Duck diving will save yourself more energy than you can imagine. Photo: Doug Falter Photography

Learning to surf? We’ve all been there, and as the saying goes, ‘If I knew back then what I know now, life would have been much easier.’
In hindsight, many beginner surfers burden themselves with an unnecessarily tough learning curve by jumping into the sport too quickly, and ignoring the basics. However, if you are willing to take some advice, you’re sure to catch the wave of your life and the bug we call ‘stoke’.
In order to speed up the learning curve, here are “10 Things Every Beginner Surfer Should Know”:

1. Respect The Ocean  

No, we don’t mean awareness of its existence or even just knowing how to swim, I mean having confidence in reading its conditions, where to sit, how waves break, currents, channels, storms, pollution, hazards and predators. It is a dynamic environment with countless variables. If you are new to the ocean, we advise taking it slow. Enjoy some time swimming and playing around in the surf, and just try to familiarize yourself with the power of the ocean before jumping into the sport too quickly.

2. Etiquette

Believe it or not, manners exist in the lineup too. Etiquette teaches you how to interact with other surfers you encounter and covers everything from where to paddle out to right-of-way. It’s part safety and part respectfulness. Knowing how to behave will not only keep you from looking like a fool or a jerk, but possibly save you from hostility. Surfers take etiquette very seriously, and so should you.

3. Equipment

So now that you’re comfortable in the water and you’ve become familiar with the rules, it’s time to think about what equipment you need. But my god, WHERE TO BEGIN? A lot of money can be wasted on buying the wrong wetsuits, surfboards, and fins that don’t fit you. The best advice I can offer is keep it basic. Despite what pop culture says, large flat boards are fun and a great place to begin. Buy used boards and equipment until you begin to understand how the dimensions of your board effect the way you surf, then buy your own custom design later down the road.

4. Paddling Correctly

This is straightforward. Keep the board flat on the surface, tuck in your feet from dragging, extend your chest into your board and don’t stop. There are many techniques to improve your form, but the main principles are to reduce drag and maximize your planing surface and range of motion.

5. Channels

Being able to identify a channel is an important part of surfing and understanding the ocean. A channel is usually a location outside the surfing area that can act as a safe zone for surfers to paddle out or rest between sets. It’s usually located in an area with deeper water near the perimeter of a break. Sometimes they form near the edge of a reef or a trench in a sandbar. Being able to identify the channel can save your life when you’ve spent every ounce of energy.

6. Currents

Energy is a precious resource for surfers. A good surfer is not just talented, but also efficient when it comes to spending his or her energy. Currents come in many flavors and can either be an asset or the biggest pain in your *ss. Using currents to assist you in paddling out can save you precious energy. If you find yourself half way down the beach within 10 minutes of your session, be more aware of your starting point and which direction the water is flowing. Oh, and don’t try paddling back, just get out and walk.

7. Duck Diving/ Turtle Rolling

Duck diving or turtle rolling (for larger boards with too much foam to duck-dive) are important maneuvers in order to dodge an unavoidable wave from cleaning you up when paddling out. As a wave approaches, the surfer pushes the nose of the surfboard under the approaching wave, then pulls the board back up out the back of the wave (a knee or foot can put pressure of the tail of the board as well).
The idea is to use the energy of the wave to pull you out the back. By going under the lip of a wave, you can avoid being blasted up and down the beach like a rag doll. If it’s hard to get down at first, don’t worry. You will get plenty of chances to practice duck diving.

8. Proper Crashing  

Falling is an every day experience in surfing. It’s gonna happen. Your instincts are going to tell you to panic and thrash but the key to a safe fall is to try and stay relaxed. It’s important that you try to hold onto your board because, more often than not, it’s the biggest hazard to you and everyone’s safety.
If you can’t hold onto your board, cover your head with your arms to avoid getting knocked in the head. A lot of surfers learn to not just tolerate heavy falls, but actually enjoy the experience. If you aren’t interested in being thrashed around, maybe you’re in the wrong sport.
Practicing yoga or other breathing exercises can help you stay calm and learn to use your breath wisely. If you stay calm in a sketchy situation, it will help you survive (that pretty much goes for anything in life). Use your breath wisely.

9. Swell Forecasting

Reading swell charts is definitely a skill worth knowing. You don’t have to be as knowledgeable as a meteorologist to benefit from forecast data. Even just learning the jargon will help you not only reduce wasted time, but also calculate the risks.
Ask yourself, do you know the difference between 6ft @8sec swell vs 6ft @18sec swell? Knowing the difference might save you gas, time and injuries.

10. Logging Sessions

While on the subject of reading swell charts, a useful tool for any surfer is logging all the variables of  your sessions. This includes tides, swells, winds, rains, and every other variable you can think of. You could argue that a good portion of surfing well is knowing when a spot is going to be at its best. Dialing in on a spot shows in the surfer and follows the whole idea of generating more and better opportunities for quality waves. Surf smarter, not harder.