Travel to the gorgeous beaches of California, Florida, Australia, and Hawaii and you’ll find surfers. Surfing is one of the world’s oldest sports; 12th-century Polynesian cave drawings are believed to depict surfing. There are good reasons for surfing’s long history as it attracts people of all ages, connects you with the ocean, and builds fitness. How long does it take to learn how to surf?
Surfing is a challenging sport with a sharp learning curve. It can take 20-60 hours to learn basics like paddling, sitting, standing, and duck-diving. Intermediate skills like take-offs, surfing frontside and backside, and other maneuvers can each take hundreds of hours. Becoming an advanced surfer who is comfortable with many maneuvers takes hundreds of additional hours.
A brief history of surfing
Surfing has existed for thousands of years. In Hawaii, sports like surfing and dancing were essential to the cultural life of native Hawaiians. Kamehameha the Great, the king who united the islands, was a powerful warrior and surfer. When Christian missionaries showed up, they wanted to convert and control the Hawaiians, which naturally meant suppressing all cultural life, including surfing. The islands’ annexation by America also threatened surfing, but partially due to tourists being interested in the sport, surfing made a comeback. Surfing is also popular in Australia, California, and other coastal areas.
How long it takes to learn the basics – paddling, sitting, standing, duck-diving
Paddling and sitting are the two basics you’ll learn right away. Paddling, which is when you lie on the board and swim out to sea, is harder than it looks. It requires good balance, good weight placement, and arm, leg, back, and core strength. Paddling well can take 20-60 hours, according to a Get Foamie blog. Sitting, which you do when you need a break from paddling or want to get a view from higher up, can take 50-60 hours to master.
Surfing gets hard when it’s time to stand. It can seem impossible – how do you stand on a board that’s wobbling on top of the water? – but it becomes natural with practice. According to Surf Learner, it can take beginner surfers 20-50 hours to stand on broken white water waves with confidence. Duck diving, which is what you do to get under an already-broken wave, ensures you aren’t constantly getting pushed back to shore. Surf Learner says it can take 50 hours of practice to duck dive.
How long it takes to become an intermediate surfer – take-off, riding a wave frontside/front-hand and backside/backhand, and some turns
A take-off occurs when you stand up on your board and take off an unbroken wave; it’s what real surfing looks like. This is very challenging, so don’t be shocked if it takes you 80-120 hours. Next, you’ll learn to ride along the wave. There are two ways: frontside/front-hand and backside/backhand. Frontside is when you face the wave with your back to the shore. Surf Learner says it can take 120-200 hours. Backside/backhand (you’re facing the shore) is much harder; you may spend up to 400 hours trying to nail it.
How do you know when you’re an intermediate surfer? Surf Mastery says you’ll be able to paddle out alone, catch and ride waves both frontside or backside, and perform three basic turns: bottom turn, top turn, and cutback. How long does it take to learn these turns? Surf Learning considers these turns “advanced,” but many factors play into how long it takes to master these. They can take hundreds of hours.
How long it takes to become an advanced surfer – more maneuvers, including aerial tricks
You’ll have hundreds of hours (if not thousands) of surf experience before you can reach an advanced level. You’ll be able to perform maneuvers like off the top, where you go up to the wave’s top and snap your board back toward the bottom, and tube riding, where you surf ahead of the wave’s lip in the wave’s “tube.” Aerial maneuvers, like alley-oops and other flips, are the most challenging and take thousands of practice hours.
How often should you practice surfing? There are factors beyond your control – like the weather – so it’s unrealistic to plan on surfing every day. To progress, it’s best to aim for at least 3-4 times a week for a few hours each time. When you’re just starting, you’ll probably feel pretty tired after 1-2 hours, but as you get stronger, your sessions may last longer. If that schedule feels overwhelming, you can take a more relaxed approach, though it will take longer to improve.
Why should you learn to surf?
