This is a question in the minds and on the lips of many beginners. Obviously it is going to vary from person to person, just like acquiring any skill. Those who have been snowboarding for 10 years or have spent every summer day swimming in the ocean since they were three are probably going to learn faster, at first.
But you don’t want to let someone else making faster progress concern you. Unlike many sports, surfing is less goal oriented and is more focused on what you get out of it, rather than getting to X level or scoring Y points.
The fun factor and personal reward are the most important things. When you wake up every morning and can’t wait to hop out of bed, grab your board and head to the water, that is the payoff. Every time you are in the water you are going to have a good time. And the more time you spend in the water, the better you will get.
You surfing time frame will have plateaus in learning, and they will be followed by intense progress. Without even realizing it you will be gradually training those muscles to respond to waves in different ways. Then one day you will head out, maybe a bit frustrated. You had a bad day the day before at work or school. Fought with the boyfriend. Cat barfed on the carpet. Roommate used the last of the TP and didn’t buy more.
Then, you are out there, not thinking about your body, and all of a sudden you are doing something new. That only 30 minutes before you thought you couldn’t do. Now that, girls, is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
You will continue to learn as long as you surf. There is always something else to learn. But after about two years you should be skilled and confident and having a blast in just about any type of conditions.