What do I wish I had known when I started surfing?
The hidden dangers of surf spots
Coming to a new surf spot? The first thing to do before you hit the water: Where are you going to leave the spot an hour or two later when the tide is high? In the middle of the rocks where the waves are now crashing?
The same goes for low tide. Will you be able to go ashore in shallow water where the waves are now closing in on the reef?
It's better to think about this before you get trapped in the ocean.
Ask local surfers about the dangers of the spot you're going to: hidden rocks at high tide, sharks in some countries, rip currents, difficult exit at low or high tide.
Which is the best surfboard for beginners?
An 8-foot foam surfboard with three fins is the best choice for learning to surf. Or a 9-foot foam surfboard if you're very tall or heavy.
It doesn't hurt if you fall on it.
It's very resistant to bumps and knocks.
It's the choice of every surf school in the world to teach people to surf.
It's wide, thick and long, so it's very stable.
It's easy to paddle.
You can ride it on very small waves, unlike a shortboard.
Longboard versus shortboard
The problem with learning to surf on a shortboard is that it is the Formula 1 of surfing. It's super fast, really unstable and hyper-reactive.
You can't learn the basics of surfing on something as slippery as a bar of soap. Why not? Because things happen so fast that you can't understand what's happening. As a beginner, you'll spend most of your time falling as soon as you get on the board. You won't have any fun!
On a longboard, you have time to understand what's happening when you stand up on the deck. You can correct your foot placement if you feel unbalanced. In fact, longboards are forgiving because they're more stable and slower. You will have fun!
It's like learning to ride a bike, you don't learn on a racing bike, you learn on a tricycle: it's slower, more stable and more forgiving.
Later, when you have mastered your longboard and the basics of surfing: pop-ups, bottom turns, top turns, cutbacks... you will be able to try shorter boards. Because you will have built strong foundations, reflexes and balance. Because you will instinctively know how to ride a less balanced, less forgiving and faster board.
Once you have mastered the basics of surfing, you don't necessarily have to ditch your longboard for a shortboard. Some very good surfers still have a lot of fun on foam surfboards. Like Jamie O'Brien in Hawaii:
How to do a perfect take off
It's a basic skill, but many beginners miss all their waves and the fun of surfing because they don't know how to take off on their board. You need to practice on the ground so that once you're in the water, you can do the take-off in an instant. Practice, practice, practice! Trust me, it's not wasted time.
In the video below, at 3:41, the surf coach is talking about the "chicken wing" take-off. It's the technique used by pro surfers John John Florence and the late Andy Irons. In my humble opinion, it's the only serious technique you can use to launch with good balance on your board and avoid turbulence from the start.
How to stop waves splitting your surfboard in half
The falling lip of a wave exerts a phenomenal force on rigid objects. If the wave is too big to duck under with your board, make sure there is nobody behind you, then put your board aside and parallel to the wave and dive in. This will prevent your board from breaking.
How to warm up before surfing
Almost every surfer I meet on the beach doesn't warm up. That's stupid. Firstly, warming up prevents injuries. Secondly, once you're warmed up, you'll be at 100% capacity on the first wave. Why wait 10 waves to surf at your best? Furthermore, when you warm up, you accumulate heat, which allows you to stay in cold water longer. In my experience, paddling like crazy on your board doesn't help at all. You just get exhausted, not warmer. And once you start shivering, it's over, you have to get out of the water. To surf longer, you have to get warm before you surf. I know I'm ready when I'm sweating in my wetsuit and feeling really warm. I have found that doing knee bends helps me generate a lot of heat. That's because they work the biggest muscles in the body: the quadriceps. I think that's why bodyboarders don't really feel the cold: they're constantly using their quadriceps to move in the water. So here is a good warm-up routine:
How to stay in shape for your next surf session
It's hard to train for surfing when there are no waves. Swimming and skateboarding are good complementary activities to practise paddling and balance out of the water. Yoga is also good for balance and being a relaxed surfer.
Use sunscreen. Skin cancer is no joke. And if you're surfing in a very sunny country, don't forget to put sunscreen on your calves.
To hell with the hype
All the focus on highlight reels from surf videos sets a really unrealistic standard for what it means to have a good session. Sometimes a single wave or manoeuvre can make or break a session.
It's not a competition
Everyone occasionally struggles to make a section, gets bounced on a manoeuvre, drops late into a closeout, makes a wave selection mistake or even misses a wave from time to time. Don't be so self-critical when things don't go as planned. Nobody cares what the hell you're doing out there except you.
If you think of surfers as drug addicts looking for their next fix, it is much easier to understand why surfing can make some of them aggressive at times. I've heard someone say that sometimes he goes surfing to relieve his anger, but if he doesn't get enough waves, he leaves the water even more angry.
Another problem is if you see surfing as an achievement. You will put a lot of effort into becoming a "better surfer" out of the water. Eating well, training hard, going to bed early to get up super early the next day to catch the swell... In fact, changing your daily life to be super efficient in the water. It's not worth it if you're not being paid to be a competitive surfer. Your whole life should not revolve around a few hours of surfing a week.
There are other places to surf
Fighting with idiots at the best spot isn't worth it. Hanging out with mellow surfers at a decent spot is much better.
Always remember that the best surfer is the one who has the most fun. Every day we get to walk down the beach and paddle out is a beautiful gift.
See you in the water! 🏄