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3 Super Helpful Tips To Know Before Learning to Surf

3 helpful tips to know before learning to surf

I’ve been surfing for a decade now and in this blog, I’m sharing all the helpful tips and common mistakes I wish I had known when I was a beginner learning to surf.

I’ll be the first to say that surfing is hard. It can be scary and intimidating so it’s not for everyone, you’ve got to be brave and willing to work hard to learn it.

At the same time, surfing is a sport that can be fun and accessible to almost anyone as long as you follow a few guidelines and tips.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
The crystal clear, calm waters on the shore of Malaekahana State Beach

The stoke of surfing is not instantaneous.  It takes some beatings from the ocean but eventually with enough persistence and determination, that stoke WILL come.

And trust me, once you catch the surfing bug, you’re hooked. It takes hold of you and there’s no other option than to give your soul over to it all and enjoy the ride.

Learning to surf was the best thing I’ve done for my body and mind.  Even though I am in love with mountains—the taller and steeper, the better, and everything mountains represent— strength, endurance, challenge, persistence, they can’t fully keep me away from the ocean.

Surfing Santa Cruz, Surfing the California Coast
Gabi tearing up a fast little right-hander at Steamer Lane

Seriously, I’m such a whiner when it comes to crowds, traffic, and overpriced restaurants, but then the universe delivers a week of epic waves while I’m resting between mountain trips in San Diego and I quickly snap out of my I-hate-being-in-big-cities-funk.  

While I could never have all my playfulness wrapped up in this sport, I am so grateful that five years ago I bought a really good wetsuit, dug up some courage, grabbed a very-cute-but-not-good-to-learn-on surfboard and taught myself how to surf.

Related – Best Surf Bikinis that Look Cute and Stay on in the Ocean

The learning process is hard, that part is not avoidable but there are some beginner surfing tips that I wish I had known back then.

Here are my top 3 beginner surfing tips….

1 | Find the Right Type of Beach

Surfing San Diego, Surfing the California Coast
Even if the waves aren’t firing, the beautiful stretch of coastline as seen from the water is worth a paddle

The most important thing to remember if you want to learn to surf is to paddle out in the right conditions.

If you are just starting out, find a beach that is sheltered with a sandy bottom. A sheltered beach typically has less wind and less swell coming through. If you are just learning, you are going to fall and you don’t want to be falling on rocks or reef.

2 | Find the Right Size Wave

living adventurous life, learning to surf Hanalei Bay
Throw back to when Gabi and I first were learning to surf in Hanalei Bay on our trip to Kauai.

The second rule is to paddle out on a very small day.

I know a lot of women who start surfing and then get one scare on too big of a day and they are done with the sport. That’s one of the great parts of rock climbing is that almost all routes are rated so you know the level of each climb. Surfing is a little more dynamic and unpredictable.

Surfline and Magic Seaweed do a great job predicting and reporting current conditions, but it’s still the ocean and you never know what surprises Poseidon will stir up.

3 | Be a Strong Swimmer

Surfing the North Shore, 10 Outdoor Adventures You Must do On Oahu
Watching Pipe when it’s “firing”

Another important rule when learning is to develop your paddling skills first.

Just like how losing weight is more about developing good habits before quitting all bad habits…

Surfing is first about developing comfort in the water and becoming a strong swimmer.

You might want to try my Fit To Surf Workout Program for a couple of weeks before learning to surf. It’s only $7 and in it, I give you a strength training workout, a H.I.I.T workout, a 1-hour vinyasa flow, plus prehab and myofascial release to help prevent injuries. It’s a really awesome mini-course that you’ll love!

The stoke will eventually come with enough persistence and determination. For now, if you ready to be brave and adventurous, get a foam board, find a safe beach, and start paddling.

I must warn you, if you catch the surfing bug, it’s addicting. in the famous words of the GOAT,

Surfing is like the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no getting out.

Kelly Slater
get fit to surf

As you experience the ups and downs of this beautiful, yet cruel, sport keep these things in mind…

10 Things You Should Know When Learning to Surf

1 | Humility

Learning to surf is hard. I don’t care how athletic you are, you are not going to be catching 6 foot waves and pulling off maneuvers on your first day.

The ocean is constantly changing and just when your ego starts getting too big, the ocean knows and will put you back in your place.

I’m not trying to deter you from learning to surf because we all need a dose of humility every now and then. I’d actually be the first one to encourage it, but do it on the right size days with the right frame of mind: persistence, non-attachment to the results, and a great sense of humor.

2 | Patience

You can have the best work ethic, but the fact is: nature is in charge here.

Once you do get strong enough to paddle through the breakers and sit on the outside, that is exactly what you will be doing for most of the time…sitting.

