¾ of the board. Approximate where you’ll put your feet (rear foot over the fins, and front foot over the middle in a comfortable athletic stance) and give yourself at least 10-12 inches more wax from your front foot to the nose of the board. You’ll want to be able to move your feet around.
Since you’re a beginner, you might not always pop up in the precise spot you want, so extra coverage in the wax area will be beneficial.
You will also want to wax very close to the rails in the spots where you’re going to be grabbing your board for your popup, duck dives, and turtle rolls. The extra wax will help you grip your board better.
Other assorted surf wax tips
- Keep a few bars of wax in a small plastic baggy for your sessions. No baggy = sand in the wax and wax all over your stuff.
- Refresh your surf wax with a quick once over before every session.
- Wax combs help by roughening the surface of the wax. If your bumps are getting pretty smooth, a wax comb can be the right solution. Wax combs also sometimes come with a straight edge for scraping off old wax jobs.
- Surf wax makes a nice air freshener, but don’t leave bars sitting on the seat or dashboard in your car during the summer. It’s almost guaranteed to melt. There’s nothing like ruining your upholstery with surf wax!
- Don’t eat your wax. =)
- Wax melts very fast in the sun if it’s not in the water. If you’re taking a break and laying down for a tan on the beach, keep your board face down. Prop up the tail with your beach bag or a log so sand doesn’t get on your wax
- I try to keep sand out of my wax at all costs. It becomes a nightmare when you’ve got sand on the deck and you want to put more wax on. Then the sand gets rubbed into the bar, and all over the place, and ugh. Plus sand is really abrasive to your skin.
- Buy wax in sets. It’s only a dollar, and you’ll get mad at yourself for not picking up a few more bars when you run out.
- Tropical surf wax might not melt in cold temperatures, but it won’t give you much traction. Use the right temperature.
- Don’t lean your board wax-side down against your hot car. Talk about a mess.
- Wax jobs can start to get really dirty or smooth. When it looks really disgusting, smooth, or is coming off in chunks for no apparent reason, it’s time to scrape it all off and start fresh.
Removing your surf wax
Removing the wax is easier than you might think. Surf wax is really messy, so start by getting some old newspaper or plastic bags to cover the floor. You can do this outside or inside, but make sure you’re not doing it on Aunt Josephine’s antique Ming dynasty rug. Your family might also get mad if there’s lots of surf wax on the lawn or patio.
Put your board on something firm but soft. Take out the fins if possible, or put them on a folded blanket. (If your fins are glassed on or you don’t want to take them out, be very careful that you don’t snap them when you’re waxing the board)
Leave the board in the sun for a half hour, or if it’s cold and cloudy, give it a quick once over with a hairdryer. (Don’t burn your poor board) Then take a firm plastic straight edge (no metal) like an old credit card and scrape the wax off your board. Some wax combs come with straightedges for wax removal. My Zog’s Sex Wax “Sex Comb” even has an inwardly curved edge for the rails. (The prominent “Sex Comb” label also causes lots of awkward questions from my friends who find it in my car!)
As you can see, the wax comes off in thin scrapings. Now you can collect the wax in a ball and throw it at your friends. If you don’t have anyone nearby, throw it in the garbage before it gets all over everything. Wash your hands with hot water to get all the residue off.
Surf wax remover will get ALL your remaining wax residue off, but it’s very smelly and isn’t necessary if you’re going to put wax right back on. Wax remover is good for getting the wax off of a ding for repair or for putting on an adhesive deck grip.
Back to top
UP2U Surf School would like to thank Haley Gordon and the crew at The Surfing Handbook for sharing their in depth knowledge of surfing – you guys are legends!
Back to top