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How difficult is it to learn to surf?

How long does it take to learn how to surf?

Beginners’ guide to surfing

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In this article, we’re going to take you through the basics that you need to know before getting started with surfing. We won’t lie to you, learning to surf isn’t easy – if you’re going to dive in then you need to prepare to be frustrated and willing to be patient. It’s not as like riding a bike – learning takes a lot of perseverance and is, as you may have guessed, pretty reliant on the conditions mother nature dishes up. Unfortunately you can’t always just pop down the beach and have an ideal session for beginners just because you have a couple of hours up your sleeve – sometimes it’ll be too big, others completely blown out, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So be prepared for a bit of a process. Many beginners want to know how long it’ll take before they can surf – will they be up and shredding within a month? As is often the case, this isn’t as simple as a yes or no answer, and there’s no definitive time frame on how long it will take. It’s dependant on a huge range of factors – what an individual classifies as ‘being able to surf’, how committed you are, whether you’re willing to suck it up and flail around in the whitewater on a longboard for a while or if you’re going to stubbornly paddle directly out to the main line-up. All of these things will play a huge role in how quickly you advance, but put simply – if you’re expecting to be Kelly Slater within a few weeks, you’ll cop a reality check pretty quickly.

It takes time and you never truly stop learning, but one thing we can say with complete certainty is that it’s well and truly worth it. Surfing is one of life’s great pleasures and is something you’ll be able to do until you’re old and grey, so even when it’s all feeling a bit arduous make sure you persevere.

It’s not something that most people want to hear, but to maximise your chances of actually sticking it out and progressing past the novice stage, you’ll need to do a bit of work beforehand. Most learners just want to grab whatever board they can get their hands out and get out there without really thinking through what they’re doing, but those people will very quickly realise they’re out of their depth – so to speak – and give up because it’s too hard. You need to listen to advice from people who know better than you, get the right gear and equipment for you, and ideally build your fitness up as well.

Speaking of people who know better than you – having been in the industry for such a long time we have plenty of valuable advice with regards to the best and most suitable gear to buy for you. We’ll go through each individual piece of equipment in more detail in later articles, but for now, here’s some more general advice.

First of all – try before you buy. Buying the right stuff is key as you learn to surf, but the costs of surf gear can quickly add up, so you want to make sure you know what you’re getting before making a big financial commitment. You can hire all sorts of gear – from boards to wetsuits to leashes to tail pads – so try things out and see what feels best for you.

Getting a lesson is also an invaluable step in the learning process. Instructors will give you plenty of helpful tips in the water, but they can also help out on land. Ask them what sort of board you should be looking at – what should be the length, the volume, the material. Unless you find them on the street, they’ll presumably know what they’re talking about, and will make sure you avoid making an expensive purchase that you’ll regret.

If you’re particularly stingy you’ve also got the option of borrowing gear off a friend. Hopefully you know a couple of surfers who have some old boards or wetsuits lying around and who aren’t too concerned with the prospect of a novice taking their expensive belongings out into the ocean with them. Generally it’s important to remember that if you do damage the board, it’s probably best to offer to pay for it or you might end up damaging the friendship too – people can get pretty worked up about their boards.

Before you head out it’s also key to make sure you know the conditions. Many people think that if they throw themselves in the proverbial deep end and try to take on big and challenging waves before they’re ready that they’ll just progress faster. They won’t. If you want to advance as a surfer you need to practice in conditions that suit your ability level, or you won’t get anywhere, will get frustrated and probably give up not long after you’ve started. Don’t be afraid to ask people in the know for advice on where the best breaks around are for people learning to surf, and try to get accustomed with reading and understanding the forecasts on apps like Magic Seaweed.

And finally – get fit! Surfing isn’t just difficult to learn – it’s also very tiring, particularly for people who aren’t in great shape or aren’t used to using the muscles which surfing demands. Many people probably wonder what’s so hard about it – you just sit out in the ocean on a board and when a wave comes, you paddle a couple of times to get into it. No one is saying that when they’ve been paddling against a current for ten minutes and have just duck-dived the fifth wave of a set. It can be exhausting and you’ll quickly find that you call upon muscles that don’t usually have too much work to do, so don’t be afraid to get a little fitter than usual while you’re trying to learn. Surfing itself is unsurprisingly probably the best way to develop the fitness that surfing requires, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go for a few extra runs here and there to help out.

And that’s about it for now – in the next article we’ll take a look at the differences between learning to surf at various ages, and when is the latest you can learn to surf.