Surf Instruction

This is my simple attempt to provide people who want to learn how to surf with some pointers.
It is not super technical, nor does it provide any advanced techniques.
But I see a lot of people trying to learn on their own, and they make a lot of mistakes.
I learned on my own, without instruction, and it took me 6 months to get to any level of
proficiency. So if I can save people some aggravation, and reduce the number of poundings,
that would be really cool.

The Basics:
First of all, I suggest getting to know the ocean.
Go swimming in the ocean.
Swim under waves, and get to know how they move, and how hard waves of different sizes hit.
Practice swimming under breaking waves. Look at how the waves come in in groups, or sets.
There will be a number of waves in a row, then a period of inactivity, then the sets come in again.
Once you have a general feel for waves and currents, go boogie boarding.
Practice catching and riding waves without the pressure to stand up.
Look at other surfers. See where they sit. See how they catch waves.

The Wave Itself:
OK, you need to understand a little about how waves work.
They come cruising along, and break when the water gets too shallow.
The bigger the wave, the deeper the water it will break in.
Small waves break in shallow water. Bigger waves break in deeper water.
Also, the bigger the waves, the farther out to sea they will break.
So some of the better surf spots are where there is a reef or a sandbar in deep water,
that can trigger the wave to break early. Also, the shape of the ocean floor will affect how a wave breaks.
If the depth of the water changes from deep to shallow all at once, the wave will "close-out", or break all at once.
If you try to catch a "close-out" wave, by the time you start moving, you will get slammed by the wave.
What you want, is to have a sandbar or reef trigger the wave to break at one point,
then slowly break in one or both directions. That way you can ride the smooth part of the wave.
This is why some beaches are "surf" beaches, and other beaches have no surfers whatsoever.
This is usually because the ocean floor makes the waves there incompatible with surfing.
So you really have no choice but to go where there are other surfers.
Just stay off to the side of them while you learn.

Getting Out:
One frustrating thing for beginner surfers in getting past the whitewash and into the area
where the waves are starting to break. Here is my lazy answer to this problem.
Until your arms and lungs are tough enough to take a serious paddling session,
wait until a set finishes breaking, and then paddle out.
You may look silly, sitting there standing in the waist-high water.
But you will get acclimated to the water temp, as you wait for a lull between sets.
Sooner or later, the barrage of breaking waves will die down, then paddle like a madman to get out, avoiding the next set.
Another tactic is "duck-diving", which is a way to get that big foam floatation device under the wave,
without getting pushed back to the beach. Basically, if a wave is going to break in front of you,
you push your board and yourself underwater. You push it down with your hands, and sometimes with your knee.
This will occasionally allow you to pop up on the other side of the wave unscathed. It takes a lot of practice.
I find that if you are beginning, it is easier to hold on to your board tightly, and go over the top of the whitewash.
You get pushed back, but you are not as disoriented as if you has been underwater,
and got tossed by an unsuccessful duck-dive.
You will also find that if you sit too close to shore, large sets of waves will catch you "inside".
The farther out you paddle, the safer you are from sets that may come along and take you out.
If you paddle out farther than others, you can sit out there and wait until you are well rested,
before moving closer to shore and attempting to catch a few rides...

