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Is Surfing Hard to Learn? – You Better Be Prepared

If you’re a beach lover, you must have spent a lot of time watching surfers in the waves. It’s awe-inspiring to see the beautiful dance they do with the sea. You would think such maneuvers should be impossible; gravity should not be defied in this way, and humans are not supposed to be able to walk on water! Should I go out and buy a board right now? Is surfing hard to learn?

Learning the basics of surfing is not very difficult, especially when aided by an experienced surfer. Surfing is an action sport based on balance, agility, and strength. It has a progressive learning curve with many technical moves that take time, practice, and persistence to perfect. 

Surfing is not a skill you can learn via Google unless you’re surfing the net! It requires you to put on that wetsuit, paddle out, and be prepared to fall off your board – a lot! An experienced surfer or instructor will give you helpful tips, but your positive attitude and endurance through the learning phase could mold you into the next Kelly Slater or Layne Beachley.

surfer riding a wave

Is Surfing Hard To Learn?

Like most things, a can-do attitude will give you a headstart when learning to surf. Understand that you will not paddle out for the first time and start performing the basic tricks you see the other guys doing. It will take many falls and popping up again, and each person learns at their own pace.

How To Start Learning To Surf

Although many surfers are self-taught, an experienced surfing buddy or an instructor could speed up the learning process. The essential skills you will need to master are:

  • How to lie and balance on a surfboard could take between 30 minutes and 2-3 hours.
  • Paddling for a wave and catching it – depending on your fitness level, this could take another 1-2 hours.
  • The pop-up move is the hardest skill for beginners to master, but you can practice it on terra firma before going into the water.

Learning To Pop Up On The Board

It might not look so cool to do this on the beach, but it will help you learn the technique.

  •  Shell out a little hole in the sand for the surfboard’s fins so that you don’t break them off. 
  • Lie on your stomach in the center of the board in the paddling position, with your chest and head raised.
  • Your arms are on the side of the board “paddling,” and your feet are resting on the board.
  • Grip the sides of your board tightly, positioning them in line with your ribs.
  • In the same movement, raise your butt, pull in your torso and swing your feet into that space.
  • Turn your hips to put your dominant foot in front in that same motion.

Requirements For Learning To Surf

Certain physical and mental conditions are essential for surfers of all levels, especially beginners.

Make Sure You’re In Good Shape For Surfing

Surfing is physically demanding, especially when paddling, duck diving, and popping up, and you can quickly find yourself getting exhausted. Some great exercises for surfers to keep in shape are:

  • Chin-ups
  • Front Squats
  • Running
  • Push-Ups
  • Mobility Drills
  • Dumbell Drills
  • Planking

Paddling for the waves while balancing on the board takes a lot of strength and endurance because of the amount of paddling that goes into getting out the back, correcting your position in the waves, and learning to paddle to get the best waves. When you’re in the waves for an hour or more, your endurance and strength will be tested. 

Your agility and flexibility will also play a part in learning to surf. It’s an action sport, and you need to be able to swivel your hips, bend the knees, and move your feet with no stability underneath you and you need to be able to do it quickly, or you will wipe out. So a good amount of coordination is required. That being said, practice does create some muscle memory which helps a lot.

An obvious plus for learning to surf is that a newbie should be a competent swimmer. It could be a problem if you sink like a stone when you lose your board. If you’re not a great swimmer, spend some time practicing in shallower water before taking on the depths and the big waves.

Useful Tips When Learning To Surf

Surfers are cool. They have great physiques, and they are smooth and competent as they take on the mighty ocean. Did they start like that? Probably not, but there are some things you can do to get yourself to that level a bit faster.

  1. Find somebody to help you learn to surf. It makes things a lot easier. Though any surfer will learn through a lot of trial and error, it helps when you get some pointers that prevent you from making unnecessary mistakes.
  2. Choose a “teacher” that not only teaches but inspires you.
  3. Pick the right entry-level board. Learning on a big board will allow you to catch a lot more waves in the beginning. Soft-tops are also great. They are more comfortable and safer for everyone around you while you’re learning!
  4. Start off taking small, steady waves. Don’t surf at extreme wind speeds.
  5. Practice paddling until you’re blue in the face! Or at least until you get it right. It will also help you get into surfing shape.
  6. Accept that you are going to wipe out. A lot more, in the beginning, no doubt, but it comes with the territory.
  7. Bend your knees and not your back – it will help maintain your balance.
  8. Make sure you’re always perpendicular to the breaking wave, or it will drag you underwater toward the shore.
  9. Use your body to turn the board, not your feet, or you will lose your center of gravity, and you will probably fall.
  10. Do so in a direction away from the board to avoid hurting yourself when you fall.
  11. Be fearless and have fun. It will improve your skills.
  12. Don’t get in anyones way, back paddling will get you in trouble!


The general opinion is that surfing isn’t too hard to learn with a bit of patience and perseverance. The more time you spend in the waves, the better, and watching the experienced guys teaches you a lot, as you copy their moves and eventually get them right. Practice makes perfect, and if it’s fun, you want to practice it!

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