Surfing For Beginners: The Dos and Don’ts

Hi Wanderers,

In 2017, I surfed three countries and before that I had never surfed at all. Last January, I was vacationing with friends in Costa Rica who had surfed before and wanted to surf again. I thought to myself, “Why the heck not? Let’s give it a go, how hard can it be?!” I rented a board and off I went. The only surfing technique I had ever learnt was from Paul Rudd teaching Jason Segel how to pop up in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I had never read surfing advice or watched any real videos about technique.

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Getting ready to hit the waves in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Have you ever thought that you would instantly be good at something? Well, that was me. I for sure thought I’d be surfing like a pro… not so much. The struggle was real and it was super frustrating. Before I get to the dos and don’ts, here is a brief throwback to my first year of surfing.

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Boards for rent at the Roxy shop in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

January 2017 – Costa Rica

Surfed at: Playa Avellanas and Tamarindo

The sun burnt my skin to a crisp so bad that I resorted to surfing in a full yoga outfit, long sleeves and all. In the water, I could touch the sandy bottom (which helped). I struggled to maneuver the constant waves and crowded waters. With some advice from my friends, I was able to stand and “ride” one or two waves. I spent most of my time body surfing and rolling around in the waves.

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My first time surfing (ever!) at Playa Avellanas

June 2017 – Canada (Tofino, British Columbia)

Surfed at: Chesterman Beach

This time, a wet suit was required and the water was freezing. I learnt that the waves are very different everywhere you surf, and if I thought the waves in Costa Rica were unpredictable, I was sadly mistaken. At the time, I was very ill and still a beginner. I explain my experience as “drowning”. Obviously, I’m very dramatic, but I don’t even think I spent much time sitting on my board, let alone surfing a wave.

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My hubby enjoying a drink after surfing Chesterman Beach

September 2017 – United States (Los Angeles, California)

Surfed at: Venice Beach

I took my first real lesson and it was worth every penny. I still “drowned” in the waves, as they were tall and incredibly strong. It also doesn’t help when your husband thinks he’s pulling his surfboard into the waves but really it’s mine, connected to my ankle. With help from my instructor on positioning and guidance on the perfect wave, I was able to surf better than ever before. I was also able to pinpoint my mistakes and correct them myself, which is a pretty neat thing to do after having no idea the times before. The surf lesson was first thing in the morning (around 7am) and we had the ocean to ourselves. This was by far my best experience surfing!

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After my surf lesson with amazing instructor Lulu from Kapowui Surf Club

DO

  • Invest in a lesson! This is my #1 recommendation. If I would have known how beneficial it was going to be, I would have taken one in Costa Rica a year ago. Learning proper technique and surf board design will significantly improve your experience and your level of comfort on the board. It’s also comforting having a trained professional looking out for you in the water.
  • If you don’t want to take a lesson, make sure you do some research first – how is a surf board made? Why is it made that way? How do you correctly pop up? What is the correct way to stand on your board? What is the safest way to fall off your board?
  • Wear the proper attire for the conditions. If you’re going to be in the sun, purchase a rash guard for protection. If it’s cold, rent a wet suit and make sure it’s the right size. If it’s too small, you will feel like your knees are glued to the board and you won’t be flexible enough to stand up (speaking from experience).
  • Get up and head to the beach as early as possible to avoid crowded waters.
  • Keep at it! The more you do it, the better you will get.

DON’T

  •  Don’t just rent a board and hope for the best. It’s a challenging sport and very frustrating/dangerous if you’re inexperienced.
  • Don’t assume that all weather conditions and beaches are ideal for surfing, especially for beginners. Higher tides and deeper waters are a recipe for disaster, and these conditions can be more common during certain times of year. Also, keep in mind that waves look a lot smaller from the beach.
  • Don’t wear your cutest bikini/bathing suit… you know that one made just for sun tanning? If you aren’t going to wear a rash guard or wet suit, make sure you have a supportive top with straps and tight bottoms. Gentlemen, make sure your bathing suit has some give in it and a drawstring. No one wants to flash an entire beach.
  • Don’t rent the short, shiny board, go for the ugly foam board instead. You will be thankful for this decision later on.
  • Don’t surf if you’re sick or feeling weak. It’s a big workout paddling over/under the waves. Chances are, you will use up all your energy trying to get into position. It could take 5+ minutes to get over the wave and into position, and only 1 second to screw up your ride and then you have to do it all over again… not fun.
  • Don’t go alone. As a beginner, I recommend surfing with a buddy or at least having a friend keeping an eye out for you on the beach.
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Surf rental shop in Tofino, BC

The most important thing is to have fun with it! You might be sore and exhausted, but it’s worth it. Once you catch your first wave, you’ll be ready to get back out there and try it again.

Happy Travels,

Mel

 

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