How to Surf

Almost anyone can learn how to surf. Surfing is an enjoyable sport which can be relaxing or competitive, depending on what you're looking for. You don't need a whole lot of equipment to surf, but what you do need can be expensive. If you're not certain that surfing is the sport for you, you may want to rent your surfing gear before plunking down the money to buy a board. Most surf shops can set you up with a board, as well as a wetsuit or rash guard, if necessary.

A surfboard is the most important piece of surfing gear you'll need. As a beginner just learning how to surf, it's best to start with longboard surfing, which uses a surfboard that's wider at the nose (front of the board) and tail (back of the board) than a traditional short board. A longboard is generally at least nine feet long and has a rounded nose. Longboard surfing is great for beginners because the board floats much better than a short board, and it's easier to catch waves. If you'll be renting your surfing gear, you'll probably be given a long, soft surfboard, which is difficult to break or hurt someone else with. Like a longboard, this will have a rounded nose.

Most surfers these days use a leash, which keeps the surfer and the surfboard connected. A leash should be a little longer than the surfboard, and you should secure it around the ankle that will be toward the back of the surfboard. Although a leash can keep a surfboard from becoming loose and hitting someone else in the water (or being dashed to bits on rocks), it can also be dangerous. It is possible for a leash to become tangled around underwater rocks or other obstacles, which can prevent you from safely reaching the surface. For this reason, look for a leash with a safety release.

Wax is the cheapest piece of surfing gear you'll need, although you may need to buy it often. Wax gets applied to the top (deck) of your surfboard in small circles. You want the wax to be textured to help you stay on the board. You can also use traction, which sticks onto your surfboard deck and reduces the amount of wax you'll have to buy.

Ocean Surfing Basics

Before you charge the pipeline, you should practice a few pop-ups on the beach first. You'll need this move to get up on your board once you've caught a wave. If your board isn't made of foam, practice on the sand, otherwise your surfboard could snap. Lie on the sand or board, then pop up, placing your hands flat on the deck (or sand) and your feet one in front of the other. Make sure your feet are a little wider than your shoulders, and that they are sideways. Your front foot should be turned outward a little bit.

Once you've mastered the pop-up, it's time to get into the ocean. Wade out past the white water with your surfboard by your side. Now you're ready to get on the board and paddle.

This is where wax is key when learning how to surf; it will prevent you from sliding off your surfboard. When positioning yourself on your surfboard, keep your legs together and in the middle of the strip down the center, known as the stringer. The front of your board should be even with the water, with the nose neither in the water nor pointing upward.

Keeping your arms in the water up to your elbows, cup your hands and paddle through the water. Try to keep the rest of your body still, as body motion makes it difficult to maneuver the surfboard and tires you out.

The scariest thing for many beginners learning how to surf is when the first wave approaches as they're paddling out. This is nothing to worry about once you have a few techniques down to get through it. There are several ways to get through an incoming set of waves. The easiest is to simply push up when you're approached by a small wave, letting the water pass between you and the board.

For larger waves, use the duck dive. Paddle toward the wave until the last possible moment, then grip the rails (sides) of your surfboard and push the nose of your board underneath the wave. At the same time, push the tail of your board down with your foot. The wave will pass over you and you'll pop up the other side. If your surfboard is too big for a duck dive, or if you're not yet comfortable with it, you may want to try a turtle roll. This involves rolling the surfboard over, so that it is upside down with your body still pressed against it. Kick as the wave passes over you to avoid being swept back to shore.

Surfing the Waves

Now you're ready to start surfing. If you're at a beach with a lot of whitewater, practice surfing that first, making sure there aren't lots of rocks underneath that could hurt you or your surfboard. Wade out to where the whitewater is beginning to break, and lie on your board. Try riding a few on your stomach to get a feel for timing. You want to pay attention to the moment that you feel the wave take the surfboard-eventually that is when you'll stand up. After you've mastered the timing of the waves, try the pop-up that you perfected on the beach. Keep your body centered on the board and your hips low. If you feel yourself starting to slip off the surfboard at any point, hop off the back. You'll be safe from your surfboard should a wave pummel you both. Whenever you're surfacing after a fall, come up with your hands first to protect your head from other surfers or your own board.

You're finally ready to paddle into the lineup. Look for a spot that's not too crowded, but that has waves breaking consistently. You can look for the ripple in the water that signals the formation of a wave and sit a little closer to shore than that, or you can cheat and paddle out approximately as far as the rest of the surfers in the water. Keep in mind that the longer your surfboard is, the farther out you can be. This is because a longboard can pick up a small wave easier than a short board.

Once you've settled into a spot, keep your eyes open for your wave. Avoid other surfers already on a wave, especially while you're new to the sport and learning about right of way. When it's your time, turn your surfboard to face the shore. You can do this with an eggbeater move, which involves pulling up the front of your board with your hands and moving one leg in the water like an egg beater to spin. Now start paddling until the wave approaches and you feel it take your surfboard. Once that happens, it's time for the pop-up. This may take several tries, but don't get discouraged. The feeling of riding a wave is unparalleled, and well worth the tumbles you may take along the way.

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