How To Surf

There is no feeling like it. Surfing along the waves as the sun beats down on you.

Even if the clouds are out in force, surfing is always one of the most enjoyable sports in the world. Although surfing was once only reserved for royalty in Hawaii, it is now popular across the world where wave breaks are.

Once you get out on the water and start surfing those big (or small) waves, you will become addicted. As long as you have some waves and a surfboard, you’re ready to go. However, as with any sport, you have to start somewhere.

If you have ever watched a surfer go about their business on the water, you have probably thought “that looks easy, I could do that.” Well, it’s not as easy as you may think but one thing’s for sure, you can definitely do it!

When learning to surf, you need to stay safe. This means learning the proper ways to stand on the board and, of course, fall off. Also, you need to find places that suit your ability level.

Do not go in the “deep end” and choose surf spots that are inundated with professional surfers.

Firstly, the waves here will probably be too strong for you and secondly, you will get in the way of other surfers. And, this is not something you want to do.

Today, we are going to show you how to surf with our ultimate guide. We will run you through the steps to get on that surfboard and ride those waves like you never imagined. We will look at the equipment needed as well as some rules of the water which must be heeded.

So, prepare to catch your first wave as we learn how to surf.

Golden Rules For Beginners 

Before you head out to surf, you should take these unofficial rules into consideration. These will make your surfing life a lot easier and safer.

  • You should only begin surfing in beginner surf spots. We will cover these areas below.
  • Before you paddle out to the water, inspect the surf for at least 30 minutes. Watch other surfers paddle out and check where the waves are breaking as well as the ability level of the surfers. Think about whether they are experienced or beginners like yourself. This is so you can gauge whether the waves are a comfortable size for you to tackle. On occasions, it takes 30 minutes or more to check how big the biggest waves get. Once you have paddled out, wait at the side of the surf spot and watch for a little longer.
  • You must be respectful of your surroundings and fellow surfers. The locals will know the area best and may have a sense of ownership. Therefore, simply be polite and don’t get in anyone’s way. Local surfers can be quite notorious for being territorial of their waters and some can be pretty rude. So watch out! 
  • You must understand the rules of the water. In general, one person will surf a wave. Whoever is closest to where the wave breaks (the deeper) will have the right of way. If you and another surfer turn to catch a wave coming in on you both, the other surfer will have the right of way if you’re on the left and the wave breaks on the right of you but peels toward your right. Therefore, stop paddling and wait for the next wave.
  • Keep out of the way of others when paddling out. You should paddle out to a channel if one is present. This is a deeper area where the waves do not break. You should never paddle through the surf or a lineup of other surfers if you have other options. Doing this will keep you and others in the water safe. It will also conserve energy that will be needed as surfing is a very active sport. If there is no other way, you need to stay out of the way of the surfers riding a wave. If a surfer comes toward you, paddle in the opposite direction of where they are going.
  • Finally, always hold onto your board. If it floats off, you could lose it or injure another surfer.

Now, these golden rules are out of the way, let’s discover how to surf.

How To Surf – Preparation

Find The Right Gear 

Your first job is to rent out a soft surfboard if it’s your first time out on the water. We don’t recommend investing in a surfboard if you have never tried surfing before.

Instead, head to a beach that you know is good for surfing and there will be rental spots nearby. These tend to offer reasonably priced rental opinions either by the hour or by the day.

Most of the time, you can choose between fiberglass boards and soft surfboards (also known as soft tops or foamies). Soft boards are very lightweight and are generally less expensive than fiberglass or epoxy surfboards.

These models are also extremely durable and buoyant, making them the ideal choice for beginners.

The type of board you use depends on your size and weight. The heavier you are, the larger the board volume you will need. If you’re unsure, talk to the staff at the rental place.

Be completely honest and tell them that it’s your first time and you need guidance on which board to get. 


