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Is surfing an expensive hobby?

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Beginners’ guide to surfing

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In our previous articles, we’ve covered off a couple of common questions people have when they’re looking into learning how to surf – things like how old is too old to learn, how hard is it, and what do you need to get started. Today we’re going to take a look at another concern many beginners have – is surfing an expensive hobby?

A lot of people have a perception that it is – they’ve heard stories about wetsuits costing close to a thousand dollars and boards costing more than twice that. In reality though, surfing is significantly less expensive than hobbies like fishing, for example, and once you get through an initial outlay to get the equipment you need you can get by without needing to spend too much.

The first thing to remember is that surfing itself is free. Fortunately there’s no charge for entering the ocean and you don’t have to put petrol in your surfboard or pay to park it like you might with a boat. This means that once you’ve bought the necessities you’ll be able to surf as much as you want without reaching into your back pocket.

It is true that those necessities can at times be expensive, but there’s a pretty wide price range for things like boards and wetsuits so it’s easy enough to find something suitable for your budget. Bear in mind though, that spending an extra few bucks now might save you a lot more money further down the road. 

Let’s use boards as an example. Beginners are going to want to learn on a longer board – as we discussed in previous articles. Usually as you progress, you’ll continually shorten the length of the board that you can comfortably surf. A lot of people want to shortcut this process and simply buy a shorter board from the start – because that way you’ll save money, won’t it? Why buy a longer board that you’ll eventually grow out of when you can just skip the first bit and go straight to a shortboard? Maybe it’ll take a little bit longer but you’ll get there, and you’ll save money, right?

Wrong. You won’t save money, and you also won’t ever learn how to surf. Learning to surf isn’t a process where you can jump in the deep end – you need to learn step by step, and be honest with yourself about the level you’re at. If you try to learn on a shortboard from scratch, you just won’t get anywhere and will either give up, or end up realising the error of your ways and buying a longer board anyway – then you’ll have bought two boards and only use one of them.

If you buy a longboard to start out with, not only will it make learning significantly easier, but it will also remain something you can use as you advance. Though as you get better you might want to test yourself out on shorter boards, your longer boards will always have a use. On smaller days shortboards simply aren’t suitable and you’ll need to get your log out if you want to have a surf, and you can also practice a whole different style of surfing on longer boards – something you can’t do on shortboards. Alternatively, if you progress and decide you never want to use your longboard again, you can always sell it. So basically, the lesson here is – buy as you need. Start out with a suitable longboard, and you’ll save money in the future. If you get to a stage where you want to cut down the length of your surfboard, go for it, but there’s zero point in buying a board that you can’t yet surf. 

In terms of numbers – it depends where you are in the world but in Australia, you’re looking at a few hundred bucks. A shiny, brand new, high-quality surfboard can cost well into the thousands of dollars, but as a novice you probably don’t need this. New, decent quality beginner boards can be found for well under a thousand dollars, and if you really want to avoid reaching too deep into your pocket you can always buy second-hand.

This does of course come with some risks. The main problem with buying second hand is that it’s much harder to find the most suitable board – you’re at the mercy of what’s available and what’s available isn’t always ideal, but there are usually enough options to at least get something decent enough for just a few hundred dollars. Try to take along a mate or someone a little more in the know than you to check the board out with you to make sure it’s going to be suitable – and also that it’s still in reasonable enough condition for the price. 

Unless you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere where the water is warm enough to justify surfing in boardshorts or a bikini all year around, you’ll also need to look into getting a wetsuit. There are a few of these floating around second-hand as well but typically most people would prefer to get a new one for themselves. A really high quality, new wetsuit by a known brand like Rip Curl or O’Neill will cost you around $200-800, but generally the cost is worth it as they’ll last for years without too much deteriorating. Alternatively, if you’re not willing to part with that much money for your first wetsuit, there’s plenty of cheaper alternatives which will do the job perfectly well – they might not be as durable, but for $100-400 you’ll be able to find a new wetsuit which will last a season or two.

So, in summary – is surfing expensive? It depends what you call expensive, but the associated costs pale in comparison to plenty of other hobbies. You’ll have to fork out a few bucks to begin with to get what you need, but once you’ve got a board and a wetsuit, all you’ll be paying for is petrol to get to your nearest break. 

In the next batch of articles, we’re going to do a bit more of a deep dive into the equipment you’ll be using as you develop your surfing skills. The next few articles will focus solely on boards, the one after on leashes, and so on and so forth until you’ve been completely inundated with helpful information about the gear you need.