Surfing is one of the harder sports to learn and because it’s in the water, it’s out of a lot of people’s comfort zones. Why should you embrace the challenge? Here are three reasons:
Reason #1: Surfing is a great workout
Surfing is an intense exercise that works out your shoulders, back, arms, core, and legs. According to the Surf Blog, you can burn between 250-800 calories an hour depending on the water conditions, how much you paddle, and your experience level. Even if you aren’t riding waves just yet, just paddling and balancing on the board works out your muscles.
Reason #2: Surfing can improve mental health
Surfers are known for being chill, relaxed people. Is it the surfing that makes them this way? A 2017 article from Vice describes some of the research, including a 2010 study from the UK’s national health service that showed people with depression and schizophrenia enjoyed mood improvements after a surfing program. Beyond the specific studies on surfing, there’s a well-established history of research showing connections between improved mental health, exercise, and being in nature.
Reason #3: Surfing is a form of “blue health”
You may be familiar with the push for “green spaces,” which include planting trees in urban areas to improve the lives of city-dwellers. “Blue spaces” show similar benefits, strongly supporting the idea that water is essential to good health. If you’re feeling weighed down by stress, surfing is an excellent way to connect with the water and calm your mind.
What skills do you need to surf?
Surfing is a challenging sport, so you’ll need a handful of skills if you want to improve. Here are three of the most important:
Skill #1: Swimming
You don’t need to be an expert swimmer to surf, but you’ll need to have some skills for your safety and confidence. How skilled do you need to be? You want to be able to swim to your board (if you lose it) or to the shore. Make sure you’re comfortable with a few different strokes and treading water.
Skill #2: Endurance
Surfing is a full-body workout with lots of paddling. If you’re not in good physical fitness when you start learning, you’ll find yourself fatigued fairly quickly. That’s okay! Your endurance gets better with more practice. You can also build on your endurance with different types of exercise like biking, jogging, rowing, and swimming.
Skill #3: Concentration
You want to be in the moment when you surf. You have to stay aware of the environment – the wind, the waves, other surfers – and your own body. Because surfing is difficult, you also need good concentration when you’re trying new maneuvers and building your skills.
What equipment do surfers need?
When you head to the surf, what do you need to take with you? Here’s the most important gear:
There are a handful of surfboard types. Beginners should consider a bigger foam board, which is easier to balance on and more comfortable. Surf fins are useful, too, as they help with control and stability.
#2. Surfboard leash
A surfboard leash keeps you attached to the board. This is an essential safety measure as you don’t want to lose your board in the water. You want a leash that’s the same size as your board.
#3. Surf wax
You apply surf wax to your board to help with grip. If you skip the wax, it can be hard to stay balanced on the board, especially when you’re trying tricks. Traditional wax (as opposed to sticky wax) is the most commonly used wax for the base and top coats. Sticky wax, which is very sticky, is usually only used where your feet go.
You’ll see surfers in all kinds of outfits. If you wear a regular bathing suit, you’ll need a rash guard to protect your upper body from rubbing and salt irritation. Some surfers prefer wetsuits because they protect your whole body from salt, sun, and rubbing. They’re also good for cooler weather and water.
Don’t forget sun protection! Check the SPF of any sunscreen you’re considering. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun’s rays. SPF 50 blocks 98% while SPF 100 blocks 99%. No sunscreen blocks all the sun’s rays and SPF does not influence when you need to reapply. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, you won’t need to wear as much sunscreen, so that’s another reason to cover up.
How to learn to surf
For good reason, surfing has a reputation for being one of the coolest and most unique sports. It’s also challenging and takes a lot of practice. Even just the first steps – balancing on your board and paddling out to the waves – can take a while to get comfortable with. Expect to spend hundreds of hours practicing before you can start to ride waves. It is possible to learn to surf on your own, but if you really want to improve, it’s a good idea to take at least a few surfing lessons. Always wear the proper gear, slather on sunscreen, and listen to surfers who know more than you.