Once you have your board ready, it’s time for more gear in the form of a wetsuit. Many surf spots are best enjoyed with a wetsuit. These suits keep you warm in cold water and can even prevent hypothermia. 

The local surf shop should be able to recommend a wetsuit. If so, get fitted and rent or purchase one. 

Wax your surfboard 

Wax for your board is important as it helps to improve your foot grip resulting in a better balance when in the water.

Surf wax is generally pretty cheap. Ask your surf shop what type is best for your board and the temperature of the water you’ll be surfing in. Just don’t get sand all over the wax. This will make it abrasive which can hurt your stomach when you lie on the board. 

A leash 

You should get a leash for your surfboard too. This keeps you and your board bound together in the water. The last thing you want is to be separated from your board if you experience a wipe-out (fall off).

If your board begins to float freely, other surfers could fall over it or it could smash up against the rocks. In other words, runaway boards are very dangerous and potentially very costly.

A leash string is also a good idea. This connects your leash to the leash plug on the tail of the board for extra security.

Time To Get Started


Practice On The Ground 

You need to practice on the hard ground before you hit the water.

Attach the board’s leash to your back foot and your board’s tail. 

Lie belly-down on your board. Make sure your body is lined up straight down the middle of your board. Once in this position, practice a paddling motion with both of your arms. This will give you a sense of the muscles needed but against the water, you can expect more pressure. 

For right-handed folks, your back foot that is attached to the leash will usually be your right foot (known as regular). “Goofy” is when your left foot is attached to the leash. If in doubt, just do what feels most natural to you. 

Take some time to practice these motions on the sand or at home. This will give you extra confidence when trying the movements on the water in front of others. 

Getting Up On The Board

Now it’s time to practice getting up on the board.

Known as “taking off” or “popping up” on the wave, standing up on the board requires quite a bit of practice. 

As you’re lying on the board, you need to bring your hands up from the paddling movements. Place them below your chest with your palms flat on the board. Your fingers should be curled over the sides of the surfboard too. 

In one fast motion, push your body up with your arms. Tuck your feet up and underneath you. Now, place one foot in the same place where your hands were that pushed you up and the other foot at least a shoulder’s width behind there.

At first, it may be easier to get up on your knees and then bring one foot up at a time until you’re standing. This option is slower than the jumping motion but is very effective if you’re not ready or feeling comfortable with the jump up just yet. 

When you take off, you should never grab the edges or rails of the board. This could result in a nasty cut on your chin and face when your hands inevitably slip off the rail. If your hands or feet are slipping when jumping up, you should add more wax to your board for improved grip. 

Feel free to practice these jumps wherever and whenever possible. Just make sure you have enough space to do so. 

Standing On The Board 

Once you have mastered the jump up, you need to keep your knees bent, your arms should be loose and extended, your feet planted firmly on the surfboard, and your torso needs to lean forward. This is to lower your center of gravity.

If you have a “regular” stance, your left foot will be in front, and for “goofy” stances, your right foot will lead.

Your feet should be quite close together rather than wide apart for a side-to-side balance rather than front-to-back. 

Paddle In The Water 

Now it’s time to get comfortable in the water. This is the best way to find the sweet spot of your board while surfing.

Your board should glide across the water with its nose slightly above the surface. The best balance position is when your toes are touching the leash string. 

Paddle along with long, deep strokes, as far as you feel comfortable. 

Finding A Surf Spot

After practicing and practicing your paddling, popping up, and standing on the board, you need to research the most suitable surf spots for you. You need to find the right waves to suit your level.

Ideally, this should be a spot where the waves break slowly over a waist-to-chest depth (a semi-shallow sandy bottom).

As a beginner, you do not need perfect waves. Look for long rows of knee-high whitewater areas that roll toward the shoreline. The key is to find a place that is not crowded but where you can catch plenty of waves and master the art of paddling into different waves and then popping up. 

