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A Beginner’s Guide To Surfing

Get Started Right

There’s a right way to embark on the surfing journey while staying safe and not stealing anyone else’s wave. It involves surfing the right breaks for your level, choosing the proper board, being respectful of locals, and knowing the rules of the break.

How To Be A Good Beginner

To start, surf beginner breaks

Before paddling out, spend some time watching the waves. You’ll want to check where other surfers paddle out, where the waves are breaking, and other surfer’s ability level in the water. 


Mostly, you’re checking to make sure that the waves are a comfortable size for you. Once you paddle out beyond the break, sit off to the side and watch for a little longer to judge the waves up close. Be respectful of others in the water with you and try not to get in anyone’s way.


Generally, it’s one person per wave—whoever ends up closest to where the wave breaks has the right of way. If a wave is coming in breaking on the left side of you, and you and another surfer turn towards the beach to catch it, whoever is to your left has the right of way, so you need to get out of the way and wait until the next wave. If no one is to your left, the wave is yours! 


You might hear someone yell “going right” or “going left” to indicate their direction and that it’s their wave.


Keep out of the way when paddling out to the lineup. Paddle out on the far shoulder of the wave and hold onto your board. This not only keeps you and anyone riding a wave safe, but it also saves your energy—it’s a rookie mistake to paddle into the whitewash.

What Board To Ride

The bigger the board, the better when you’re first starting. Often, many beginners paddle out on brand-new, expensive shortboards that are cool but lack length to catch enough waves to improve their skills. 


There’s no shame in starting on a nine-foot, soft-top longboard that’s easy to ride. You’ll get tons of practice learning to read the ocean and pop up with ease. Once you’re more skilled, you can get a board that suits your style.

Types Of Boards

  • Shortboard: Six and a half feet or shorter, usually with a tri-fin setup and minimal volume. Shortboards are designed for high-performance surfing with fast turns and speed for large waves.
  • Funboard, Fish, Egg, Mid-length: These are typically boards that fall somewhere between five to eight feet. They are shaped with slightly more volume to make it easy to paddle into smaller waves but remain more maneuverable than a longboard.
  • Gun: Designed for big-wave surfing, a gun typically starts around seven feet.
  • Longboards: Generally nine feet and up with either a single-fin setup or a tri-fin set up. Single-fins are great for nose riding or hanging ten (a classic style of surfing). Tri-fins are easier for turning and offer a more high-performance style of longboarding.


Not sure what board is best for you? You can call a Gearhead anytime, 24/7 with help picking out everything you need for the waves at 1-800-409-4502

Other Important Gear

The beauty of surfing is that other than a board, you need minimal gear.

If you’re surfing in cool to cold water, you’ll want a wetsuit. Check with your local surf shop on the level of wetsuit thickness you need. They’ll know what’s best for your location, depending on the season. For more information on choosing a wetsuit, check out our article here. 

If you’re surfing in warm or tropical water, you’ll want a swimsuit that will stay put or a rashguard to keep from getting sunburnt or chafing your stomach.

You’ll also need a leash that’s the length of your board. The leash is typically placed on the back ankle of your riding stance.

Catching A Wave & Riding It

1. On the beach, before you paddle out, practice popping up on your board by pressing your hands on the board right beneath your chest and at the same time, jump to your feet.

If you ride your board with your left foot in front, you have a “regular” surfing stance. If you feel more stable with your right in front, you’re “goofy-footed.” It’s all just preference.


2. Paddle out to the break’s lineup using the tips above.


3.  When the wave you want to catch is coming towards you in the lineup, spin around and face the nose of your board toward the beach and begin paddling. Make sure your board’s nose is not under the water or too high in the air. This will get you nowhere. Protip: Let it graze the surface.


4. Once you get momentum going in the same direction as the wave, get ready to paddle hard and fast to catch it. After a few arm strokes, look back over your shoulder to see where the wave is but continue paddling forward.

Make sure that your board’s tail is perpendicular to the wave as you paddle toward the beach. When the tide starts to draw on your tail and lift the back of your board as it rolls under you, it’s time to stand up.


5.  In one motion, pop up with one foot forward and one back, calmly look ahead and fully commit. Any hesitation creates instability, so keep your eyes up and forward at all times.  Keep your knees bent, with slightly more weight on your back foot. Your arms will naturally go out to your sides to balance. 


 Emma Cunningham is a writer, creative marketing specialist, 500hr yoga instructor, & philanthropist. Based in Los Angeles, Emma focuses on writing stories & content for brands committed to social & environmental good.