No Wrong Turns: How to Surf, by a Wannabe Surfer

I believe the time people put in working, running errands, going to the gym and all the other daily stuff we feel we have to do starts to take its toll on how we live and think. This is a big reason why Tom and I decided to pack up and leave for a little while…to put things in perspective, do a bit of work on the road and to surf (ok…learn to surf for me).

My surfing experience is limited to three times…once in New Zealand, once in Australia and one time in Costa Rica where an encounter with a jellyfish put my surfing attempts on hold. But now, since we have stopped in the Baja and there are some good learning beaches, I have decided to dedicate a few months to surfing, though the extent of my abilities so far is to stand up on my board. I’m working on it.

A few things beginner surfers need to know and remember: it is not as easy as it looks. No matter how athletic you are, expect to fall over and over and over again; practice makes perfect. Coordination, decent physical fitness and sheer determination (stubbornness…call it what you will) to get back up and keep trying are ideal traits if you want to learn how to surf.

Get the right gear

Extreme beginners should rent a foam long board. These range from 9 to 10 feet long and are wider than most surfboards, which provide more stability allowing more opportunity for “newbies” to pull themselves up. Make sure your board has a leash to prevent it from getting away from you or from maiming some poor innocent bystander — drawing blood isn’t a good way to make friends.

You are going to be out there for a while so a wetsuit is vital. Keeping warm while you are battling the waves helps you focus on learning to surf instead of wondering why you can’t feel your feet.

Figure out your lead foot

Your lead foot is the foot that feels most comfortable in front when you are standing on the board. If you snowboard or skateboard you won’t have any trouble figuring out which foot feels more natural as your lead foot; if you have no clue ask for assistance at the surf shop. Or have a friend stand behind you and, when you are not ready, give you a little push…whatever leg comes out first to prevent you from falling is your lead foot. “Regular” stance is left foot front, while riding “goofy” refers to those who prefer their right foot forward. If you still cannot figure it out you just have to get out there and see what feels best to you.

Take a Lesson

From my meager experience it is valuable to either take a lesson or have a seasoned surfer walk you through the motions of surfing on the beach. Walking into the ocean without any idea of what you are supposed to do is a waste of your time and the surfboard rental fee.

How to stand up on your board

(Explaining this definitely makes it sounds much easier than it is.)

  1. Lie down in the center of your board with your feet just hanging over the tail end and your head facing the top (the “nose”) of the board.
  2. Grip the “rails” (the sides) of the board and push yourself into a “push up” position and drag one knee through your arms so you are in a crouching-lunge position.
  3. Use your front foot and push yourself up to stand.
  4. Try and stand with your feet about hip distance apart with your lead foot in the middle and you back foot closer to the tail end of the board.
  5. The most important thing you can do to keep your balance is to try and keep your feet around the center of the board.

Walk through these steps a few times on the beach before hitting the waves. After a couple run-throughs, pick up your board, strap on your leash, imagine yourself catching a wave and get out there. Though I would never call myself a “surfer,” in the past few weeks I have managed to stand up on my board. I am definitely not consistent but with a bit more practice I can only get better. I should warn you: once you start to get the hang of surfing it’s hard to think about anything else but getting back in the water. Oh yeah and one more tip from this wannabe surfer: keep your mouth shut when you wipeout.