You have to be patient and wait for the set and most of the time you have to share the waves, which requires even more patience.

3 | Persistence

Some days you will swear that you are going to drown out there. You can’t let a big set or a big swell deter you.

You have to keep paddling and keep fighting or else you will end up just sitting on the sand watching.

Surfing is a sport that can constantly be improved upon, which requires a lot more failure than success in order to advance.

4 | Awareness

Surfing Law Street, Pacific Beach, San Diego
Surfing Law Street in Pacific Beach, San Diego

You always keep your eyes on the horizon and never turn your back on the ocean. Sure, you may zone out a bit while you are sitting on the outside or strike up a small conversation with a fellow surfer, but ninety percent of your attention is scanning the horizon waiting, anticipating, hoping, that the next set wave is headed right to where you are sitting.

You have to keep your awareness on the present moment.

Just because that wave is coming right towards you and you know it’s going to be a perfect peeling left, don’t jump to conclusions because the second you let your mind race ahead to how awesome the incoming ride is going to be, you’ll lose it.

Stay connected to the paddle strokes. Acknowledge the engagement of the wave. Execute the pop up correctly. Then use every cell in your body to feel the ride of the wave.

5 | Acceptance

There is always a clean out set. The clean out set is where you’ve figured out how deep to sit in the water to be catching most of the bigger waves that are coming through on the sets, when all of a sudden a larger set rolls in and breaks right on your head.

Onlookers can see it coming from the shore, but by the time the surfers see it it’s usually too late. They will paddle as fast as they can to get deeper in hopes of paddling over it, but most of the time the waves crash right on them and you see boards flying all over the place.

Don’t overreact, take a deep breath, stay calm, get back on your board, and start paddling back to where you were before the clean out set.

Don’t let fear cause you to sit too deep and miss out on the fun because 90% of the time your best waves are right there in the sweet spot.

get fit to surf

6 | Act Like A Kid More

Why would anyone choose a sport that is so stressful, painful, and at times ruthless? Because when you do catch that wave, for those few seconds nothing else exists.

The adrenaline of those 5 seconds can create a high that makes your entire day perfect. Kids love to play and never need to justify why they want to go have fun.

When you do finally learn how to surf, it is pure fun.

7 | Confidence

“Hell Ya!” That’s what I think when I nail a great ride. I earned it.

No one gave it to me. No one did it for me. It was all my effort and my persistence to get that stoke and when you work hard for something and get rewarded for it you have no choice but to feel confident.

Who doesn’t love success? It feels good to accomplish something and the best way to success is through failure and learning. So go for it!

8 | Be Grateful

learn to surf
Be grateful no matter how your surf session turns out. You may get a beating or have an epic session but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because you spent it in the ocean.

Appreciate the moment. The wave ends fast, you need all your senses working.

There’s always someone out there catching more waves than me and I have to work on remembering not to compare myself. Be grateful for the waves you do catch and if you want to catch more then it’s up to you to work harder.

9 | Detachment

Tips to Know Learning to surfing
Some days will let you down and it’s times like these where you must remember, that you are much more than just a surfer

You can’t have too much wrapped up in this sport.  The ocean can be cruel. Every day is different.

As surfers we say, “Any day you can get in the ocean is a good day.”

But it’s not always true.

Sure if you have no job, no kids, no responsibilities, then go ahead and sit in the ocean when it’s flat or when it’s blown out. I prefer to tell myself that surfing is there for me, when I need it.

Having multiple passions helps. I’d like to have everything wrapped up in this one, but then I’d be setting myself up for disappointment and less fun. When my expectations are lowest I tend to have the best outcomes.

Don’t confuse this with not trying. There’s a difference between intention and expectation. It’s a matter of putting your heart into your best effort and that being enough. The results are irrelevant.

10 | Love The Ocean Unconditionally

There’s one thing you can count on with surfing, the ocean is always changing. There’s no controlling it.

Accept it for the joys and sorrows it brings as well as the success and failure it teaches you.

You are the only person you can control. Be happy for who you are and what you can do and accept the forces that are greater than you.

You, just like the ocean, are full of potential and only you can tap into that vortex of invincibility.


If you are ready to brave the ocean, watch the video playing on this page first where I go over a few pointers and remember to go out on a very small day.  

Don’t worry about catching waves at first, just develop strong arms, a lot of paddle power, and comfort with the ocean.

It’s also important to not be cold.  Most of the time I surf in San Diego and the water is in the high fifties to low sixties. Make sure to get a good wetsuit before you paddle out. Click here to see our guide to buying women’s wetsuits.

Now, if you ready to #BraveForAdventure, buy a foam board, find a safe beach, and start paddling

get fit to surf

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