Beginner Surfers: Getting Started

Rip Pics Surf Contest, Cocoa Beach, Fl, 2009 – Women’s longboard competitors

Hire an instructor or have a knowledgeable friend teach you.

Three things your instructor should do:

  1. Safety: before you put a toe in the water, you should learn about safety in order to prevent injury.
  2. Waves: your instructor should push you into waves so that you experience the exhilaration of the sport. Otherwise, there’s no way you’ll be willing to do the work to paddle to the outside. Surfing is mostly paddling.
  3. Board: your instructor should talk about you and your board, you and the ocean, and you, your board, and the ocean together.

After a personal crisis, I decided I wanted to learn to surf. I had always wanted to surf since I was a girl, but living in northern, inland Florida offers limited opportunity. My dad had surfed often in the 60s and he enjoyed it. We never got around to it, and 16 years later, it was my time.

Nine years ago, when I began surfing, I lived in Orlando and was fortunately only 45 minutes from Cocoa Beach, home of famous world champion surfer, Kelly Slater. I got online and looked up surfing in Cocoa Beach. I found a group of surfers who met up on weekends to surf and I contacted them. The wife of the organizer was very nice and suggested I hire an instructor and learn all about safety. The first time she surfed, she stepped off the board and broke her ankle – never step off the board! Fall off. So, I hired an instructor. If you’re in the Central Florida area, I suggest EZ Ride Surf School, and Marcello Loureiro, the director and head surf instructor who taught me is an excellent teacher. If you’re elsewhere, google surf schools or surf instruction.

Me, center, with friends at Rip Pics Surf Contest, Cocoa Beach, FL in 2009

Marcello sat on the beach with me, and talked about paddling, popping up, stances, turtle rolling (getting under waves on a long board or a fun board), duck diving (short boards), wiping out, and other technical safety concepts.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how the ocean is never-ending. It is the most powerful force of nature that is always moving toward you that we choose to play in. There is no other sport or pastime where a force of that power constantly comes at you. Always be aware of your surroundings.


A few safety and etiquette tips:

  1. Have a landmark on the shore. Be aware of your surroundings on land and in the ocean.
  2. If you wipe out, which you will, always know where your board is and know where the next wave is. Bad wipe out? Roll with the waves, and forget about your board until you can get air and know when the next wave is coming.
  3. Best not to surf at dawn or dusk to avoid sharks. Also, if you see birds diving in one spot, they’re fishing. A school of fish means other underwater feeders, like sharks. Avoid that area.
  4. As a novice, don’t surf where there are lots of swimmers. Likewise, don’t surf where the experienced surfers are. Talk to another surfer. Be honest that you’re a beginner and ask where you should surf.

You control the board with your torso and upper part of your legs. When you’re on your board, and it’s calm, close your eyes while lying down in paddling position on your board. Stretch your arms out over the water and let the palms of your hand barely touch the surface of the water. Feel the ocean’s rhythm and force. The movement. Our Earth is mostly water. So are our bodies. Like a dance, like music and movement, you are part of the rhythm. Feel that. Enjoy the calm and serenity of nature.

Big Island, HI, 2010, with 8’6″ rented board – first epoxy board I had surfed. Note: Epoxy is lighter and faster than fiberglass. I recommend fiberglass for a beginner.

Of course, you can always do what my husband did. Rent a board and run out into the ocean completely unprepared. You may earn yourself a broken nose like he did.


Surfers – Not Your Average Beach Bums

Hurricane Bill Cocoa Beach August 2009
Hurricane Bill, Cocoa Beach, FL, August 2009

I surf because it makes me a better person. The stigma is that surfing is a waste of time. Surfers are unkempt, irresponsible, and reckless.

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I work hard during the week and I play harder in my free time. I would love to live on Kona, Hawaii. There is no night life. On weekends, or during off-working hours, it’s not unusual to see people walking around with their paddles, outrigger canoes, surfboards, boogie boards and flippers at 6 am. At 9 pm, many folks are asleep. They’ve paddled, swum, surfed themselves into a peaceful state of mind and soft, cozy bed.

Surfing was at the top of my list when I came back to life after climbing my way out of the crisis of my life. I had been a shell of a human being. My family and friends had started to recognize me again when I bought my first board, nicknamed “Blue Lightening” – a fun board I bought in Cocoa Beach, Fl, hometown of surf legend Kelly Slater. I had already hired an instructor, Marcello, who was a fabulous teacher. We sat on the beach and he talked for a half hour and I listened. I learned all about safety and the basics. He then pushed me into waves and told me to paddle! paddle! I wasn’t paddling! I wasn’t paddling? My arms felt like noodles.

I wasn’t paddling. Surfing is mostly paddling. Nobody tells you that. Nobody tells you how much work it actually is. Nobody tells you, “Hey, the ocean. Yeah, it doesn’t ever stop. Always watch. Always.” Nobody tells you how hard you will have to work to paddle through all that damn whitewash to get to the outside of the break. You want to give up. The waves never stop. The ocean is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care about your age, gender, ethnicity, financial status, or physical fitness level. It will keep coming. You have to turtle roll or duck dive your ass off to get to the outside, often getting pushed back, wiping out before you ever get up on a wave. Over and over.

Surfing is work.

But the waves! That’s why you have someone teach you to pop up and push you into waves. If you don’t experience the exhilaration, you’ll never sweat and toil to get there. And once you experience that mountaintop, that first ride, you will be changed forever. The stories of “that wave” and “that wipeout,” the people you meet along the way, the relationships you make, and the calm that comes through the toil and the fun, allows you to be a much better person after that surf session than before. And the ocean, the ocean is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care about your age, gender, ethnicity, financial status, or physical fitness level. It will keep coming. And it will provide hours of challenges and fun resulting in relaxation and a better state of being.

Surfing Kaahaluu Break Kona, HI
Surfing Kona, Big Island, HI, Kahaluu break, June 2009


So, yeah, next time you meet a surfer and you want to scoff, do the right thing. Smile and wish them a great day. And, go ahead and ask where you can rent a board. Learn a little and you’ll never regret it.