Planning on surfing for the first time?… AWESOME. You are taking the first step to having an unforgettable experience and life-long passion! Picking up the board for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but we are here to provide you with the correct information to make your first attempt a successful one.
With decades of surfing experience, we wrote this article to help you focus on most important elements every beginner should know for their first surf session. Use these recommendations with caution, they may change your life (for the better) forever!
PICK (ON) A WAVE YOUR OWN SIZE
Breaking waves can be found in just about all corners of our planet. Waves are generated from strong winds blowing over great distances of open water. Theoretically, where ever there are strong winds and lots of water, surfable waves can be created. Typically, the best waves are found in the ocean, but did you know that there are also hardcore wave-riders along the Great Lakes and in the Mediterranean Sea?
When surfing for your first time, it is important to understand the different types of surf breaks, and which one is the best for your cresting ability.
There are three basic types of surf breaks:
- Beach Break (sandy bottom)
- Point break (rocky or sandy bottoms)
- Reef Breaks (shallow rocks or coral bottom)
Beach Breaks with sandy bottoms are 100% the best surf spots for Novice and Beginner surfers. When you pop up on the board for the first couple times and fall (trust me, you WILL fall) the sand is much more forgiving than a rocky bottom. When arriving to a new beach, always talk to a local (or even better, a lifeguard) about submerged rocks, rip currents, tides, etc. (Psst – we have a great beach break directly in front of our surf camp here in Tamarindo.)
SURF AT THE RIGHT TIME
The time of day that you go surfing matters. Generally speaking, the best weather conditions are in the AM hours when the wind is calm. Strong winds that blow from the ocean to land (onshore winds) typically develop in the afternoon and will make the water surface choppy and harder to navigate. A choppy surface will create small ripples running through the waves and will cause the wave to break less uniformly and ultimately, harder to catch.The best winds for surfing are either very light, or blowing from the land to sea (offshore). In Guanacaste, we are known for our predominant offshore winds and user-friendly conditions for beginner surfers.
Check your local tide calendar. The best tides for learning to surf are typically the medium to high tides from 3-6 feet above sea level. The trick is to pick the tide that will allow the wave break soft enough to not slam you down, but strong enough to push you towards the shore once you catch it. For less currents and more consistency, the rising tide is the best.
SURF WITH THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
The right equipment will make or break your first surf session. The following is a list of the essential items you will need before paddling out:
- SOFT Longboard: Standard surfboards are made of fiberglass and hard as rock. Getting hit by a hard board will most definitely hurt, so the best way around this is to rent a soft-top longboard in the 8 foot range. The bigger the board, the more buoyant it will be. Paddling and catching waves on a bigger board will be much easier and set you up for success.
- Leash: This is a cord that straps from your board to your ankle and prevents your board from washing away when you fall and becoming a projectile for other people.
- Sunscreen: For obvious reasons ALWAYS wear sunscreen. Remind yourself that surfing is a lifetime activity and a little bit of sun over many years can have major consequences.
- Wetsuit (sometimes): If the water you are going to surf in is less than 70 degrees, you will want to wear a wetsuit to keep you from being miserably cold. There are several types of wetsuits, but generally you should wear a spring suit if the water is 66-72 F and a full suit if the water is 58-65. Any colder than 58 F and you will be wearing more accessories like booties, gloves, or even a hood. Learning to surf is most enjoyable in water about 75 F, and the lowest temps we ever get here in Tamarindo start at this temprature.
- Rashguard: There is a lot of skin rubbing in surfing. A rashguard will protect your chest from rubbing against the surfboard and if you are wearing a wetsuit, it will protect your skin from rubbing against the neoprene of the suit. Also, a rashguard allows you to protect those hard-to-reach places from the sun.
- Wax: You need surf wax on the TOP of your surfboard to help your feet stick to the board when you stand up. If you followed #1 of this list, and you have a soft top, you might not need wax because soft top surfboards are made from a material that is already grippy. If you want to increase your chances of a successful pop-up, surf wax will certainly help.
- Towels: Not just one towel but at least TWO towels. One for your body and one to wrap up your swimsuit/wetsuit/rashguard so it doesn’t get your car all wet.
- Jug of Water: Fill up an empty milk jug (or two) with warm water to rinse yourself, wetsuit and rashguard. Make sure to rinse the entire wetsuit and rashguard because salt will degrade them if you don’t.
If this truly is your first time surfing, don’t buy your equipment if you don’t have to. Surfing can be a very expensive sport. If you are just going to try it out, it makes the most sense to rent… plus, you never know what equipment you might need for your developing surf style.
EXPECT IT TO BE HARD
I am not going to lie to you. Surfing is difficult… but it gets easier the more you do it. Having the right expectations is important so you don’t get frustrated and give up. Having an instructor will drastically increase your chances for success. One of the hardest parts of surfing is selecting the right wave and timing your pop-up. A good surf instructor should have you standing up on your first waves within a 1 hour lesson
You probably won’t stand up on your first wave, but you will likely have fun giving it a shot. Expect to get worn out by the end of your session; the ocean is quite powerful and unpredictable. Always remember that falling and wiping out are part of the fun.
Just like any other sport, surfing makes you move in unnatural ways. You will have a lot more endurance and will recover a lot more quickly if you warm up properly. Stand on the beach and do some dynamic stretching before you start paddling out. Loosen up your shoulders, hips and legs. Then, get a quick stretch in when you get out of the water. That will go a long way to making sure that you recover appropriately for your next session.
RIDE THE WHITEWATER
When surfing for the first time, you should stay in the area where you can stand up and the waves have already broken. When a wave breaks, it turns into whitewater and is a easier to catch (also called “The Inside”). The water here is waist-to-chest deep. Riding the whitewater (instead of the green-face of a wave) is the easiest way to learn to catch your first wave because it is less powerful and allows you ample time to get to you your feet.
Surfing is an activity that is based in muscle memory. The more you physically repeat the motion of popping up and getting your stance, the better you will be in the water. Spend time practicing your pop up BEFORE you get to the beach. Also, practice on the sand just before you get into the water to get your muscles and brain used to the motion.
TAKE A LESSON – OR SEVERAL
If you are serious about having fun and learning to surf, then take a lesson, or better yet, several lessons. Or, dare we say, a week of lessons with us? The instructors at WRSC are amazing surfers, certified lifeguards, and bilingual. Working with one of our instructors is truly the most efficient way to learn the sport of surfing.
DON’T GIVE UP
If you followed the above recommendations, there is a good chance that you will have an enjoyable time during your surf session. Some things will not go as planned – you will not become Kelly Slater overnight – and you might not have been able to stand up on a single wave… but DON’T GIVE UP.
Surfing is a very challenging activity that requires many hours of practice and commitment. Just remember that the more you do it, the better you will get. And the better you get, the more fun it will become. And always remember, the best surfer is the one having the most fun!
Follow the recommendations, do your best, and hopefully we’ll see you in the lineup at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.