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Know Before You Go: Surfing

Never been on a surfboard before? It’s time to make some waves. Read on to learn what to expect from that first surfing adventure — and get stoked!
Know Before You Go: Surfing
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Ready to graduate from the water park wave pool? Whether the goal is a colada-sippin’ surf vacation or to ride the gnarliest waves in the world, there are a few basics every aspiring wave rider should know. Here’s a crash course on what to expect from that first surfing sesh.

Get on Board — The Need-to-Know

If surfing were easy, everyone would do it. But the thrill of catching that first wave is more than worth the wait. Beside the obvious bonuses (think: bikinis, bros, and bodacious babes), surfing guarantees a kick-ass workout, no matter how much of a Barney (read: beginner) you may be. From all-out paddling to the most basic pop up, surfers cash in on high-intensity aerobic exercise plus some solid lower-intensity anaerobic benefits (take that, weight room!) Anaerobic and Aerobic Profiling of Competitive Surfers. Farley, O.R., Harris, N.K., Kilding, A.E. Sports Performance Institute of New Zealand. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Oct 12.. The kicker? Surf enough, and balance and coordination (not to mention a new sense of fearlessness) may quickly follow suit Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing. Farley, O.R., Harris, N.K., Kilding, A.E. Sports Performance Institute of New Zealand. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Oct 7..

The Perfect Ride — Your Action Plan

Psyched to get started? First, get your feet wet with these essential tips, rounded up from the pros.

Gear up. Before selling your soul to the nearest surf shop, remember not all the newest gear is necessary for your first run. Most surf towns and resorts offer board and wet suit rentals, but if that’s not an option, consider going for used items if cash is tight. Ready to commit? Beginners will want a board that’s a little thicker and wider for added stability. Note: a long board will allow for easier paddling and wave-catching (optimal for the East coast), while a short board is usually better for quick maneuvering. Picking up some wax for that board, and maybe a wetsuit (depending on the chill factor) is also a good idea.

Ease in. Don’t expect to hit the water right away. According to Mike Hartwick, Founder & CEO of SurfSET Fitness, “You want to grasp the basic fundamentals before charging out into the surf. Most lessons start on the sand with an explanation of the pop up and paddle, but everything changes once you’re out in the water.” (That’s what quality instructors are for!)

Find strength. Surfing demands a combination of upper body strength and cardio conditioning, Hartwick says. The push-up, burpee, and squat are all sneakily useful in training to pop up, launch forward, and catch that wave. Practice, rinse, repeat.

Warm up. On any and every surf day, don’t forget to warm up. Try a 5-10 minute jog down the beach (a serious #win over the treadmill). Surf expert Michael Brooks also recommends some dynamic stretching, including deep squats to get the knees warm and ready.

Time it right. Much like the pop up, there’s an art to getting past the breaking waves. To complete the duckdive, “drive the board under the breaking wave and harness the tube's energy to shoot you out past the break waves,” Hartwick says. The alternative: becoming shark bait under the crashing white water.

Stay safe. So we’re told an encounter with Jaws is actually pretty unlikely, but that doesn’t mean surfing’s risk-free. Rip currents, dangerous weather conditions, and jagged rocks and reefs aren’t to be messed with. And of course, every surfer should be a solid swimmer, know the basic surfing maneuvers (how to get under a wave and past the break), and be able to safely surface after falling off the board (no one wants to encounter a flailing surfboard head first), Harwick says.

Respect the pack. Seen “Blue Crush?” Surf etiquette is a thing. “There are lots of unwritten rules you learn over time,” Hartwick says, “but the most important is to make sure you don't drop in on another surfer's wave, or interfere with a ride.” Still missing a few cues? Take a crash course in surfing lingo, brah (but posers, pipe down!).

Keep cool. For beginners, Hartwick says, “the most common roadblock is cardio and upper body conditioning, and learning how to time a wave.” But don’t get frustrated — surfing ain’t easy. Keep at it, stay positive, and don’t forget to have fun!

Ready to ride? Check out local surf schools (and their reviews online) to find a qualified instructor who’s patient, experienced, and stoked to teach the basics — and beyond.

Where will you be catching waves this summer? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by Jess Ivy

Originally published June 2012. Updated June 2013.

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