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10 Mistakes Learner Surfers Make (and How to Fix Them)

by John McCarthy Feb 23, 2018

Surfing is currently enjoying a renaissance not seen since the pre-missionary days in Hawaii. Never before have such a diverse group of participants enjoyed the sensation of riding waves. As a grizzled veteran who has spent the last four decades roaming our shores, these are ten common mistakes I regularly see aspirant surfers making.

1. The definition of surfing is too narrow.

Shortboard, Longboard, Bodyboard, SUP, Bodysurfing, Kite Surfing, and Wind Surfing are all different ways to connect with and enjoy the energy of breaking waves. If you keep an open mind to what surfing can be you’ll have more ways to go surfing.

Tip: Bodysurfing is the most underrated and overlooked of the wave riding arts.

2. Your equipment is wrong, usually under buoyant.

You can’t ride waves unless you can catch them. If you are not catching seven out of ten waves you paddle for, you don’t have enough volume.

Tip: Don’t be scared to start out with lots of volume and stability, then work backwards to lower volume boards as you progress.

3. You think, “Easy, you go for a surf lesson and you learn how to surf…”

Wrong, you never stop learning to surf.

If you think about point 1 above you’ll see that there are many different dances you can have with the ocean. The trick is to learn which day to do what, and to do this you need to get to know the ocean and her moods.

Tip: Youtube is your friend, there is a ton of informative content on there to watch. If you travel, seek out different instructors, you’ll learn something new from each of them. Watch the WSL Webcasts and open yourself to learning from nature. You’ll be surprised how much you learn from watching a seagull surfing the displaced air of an ocean swell, or a dolphin gliding along inside the wall of a breaking wave.

4. You surf a lot a little, rather than a little a lot.

The more you surf, the more you can surf, but binge surfing, especially when you are starting out, usually leads to fatigue and then injury in that order.

Tip: Shorten your sessions, give yourself recovery time for your body. Also, you need time for your mind to process what you’ve just learned, even if it is only a few hours. Have more sessions and set goals to catch a certain amount of waves per session.

5. You waste money buying new surfboards starting out.

You need something stable and buoyant when you start out, not shiny and new.

Tip: Save shiny and new for your second or third surfboard and spend the savings on a good wetsuit.

6. You try to skimp on buying a good wetsuit.

You need to be comfortable in the water to enjoy the experience of riding waves. The better the wetsuit, the more comfortable and warmer you’ll be. These days wetsuit technology has evolved to an amazing place, making more of the ocean accessible for us to enjoy.

Tip: Too much is usually better than too little, so if you thinking you might be able to get by with a 3:2 Steamer, you might actually want to go for the 4:3 instead. Also, thermal hooded vests (worn inside the suit), as well as gloves and booties, can help take the edge off the frostiest session.

7. You do not understand the basic design principles of the surfboard you are riding or how it is meant to be ridden.

Surfboards are not a case of one size fits all. Different boards go better in different waves for different people.

Tip: If the guy selling you the surfboard can’t explain these to you, don’t buy a board from him. See also point 5 above.

8. You believe the waves are always better somewhere else and spend inordinate amounts of time and money going to places that you are not ready to enjoy properly.

Surf travel is awesome, but don’t overlook what is on your doorstep. The more waves you catch at home, the faster you’ll progress. When you plan a trip do your research and be honest about your ability.

Tip: Always think about return on investment in terms of cost, time spent traveling, and the number of good waves you are likely to catch before actually booking that package.

9. You focus on yourself instead of on the ocean.

Technique is important, but understanding how and why waves break the way they do is even more important.

Tip: Learn to match actual conditions with what the plethora of weather sites tell you. This will save you time in the future from going surfing in conditions that are not suitable for your skill set. Also, time spent simply watching the ocean as she changes her moods with the tides and the winds hour to hour is never wasted.

10. You have absolutely no idea of the environmental footprint of a modern PU/fiberglass surfboard or what a plane ticket to the Maldives is going to be.

The inconvenient truth about most modern surfboard technology is that it is really toxic, doesn’t biodegrade, and doesn’t last long. Flying for pleasure is also not great for the planet.

Tip: Explore greener surfboard options (there are some now) and think about offsetting your flights with carbon credits.

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