Complete Surfing Guide

Top FAQs for Beginner Surfers
Surfing is about connecting with the ocean and embracing the elements in all their forms. Surfing requires adaptability and resilience, and in return provides a euphoric feeling of freedom and independence. Although the world has changed a great deal recently, with Covid-19 and travel limitations. The best thing about surfing is that we are naturally social distancing in the water and as long as we surf responsibly, we can still enjoy this great sport.

Why should I take up surfing?

Surfing is possibly one of the most liberating, exhilarating sports, requiring strength, patience, stamina and keen observation of nature. Not only is it a great way to stay physically fit, it’s also recognised as an effective way to reduce stress and improve mental health. In fact, an increasing number of organizations such as The International Surf Therapy Organisation, The Wave Project, and Surf Girls Jamaica, use surf therapy to help individuals overcome mental health disorders such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

Most of all, surfing strengthens our connection with nature, boosts our self-confidence, and helps us focus on what’s really important. When there‘s nothing surrounding you but sky and an alive moving and breathing ocean, the mind is forced to slow down and focus on the present moment.

Is surfing easy?

Experienced surfers make gliding through the waves look effortless, but the truth is it requires lots of strength and skill. However with dedicated practice, patience and commitment – anyone can learn to surf. The best part is that everyday is new and different in the ever-changing conditions of the ocean.

Is surfing an expensive sport?

Like most sports, the initial cost of gear can be expensive, but you don’t need to spend a fortune. And once you’ve got the gear – you’re pretty much all set. Acquiring a board will be your biggest cost, with beginner boards ranging anywhere between $380 – $1,000 or more. However, if you’re on a tighter budget you can often pick up a great second-hand board for less.

And if you’re planning on surfing in cold water, you’ll definitely want a good wetsuit. Whilst designer brands can be pricey, there are plenty of quality makes out there that will give you the warmth and comfort you need – without breaking the bank.

But remember, before you buy any gear it’s important to take your time and do your research properly. And don’t be tempted to buy the most expensive gear straight-away. You may decide surfing isn’t for you after all, and the money you’ve spent will be wasted.



Just like any new skill, learning to surf requires practice and patience. Taking lessons is the best way to master the basics, as your instructor will be there to provide useful tips and correct your mistakes. Most importantly, it will teach you how to surf safely. The majority of surf schools offer both private and group lessons, so it’s worth exploring the options available in your local area if you haven’t already done so.


When choosing your board, it’s important you select the right board for your surfing level. Learning to surf on the wrong board can be hugely frustrating and will often slow your progress.

The deck is made up of a large area but the “sweet spot” is the middle part of it where the center of gravity should remain the majority of time.

Nose – The nose refers to the very tip of the board. A pointy nose is less likely to nose dive, but a rounder point provides greater stability and is easier for catching waves, therefore ideal for beginners.

Tail –  The tail is the rear-end of the board. Rounder and wider tails enable more stable turns, whilst narrower tails such as squash and pin-tail (typically found on short boards) offer more speed and agility.

Leash – The line that connects you to the board. Wraps snug on the back ankle. Avoid pulling the leash to move your board. Swim to your board. Body bruises and lost fingers can be the repercussions. In a positive yet scary light, the leash can act as a tourniquet.

Rails –  The rails are the side edges of a board. Curved rails help create smoother, faster turns, but straighter rails are better for beginners, as they help you to hold your line in the water. 

Rocker – The curve of the underside of the board is called the rocker. A small rocker means more contact with the water, and therefore more stability. Meanwhile a large rocker (imagine a banana), is less stable, but generates more movement and speed for tighter turns.

Choosing the right sized board for your height is equally important. As a general rule, a long board should be about 3 feet taller than you. So if you’re 5’10”, you’ll probably find a 8’6” to 9’0” longboard works best.

Which surfboard is best for beginner surfers?

Surfboards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but if you’re a beginner a foam longboard is your best choice. Thick, wide and flat, they provide great stability and buoyancy. This makes it the easiest board for catching waves, popping up and maintaining balance.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to buy a shortboard for your first board. They may look cool, but shortboards are designed for speed and maneuverability and therefore not suitable for beginners. If you think you want to progress to a shortboard eventually, you could find a smaller, 7’ or bigger “Egg shape” board to explore learning on. A lot of people make this mistake when purchasing their first surfboard. Minimals, foam boards and longboards come with lots of volume, Shortboards and any surfboard under 6’6”, not so much.

Volume is usually measured in liters. We think a great beginner surfboard should have at least 60 liters of volume – and even better if there’s more. A minimal longboard surfboard could have between 65-80 liters or more volume. Now let’s compare it to one of those performance short board used by surf professionals… which might have about 6’1 x 18 ¼ inch shortboards. Its volume should be about 25 liters. If you want to enjoy a board as small as that, you’ll need a lot of surfing technique and the right waves.



Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll need to perfect your pop-up. This is where your patience and perseverance will really be tested. A good way to master this is by practising on the shore first. Lie down on your board and get familiar with the ‘pop-up’ action – you want to be able to land on your feet as smoothly and quickly as possible, without scrambling around on your knees.

Begin by centering your weight in the sweet spot of the board (keeping your feet and legs together), and paddling deep (water up to elbows) with long outstretched arms. Once you catch the wave, take two insurance strokes while keeping your shoulders and head up off the board, and then place your hands flat on the deck down by your chest.