The Ride:
Well, once you get out there, you will start to recognize closeouts, and if you watch other surfers,
you will see how they try to get the waves that break slowly to one side or another, and avoid the ones
that will close out and smash them over the head. Generally, you can tell by looking at the wave coming
towards you. If it looks smaller to either side of you, you are probably OK. If it looks to be jacking up to the same
height on either side of you, it will probably break all at once, bringing your wave riding attempt to a quick end.
Wave selection is 50% of a good ride. Learn to recognize which types of swells generate which types of waves.
So here is something I see people do all the time while learning. They catch a wave, then try to ride
the whitewash. They will find it frustrating, because whitewash is the most turbulent part of a wave.
When you watch other surfers, what usually ends their ride and causes them to wipe out?
The wave breaks, and they are in the whitewash. Ride over. They fall down. There is a reason for this.
It is like trying to ride on an avalanche, instead of riding on a smooth hillside.
If you watch other surfers, they ride the smooth part of the wave.
The smooth part *is* smooth. It does not wobble and bump up and down. If you stand up on this part of the wave,
it is ten times easier to ride somewhere. It is harder to set yourself up to be at the right place,
but once you do, you will be rewarded with a gentle and smooth ride.
But it is hard to get up and moving before the smooth part breaks, and becomes whitewash.
This is the other lesson it took me a while to learn. Speed is essential. You can't sit there and slowly
wobble up to your feet. You must immediately jump up as soon as you feel forward momentum. No hesitation.
Here is another important thing. Paddling. You cannot wait until the wave is on top of you,
then paddle a little, and then hope to catch the wave. You must start paddling *early*.
That is why surfers are always watching the horizon.
When they see a swell heading their way, and it looks big enough to break, they turn and start paddling.
Once you are better, you might be able to make late takeoffs on steep waves,
but when you are learning, it's better to start paddling early.

Once you manage to stand up, and catch a wave, if you go straight towards shore,
the wave will break behind you, and usually knock you over.
If it doesn't knock you over, you will loose your forward momentum, and you will move much slowly through the whitewash.
So what you want to do, as soon as you take off, is to try to turn your board to be parallel to the wave.
This way you keep your board moving in the direction of the newly forming smooth slope, and away from the crashing whitewash.
When you get good at this, you can start goofing around with turning back, and sliding up and down the face of the wave.
But by then, you are doing pretty good, and you are on your own...

Wave Etiquette:
All the other surfers out there would be awfully pissed off at me if I didn't explain to the newbies
some of the rules of the water. First of all, try to learn somewhere away from big groups of other surfers.
You will be making mistakes, and crashing a lot, and this will be getting in the way of other people's fun.
Never take off on a wave if there is somebody in front of you, whom you might hit with your board if you crash.
Not only is it dangerous, but you can also hit their board, and cause damage. I consider dings part
of the game, but some people pay hundreds of dollars for their boards, and get really upset if you
bang into it. But if you put me at risk for physical harm, I will get unhappy at you too.
If you can, don't be near other people at all at first. But if you are, be sure to check before you start paddling.
Respect the locals. If you are new to a surf area, respect the people who live and surf there regularly.
You are visiting their home turf, and if you are cool, most of them will appreciate that you are trying to
be part of a great experience.
But as soon as you start taking their waves, they will probably loose their positive attitude.
Always give up a wave to someone else. There will always be another one along for you shortly.
If you are nice enough to give up a wave now and then, people will feel better about sharing the water with you.
"The lineup" refers to places where the wave breaks in the same place all the time, like a point break, or a reef break.
Surfers will form a line, almost like for an amusement park ride. The person closest to the wave gets the first chance
to catch it. If they fail, others can grab it. But once you get a ride, you go back to the end of the lineup,
and start waiting your turn. Some people use it to refer to the entire pack of surfers waiting for waves.
This ties into another etiquette issue, which is that the person closest to the "peak" of the wave,
or the person "deepest in the pit", has priority. If you are on the edge, or the shoulder of the wave,
you need to let people who are closest to the central breaking point go first. You can try for it, and if
they fall, you can take it. But if they make the drop, you need to bail out the back, and let the
wave go to them. I guess that's about it. Attention to safety, and being polite to others.

For a beginner board, I would recommend a board called an "Egg". It is medium sized.
It has a large, rounded nose, which is upturned. It also has a tri-fin design, so it can turn ok.
A longboard is OK too, but it is really bulky, and hard to turn quickly.
The thicker the board, the faster it will move, and the easier it will be to paddle.
A small, thin, shortboard may be nimble on the turns, but you have to work twice as hard to catch the waves.
If you ever intend to switch to a shortboard, start with an egg.
It is a good compromise between a longboard and a shortboard.
They are also called "Fun Boards".
It is easy to trade it in for something else later.

Hope this info helps. If you have any additional questions, drop me an e-mail:

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