We asked Max Hepworth–Povey at Newquay’s Errant Surf School for some top tips for learning to surf.
1. Safety first:
The surf can be dangerous so make sure you surf at a beach patrolled by lifeguards. Check all the signs on the beach, avoid rip currents and know the safe place to surf – if you are unsure ask the lifeguard. Wear a warm wetsuit and plenty of sunscreen that way you can spend more time out in the water hunting down that perfect wave. If you are a total beginner, head out to waist depth and start with broken waves (whitewash) which are relatively safe (as you’re not out of your depth) and easy to catch.
2. Get some length:
Start on a longboard! The longer a board is the more stable it is. More stability means more time standing up. Start on a longboard (9 foot is good) then gradually work your way down to smaller boards. Make sure you have the basics mastered until you make things harder on yourself by trying to ride a smaller board.
3. Paddle properly:
Paddling is the most important skill in surfing. If you can’t paddle your surfboard well you won’t be able to catch waves and you’ll get tired quickly. Your ‘paddling muscles’ (shoulders, arms and back) take time to get strong just like all the other muscles in your body. So whilst you are still learning to surf, you should make a habit of doing a paddle warm up every time you get in the water and don’t be shy to paddle up and down the beach when it’s flat. With regards to technique, try to paddle so that your hands reach far out in front of you and stay close to the rails of your board, digging down deep into the water with each stroke. In surfing, it’s not about how fast you paddle but how much energy you get out of each stroke.
4. Arch your back:
Form is key. When you are paddling and catching waves, arching your back will make sure that your weight is properly distributed on your board. It will also stop you from tiring out too quickly and prevent some of the common occurrences when you are trying to learn to surf, such as the “nose dive”! By keeping your head up you’ll also be able to spot potential waves more easily. One of the most common things you’ll hear from our instructors at Errant Surf School in Newquay is “arch your back!”
5. DON’T hold on!
While you learn to surf, your impulse will be to grab the rails of your surfboard when you “pop up” to get to your feet… but don’t do it! By grabbing your rails you throw off the balance of your surfboard instead of allowing it to plane evenly over the surface of the water. When you are about to pop up, place your hands on top of the deck of the board next to your shoulders. Remember this tip along with the previous and you’ll find yourself catching, and making, a lot more waves!
6. Go Knee-Less:
Everyone is guilty of this at first; standing up on your board using your knees (or knee). By using your knees when you pop up you make yourself more off balance and also throw off the balance of your surfboard. This common mistake also adds a clumsy step right in the middle of the most crucial part of your take off. This step takes practice, but if you keep trying to go straight to your feet without using your knees it will quickly become a habit and take your surfing to the next level. If you have to use your knee at first (we all did) that’s okay, but don’t make it a habit! This is actually one of the easiest parts of surfing to practice because you can do it on dry land. Just draw yourself a surfboard in the sand and give it a go. Use your arms to push your upper-body off the ground (and arch your back), and in one fluid motion try to hop to your feet just like you are on a board. If you get this nailed, it will open up a whole new realm of surfing and you’ll be able to take off on faster and bigger waves.
7. Go surfing!
People often ask the best exercise they can do to get fit for surfing. Well the answer is surfing! The best way to improve your surfing is spending as much time in the surf as you can. Be warned though surfing is very addictive…
8. Go pro:
Learn from a professional. Many people learn with a friend who is usually more interested in catching a few sneaky waves themselves. At a surf school you learn in small groups, using the best equipment including safe, longboards and a wide range of wetsuits. At Errant we pride ourselves on service and our instructors stay in the water with you giving you plenty of hands on assistance. After a two hour lesson most people are standing up and surfing into the beach! Good luck!