The Art and Science of Surfing

How to Surf – From Reading the Swell to Duck Diving Waves

Aside from surf etiquette, there are things about surfing that you just don’t “get” until you’ve had the experience. It may be impossible to teach experience, but simply knowing what to look for may accelerate the learning process. Keep in mind that everyone goes through the same growing pains!

Take it Slow

It’s important to know how the ocean works when you’re surfing, and learning how water swirls, how undertows form, how waves break, and how the wind affects the waves is already complicated without having to stand on a surfboard. In the beginning, you should use practice or rental surf boards, stay safe, and be extremely aware of others surfing around you. Also, don’t be discouraged if it’s taking you a while to develop your skills.

Invest in Equipment

After you have spent some time learning the basics, you should feel comfortable enough to know what you want in a board and suit. Wetsuits are fairly easy to fit, but boards are another matter. There are a huge variety of shapes and weights for different surfing styles. Beginners may want to stay basic with their first board. Big, wide surf boards are easier to keep your balance. Use the experience gained from the rental boards to help inform your decision.

Master Paddling

Paddling itself is a technique that must be learned, and it’s important to practice. Start by placing the board flat on the water. If you pull your feet in, the water will not drag. Press your chest on the board. The point of these exercises is to lower the amount of resistance your body has to the water. The more horizontal you and the board are as a unit, the better you will cut through the water.

Learn the Channels

You can visibly see channels out in the ocean. Understanding where the water is currently moving is a fundamental milestone in surfing. The channels allow surfers the chance to paddle or rest between waves. When you get knocked off your board or simply find yourself tiring quicker than originally thought, a channel can save your life.

Channels typically form away from the waves. Occasionally, they will crop up along reefs or swirl near sand bars. The white wash of churning water signifies water coming back to shore, while smoother, darker water indicates channels flowing away from the coastline. Currents are stronger than channels and help you move around in the ocean. They are a valuable tool to conserve your energy.

Rip currents are powerful but narrow channels of water heading away from the shoreline. These are important to identify because struggling against them is difficult and wastes energy.

Practice Evasive Maneuvers

Techniques like duck diving and turtle rolling are extremely important, life-saving talents to help you effectively make your way to the lineup and to use when a wave gets nasty. At their core, evasive maneuvers are based on using the wave’s energy to push you through the wave and out the back when it begins to collapse.

Recovery Techniques

If you plan on surfing, know that you absolutely will fall over. Your first reaction may be to flail, but falling correctly is about staying relaxed and going with the flow of the water. Wildly thrashing your arms might get you injured. Another reason to remain in control is because you should never let go of your board. If a wave knocks your board away, it could run into someone else, causing a serious injury.

As a beginner, focus on one thing at a time and make sure you know your limits. Surfing is a great deal of fun, but you’ll need to learn the basics first. The ocean can be a dangerous place, even along the coast.


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