So, you’ve a had a surf lesson on holiday, had heaps of fun and loved it. Now, you fancy yourself as the next Mick Fanning or Steph Gilmore. Awesome! The question is, are you committed enough to take your surfing to the next level?
Committing to surfing long term can be hard. It’s more a way of life than something you dip into when you feel like it and there’s a lot to learn beyond that first surf lesson. Just because you stood up after 2 hours, doesn’t mean you’re a certified pro. Your surfing journey has only just begun…
If you didn’t learn as a kid or grow up by the beach, you’ve got a steep learning curve ahead. Surfing’s known for being one of the hardest sports. Unsurprisingly, a high percentage of beginners give up in the early stages. Factors like family commitments, being landlocked and lack of time play a part but largely, perceived lack of progress and frustration are the main causes.
So what exactly makes it so hard and why should you keep going? Here’s the reasons why surfing is so hard…and some tips to help you progress quicker;
You have to get to your feet very quickly (the pop-up)
Looks easy right? Believe me it’s a lot harder than it looks and the pop-up is one of the most difficult parts of surfing. Take it from someone who’s only just cracked it after 3 years, all because I got into bad habits from the start. But don’t let that put you off. Remember, you’re trying to stand on an unstable surface that’s moving across water. But, if you can do it on the beach, you can do it in the surf!
A swift fluid pop-up is key to riding unbroken waves. Every second counts so you don’t want to waste time by scrambling to your knees. Practise at home, every day. Then, get on the biggest foamie you can find and practise over and over again in the whitewater until you nail it.
Pay off: You’ll prevent bad habits forming which are hard to break and will hinder your progress. Popping up correctly means you can drop in effectively and fluidly on unbroken waves. Yay! More time riding and trimming the open face! Plus, you’ll be a much better surfer in the long run.
You have to battle the sea…a lot
Beginner surfers often don’t break out of the whitewater. They reach that plateau stage of never riding unbroken waves, which of course is the best bit! After a while, you’ll get bored in the whitewater and want to venture out back. Time to break out of your comfort zone!
You need a strong efficient paddle and a technique for negotiating the whitewater. If you don’t paddle effectively, you won’t go anywhere and you’ll get repeatedly pushed back towards the shore. Similarly, if you don’t use effective techniques for negotiating your board over (or under) big walls of whitewater, you’ll spend a lot of time underwater with the board landing on your head.
If your paddling sucks, have swim coaching sessions at your local pool and work with a surf coach who’ll show you techniques for safely getting out back. These include looking for the ‘channel’ (ie, where the waves aren’t breaking), negotiating your board over the whitewash, duck diving (when you’re more proficient) or, waiting for a lull in the sets.
Pay off: You’ll build up shoulder strength, endurance and resilience. Real surfing starts when you hit the line-up so if you want to get better and ride like a pro, get paddling!
The environment constantly changes
Surfing isn’t like showing up at a man made tennis court where the surroundings stay the same. The sea changes constantly thanks to tides, winds, swell, and the different types of surf breaks. With mother nature, you never know what you’re going to get and a lot of surfers, especially those who don’t live by the sea, underestimate the constantly changing conditions.
Unless you have a golden ticket to Kelly Slater’s wave pool, get used to waves which constantly change shape and size. It means there’s a lot of inconsistency which makes practising incredibly difficult, even if you do live by the sea.
Pay off: You’ll learn the best spots and times to surf so you’ll get the most out of your sessions. With better conditions, you’re more likely to enjoy it which will naturally lead to better and quicker progress.
You need to be relatively fit
Is fitness really that important? Yes, but that shouldn’t stop you from surfing. Whilst we’re not suggesting you train like a pro, if you want to improve, you’ll need to keep fit and build muscle memory. The plus side is that surfing is also one of the best ways to get fit anyway.
If you need to get fitter and if you live by the beach, try and get in as often as you can. If it’s flat, get in anyway and go for a paddle to build up your shoulder strength. If you don’t live near the sea, swim regularly or look up surf specific workouts you can do at home.
And don’t forget to practise your pop-ups, daily. It takes seconds so you’ve got no excuse!
Pay off: Being fit will improve your surfing. Plus you can surf twice a day every day and not have to miss good waves cos you’re too knackered. And, you’ll be able to surf well into your 70’s and beyond. Don’t believe us? Check out Gwyn Haslock for inspiration!
It takes a while to master
If you’re looking for a quick win and expect to be able to surf like a master after one lesson, you’re in for a big disappointment. Most surf schools guarantee to get you stood up and riding after just a couple of hours. Which is awesome. But there’s a lot more to it than that!
Once you’ve learnt to pop-up and ride the whitewater, you’ll progress onto unbroken waves, learn to change direction, trim across the open face of the wave. Then, after doing that consistently, you can start to think about doing fancy things like cutbacks.
You might think we’re being a bit harsh when we say it takes years to master. But thanks to the constantly changing environment and the steep learning curve (without things like work, family and life getting in the way) progress can be slow. We’re talking baby steps. So be realistic, stay committed and keep at it.
And don’t just stop at one surf lesson! Even the pros constantly have coaching and there’s always something new to learn. A series of intensive lessons or surf camp will really speed up your progress.
Pay off: Surfing will improve your patience. It will challenge you like no other sport so be proud of yourself for sticking at it. You’ve got a lifetime of surfing ahead of you. You’ll also be the envy of your friends who gave up because they couldn’t be bothered to go the distance.
How to make things easier for yourself
Of course, you can do things the really hard way which will slow you down even more. Follow our tips on how to make surfing a whole lot easier;
Ride the right board
We can’t stress this enough, getting the right board is essential. There’s no point riding a shorter board if you can’t pop-up properly. You’ll just spend months or even years paddling into unbroken waves but riding a mountain of whitewater by the time you’ve scrambled to your feet.
Also, if you’re a complete beginner, don’t even think about making gooey eyes at shortboards. You’re wasting your time.
Until you’ve nailed your pop-up, get on a foamie or a longboard and keep practising!
Learn to read the ocean
We don’t expect you to become an ocean science expert but learning more about your environment will help you to progress. You’ll surf the right conditions and breaks for your ability and have more productive sessions than battling howling onshore mess.
Check the forecast. Talk to surf instructors, locals and lifeguards – they’d rather you stayed safe and will appreciate you taking the time to learn about any potential hazards.
Have a lesson
Sure you could hire a board and have a go yourself but why would you? Especially if you know nothing about the ocean.
Learning the correct technique is key to progress, as we’ve already mentioned. But on top of that, a surf instructor will take you through beach safety so when the time comes to go it alone, you’ll know what to do if you get into difficulty.
Find some surf buddies
Personally I don’t like surfing on my own. I find it way more motivating to surf with friends. We cheer each other on, give each other pointers and see things in each other’s surfing that we don’t spot ourselves. I also like to surf with people who are better than me. It inspires me to reach that next level and keep pushing myself to improve.
Why surfing’s worth the effort
Quite simply because there’s no feeling like it despite the frustrating bits. They say only a surfer knows the feeling and as cheesy and cliched as it sounds, it’s 100 percent true. It’s exhilarating, blissful and like a very healthy drug! We keep at it to experience those beautiful moments when everything falls into place and we score the wave of the day!
To give up on surfing is like turning your back on a way of life and a soulful experience that money just can’t buy. Sitting out back waiting for a set whilst the sun goes down – priceless. It’s good for your mind, body and soul.
So next time you feel like throwing the towel in, remember why you started surfing in the first place. Don’t give up, stay committed, have patience but above all, enjoy the ride!