You can find these surf spots online by searching for the best beginner surf spots in your region or where local surf schools have lessons. Just stay away from famous surf spots as these will be overcrowded, unwelcoming to newbies, and the conditions will be too challenging. 

Also, don’t be afraid to ask around for advice. Local surf shops will be happy to point you in the right direction of beginner surf spots. And, try to plan it right and play it safe.

If there is a lifeguard tower nearby, plan your surf when the lifeguard is on duty. And ask others on the beach if they have any advice or warnings for you. Better to be safe than sorry! 

How To Catch A Wave 

Once you have located a target spot, you should paddle out until you’re at least waist-deep in white water. Here, the waves should have already broken. 

Do not paddle too far out as this is where more advanced surfers will probably be waiting for a set. As long as you’re in deep enough water (to keep you from hitting your head if you fall off your board), then you should be ready.

Choose a reference point too such as a landmark on land. Check it now and again as you move deeper into the water. This helps you gauge your total distance from the shoreline and reveal any currents present in the water. 

Paddle To Your Spot 

When you’re confident to surf some waves, walk your board out until you’re at waist or chest depth. Then, lie on your board and paddle into the waves. 

If you hit the waves at an angle, you will lose your forward momentum. So, stay perpendicular to the waves and just cut straight through them. 

As you cut through the waves, we recommend doing a push-up with your upper body. This will stop the wave from pushing you back toward the shore. 

Now, turn your board around and wait for a wave. Sit back on your board until its nose is out of the water. Position yourself into that “sweet spot” we mentioned earlier and be prepared to paddle for the wave using deep, long strokes. 

When you have an appropriate wave incoming, get into position as close to the peak as you can. When you feel you’re in a good position to catch the wave, paddle as hard as you have ever paddled in your life. 

Catch The Wave

Now you have started to paddle with all of your might, you need to take off using the techniques you have been practicing on land. 

As the wave approaches closer, keep your eyes locked in front of you as you paddle. Turning around will lose power. 

You must be quick and paddle with as much force as possible. This is so you catch the wave before it breaks and get up on your board in time. For beginners, it is common to catch and ride the white water at first which is totally fine. 

You will probably miss the wave on your first few attempts so be patient! After you miss a wave, just paddle back and wait for the next appropriate wave. 

Ride The Wave

Now it’s time for the fun part! 

Keep your feet firmly planted on your board with your knees bent, arms loose, and eyes directly forward. If you’re doing this and still standing, you are surfing your first wave!

Remain focused and allow the wave to carry you to shore. Just make sure you keep an eye out for others who are in the water around you.

Ride each wave straight in. This is the shortest and slowest way to ride a wave but, for a beginner, it’s the best way to get the hang of it. 

Try and Turn 

When you’re ready, you should try and turn while surfing a wave. The more you surf, the more accustomed you will feel to it. This is when you will want to try angling your board across a wave. 

You need to begin by leaning into your turn with your body. Keep your center of gravity on the board at this point. Use your body to dip one rail of your board gently into the wave’s face. This will create friction or drag that will help turn the board.

When you catch the right angle, try to maintain balance and ride down the wave’s curl.

Just pick a direction of which way you want to ride across the wave early on. If the wave is low, begin paddling in that direction before it hits. When a larger wave is present, wait until you get pulled up onto the wave itself. 

Wipeouts And Fails

Most beginners struggle with surfing. But, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s normal! If you feel like you’re going to fall or the waves are dying down, jump away from the board toward the ocean and away from your momentum.

Try to fall to the side or back of your board and cover your head with your arms for protection. Then, let the wave carry you. Afterward, gently swim upwards and feel what’s ahead of you so you don’t get hit by your board. 

  • Try to land flat
  • Once you have surfaced, pull your leash and climb back on your board. Rest on your belly until you have regained composure

In Summary 

And now you know how to surf!  With practice and patience, you will be riding waves like a pro in no time! By following safety precautions and our steps above, we hope you enjoy your many surfing days to come.