Push fully up allowing your front hip to move forward, dip, twist while moving your front leg up until the foot can lay flat in between your hands. Slide the back foot up to flat and THEN you can let go with your hands and slowly rise up onto a crouched position. You want your front hip and shoulder facing off the front of the board, toes pointed toward the rail, and eyes forward looking to where you want to go. Keep your legs bent, think taking all the bumps up into the knees and legs.

It may take a while to get to grips with it, but no matter how many wipeouts and nosedives you endure, you’ll get on your feet eventually. Every surfer has “pearled”(nosedive-diving for pearls) it’s part of the learning process. And when you do get the pop up down, it will feel awesome.

“The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”

Phil Edwards

How to Understand and Read Waves for Surfing

Beach Break

Where waves break over sand, this is called a beach break. Often the sandbars shift with the currents, so the shape and quality of the waves can change regularly. However, these are generally great places for beginners.

Point Break

Point breaks usually form around headlands and offer waves that either peel left or right instead of breaking towards the shore. If the waves are gentle, point breaks can be suitable for beginners, but be aware of any potential rocks and rip currents caused by the headland.

Reef Break

A reef brake is where waves break over rock, making them one of the most treacherous spots for surfing and therefore not good places for beginners. However, with their great barrelling waves, reef breaks are certainly popular spots for more competent surfers.

Left or Right Hander

You’ll often hear surfers talk about left-handers and right-handers. This refers to the direction of the wave, and is always determined from the surfers perspective looking toward the beach. If a wave breaks to the right, it’s a right hand wave and if it breaks to the left, it’s a left-hand wave.


So you’ve mastered the basics, but what’s next? Well, now it’s time to turn some heads with a few classic maneuvers.
  • Bottom Turn

    This enables you to turn the board into the face of the wave after dropping in. It requires you to transfer your weight to the inner rail, by shifting weight through your back foot. The idea is you use the momentum from take-off to generate enough speed to continue riding down the line.

  • Cutback

    The cutback adds a new layer of excitement, as it allows you to change direction and return to the steepest part of the wave. If you’re riding small, weak waves your cutbacks will need to be quick and tight in order to maintain speed, whilst larger, more powerful waves require wider, smoother turns.

  • Top Turn

    The top turn is when you ride up to the top of the wave face and turn back down. Start by making a wide bottom turn, and position your board so you’re facing the wave. Transfer most of your weight to your back foot and aim for the steepest part of the unbroken lip. Once you reach ¾ of the waves height, begin to look down. Turn your upper body back to the beach, use your back hand as a guide – pinky up will help you turn, and allow your hips and legs to follow. Ensure you bend your knees and hips during the drop to maintain balance and bring your weight forwards to keep momentum as you continue down the wave.

  • Turn Up the Speed

    When practicing maneuvers, speed is essential. To pick up pace, throw both your arms up to shoulder level and in the direction you want to go as you make your initial lift-off; And for guaranteed speed, try making small turns using your rails and body strength to generate speed up and down the mid-face of the wave. To maintain your speed, avoid dropping too far to the bottom of the wave or going too far up the face.

surf etiquette

When you’re in the water, it’s important to respect others around you by following the correct surf etiquette. Failure to do so will not only annoy other surfers but can also put you and them at risk.
  • Right of way

    If you and a fellow surfer are paddling for a wave, the person closest to the peak has priority. So, if you’re paddling towards a right-hand wave and there is another surfer to your left, they have the right of way. Always look behind you right before you want to take off on a wave.

  • Don’t Drop-In

    In most cases, two surfers can’t ride the same wave in the same direction. So don’t disrespect the right-of-way rule and drop in front of someone. This can easily result in an accident, and will likely spark a reaction from your fellow surfer.

  • Don’t Snake

    Paddling around someone to get closer to the peak of the wave is known as snaking, and it won’t earn you any respect among other surfers. Just be patient and wait your turn, there’ll be plenty more waves to catch.

  • Respect other surfers

    If you respect other surfers in the water, they’ll respect you. Try to avoid getting in the way by paddling wide, not through the peak. And if you end up in someone’s line by mistake, just smile and apologise. Most surfers are very friendly, and won’t hold it against you if it was a genuine mistake. If you see a surfer coming toward you and down the line (wave face), paddle behind them and into the white wash of the wave. By taking the wave on the head, you are showing respect to the current surfer and keeping you both safe. Same goes for while you are surfing. Do not ride a wave and look at another surfer sitting, look past the person and to where you want to go. This will help you navigate past the surfer and not be afraid of hitting someone. Also, if you are going to paddle out at a beach break, avoid paddling directly to the peak where other surfers are already sitting. Finding a peak to yourself a bit apart from other surfers will give you space to practice comfortably and earn you the respect of other more experienced surfers for not crowding their peak.

  • Respect the beach and the ocean

    We know that Plastic pollution is a huge problem that’s affecting marine life on a global scale. By way of showing gratitude and giving back to the ocean, why not spend a few minutes picking up plastic after your surf? At SLO active we call it the #PostSurfBeachClean challenge, and we encourage all surfers to make this part of their post-surf ritual. Simply spend 5 minutes collecting small pieces of microplastics (like you would beachcombing for seashells), take a photo and share it to help spread the word.