Learning to surf is a great summer activity if you're going to be spending some time at the beach. It gets you outside and in the water, and you feel triumphant when you finally stand up on your board and ride across the ocean, even if it's just for a few seconds.
If you're a patient person, and enjoy being out in the sun and the water anyway, learning to surf will be a cathartic summer sport that lets you be as intense or mellow as you wish. If you're opting out of surfing lessons, or just want to be ahead of the game, then you should know the basics.
- Get a longboard. The bigger the board, the more surface area. That means that it's easier to balance on a bigger board, the board is more likely to get caught by a wave and the board is more buoyant. Your longboard should be at least 9' long if you're just starting out. You can always rent surf boards from shops near the beach and sometimes, on busy summer days, you can even rent boards right on the beach. If you're committed to learning and want to buy a board, check out sites like craigslist.com, where you can meet up with sellers in your area and see the board before agreeing to buy it. You'll also find new and used boards at local surf shops and bigger retail stores.
- Find a beach. Don't head to Pipeline on your first day. Pick a beach with a gradual drop-off and small waves. 3'-4' waves are ideal for beginners. You want to be comfortable in the water and be in control at all times (or at least most of the time). Smaller waves are typically easier to read as well. Look for slow-moving, fat, mushy waves until you get the hang of surfing.
- Practice on the sand. You may feel silly, but lay your board down on the sand and practice popping up a few times. Lay on the board, belly-down, pretend to paddle, then grab the sides of the board (rails) and push yourself into a standing position. Your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart, with one foot in front of the other (think skateboard or snowboard). You should be in the middle of the board, so your weight is evenly distributed. Practice until you can push yourself from lying down into a balanced, standing position in one quick motion. You won't be able to take your time when you're trying to ride a wave.
- Paddle out and wait. Now that you're comfortable popping into a standing position, it's time to try it in the water, on a wave. First you'll have to paddle yourself out past the break. Typically you should sit 10'-15' beyond where the waves are breaking. Look around to see where the other surfers are waiting. Don't paddle up next to anyone (surfers don't like that), but use other surfers as a guideline to determine where you should be.
Once you're in the right location, sit up on your board. You should have one leg on either side of the board. With a longboard, it should be relatively easy to balance if you're centered.
- Find the perfect wave (or one that looks manageable). You'll need to face the swell and look back over you shoulder to see the waves heading your way. If you see a wave that looks good and is forming 3'-5' from where you're sitting, lie down on your board and start paddling towards shore.
- Catch the wave. As you're paddling and the wave approaches you, you'll feel the water beneath you swell. Ideally, you'll want to catch the wave right before it breaks. It's better to miss the wave off the back than to have it break on top of you, so timing is important. If you're not used to timing waves, this can be the most difficult part of surfing. It just takes practice. You'll feel the wave pull you down and forward when you've "caught" it. The wave will continue propelling you towards shore.
- Pop up. Once you've caught a wave you'll have to pop up immediately. This is where all that practice on the beach comes in. Grab your well-waxed rails (the sides of your board) and swing/jump your legs forward, into position as you do a push-up to get your upper body off the board. Then stand up. Keep your knees bent to help you remain balanced. If you're too far forward or back on the board, you may go for a swim.
- Stay balanced. Once you're standing, keep your knees bent and spread your arms out wide. Use the wax on the top of your board to keep yourself stable by gripping it with your toes. The lower you are, the better your balance will be.
- Ride the waves! Now that you know the basics it's time to get a board, get to the beach and start practicing. Keep at it. The first time you catch a wave you'll be walking on air-or water. Paddle, pop up, repeat!