Surfing is an exhilarating sport that from a distance looks effortless, but in reality is incredibly challenging to master. If you’ve always dreamed of learning how to surf but are afraid you’ll only end up adding to the pile of expensive, barely used sporting goods in your attic, fear not.
You can begin surfing today with little to no investment, introducing yourself to the unique thrills and rich culture of the original sport of Hawaiian kings.
Get Informed About Surfing
What You Need to Know
Before you dive into surfing, you need to get up to speed on the basics of the sport:
- Gear. Learn about the different categories of boards, such as the longboard, shortboard, funboard, or fish. Everything about a surfboard, including the shape of the tail, the amount and size of the fins, and the thickness of the rails makes a difference.
- Rules. Yes, even recreational surfing has plenty of rules, and they’re important to know. Understanding which surfer has the right-of-way when going for a wave and how to display proper etiquette when surfing at a new break is essential to your safety.
- Vocabulary. The vernacular of a surfer is not only colorful, but also informative. For instance, the “lineup” is the area in the water where surfers wait for the best breaking waves, a “goofy-footer” is someone who puts his or her right foot forward when standing on a board, and a “glassy” wave, as opposed to a “choppy” one, has a smooth surface that is more desirable.
- Nature. The ocean is a mighty force, both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. It is indescribably foolish to begin surfing without understanding the most basic elements, such as rip currents, tides, and swells, not to mention the diversity of sea life you are likely to come in contact with in a particular location.
Information & Resources
There are numerous resources to which you can turn to learn more about surfing. Here are a few places to look to thoroughly educate yourself:
- Friends. The biggest asset you can have is a buddy who knows how to surf, and I’m not just talking about a wing-man to learn alongside. Though that too can be a positive, it’s best to know someone who has experience and can be your guide while you learn how to surf.
- The Internet. Many websites can serve as a comprehensive resource for the new surfer. An established website and surf report such as Surfline has everything from tutorials to equipment reviews. But don’t need to pay for a membership – everything you need is free.
- Surf Shops. Like any hobby shop, the surf shop is where you can not only find equipment, but also like-minded people happy to share knowledge. Just be wary of someone who wants to use your enthusiasm to sell you a bunch of expensive stuff to learn with.
What You Need
Here’s the shortlist of what you absolutely need and how to get it on a budget:
- Surfboard. You should look for a well-used bigger board to learn to surf on that’s wide and has lots of volume. It’s usually called a “funboard,” and it’s easier to paddle and more stable to stand up on. Don’t let your ego drive you to blow your savings on the latest Channel Island or Rusty surfboard you saw a pro riding. You’ll earn much more respect rolling up to the break with a clunker and learning how to surf, rather than posing. Target price: Free to $125
- Wax. Wax is a small detail, but an important one. Surf wax is spread on the deck of your board for traction and grip so your feet won’t slip. Price: $1.50
- Leash. A “leash” is a cord that connects you to your surfboard so that when you fall, your board will stay near you. Plus, it will prevent your board from bounding through the waves where it becomes a hazard to other surfers. Target price: Free to $5
- Wetsuit. A wetsuit is only needed if you plan to learn how to surf in cold water. It is highly advisable to start surfing during the summer, when the water is the warmest. However, some locations always require a wetsuit, plus boots, gloves, and even a hood. Target price: Free to $50
Where to Get Gear for Free or Cheap
A new Town & Country surfboard, Rip Curl wetsuit, and Dakine surfboard leash can cost upwards of $1,200, but here’s how to get everything you need for next to nothing:
- Friends. Once again, a friend who surfs is a great resource, as you may be able to borrow or inherit old gear. If you don’t have a friend that surfs, make one! Make friends in the water, in the surf shop, and online.
- The Internet. Buying used surfboards online doesn’t usually save much money due to the high cost of shipping. Instead, find local sellers listing used surfing equipment. eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, and local online surfing forums are great places to find people trying to get rid of their old gear. Surfboards, wetsuits, leashes, and more can be found for a minimal price or free – all you need to do is pick it up.
- Garage Sales. One person’s trash is another’s treasure. Garage sales in communities near the beach often include an old surfboard or wetsuit selling for next to nothing. Plus, the seller might even throw in an old toaster.
- Surf Shops. Good surf shops always have a range of used equipment for sale. Ask if they are planning a sale in the near future, and always feel free to bargain a little. Buying a surfboard from a shop is a bit like buying a car – there is usually room for negotiation.
Charge the Surf
The only way to learn to surf is by doing it, but a first-time surfer should never go it alone. “Stoked” is a word surfers use to express how wonderful it feels to do what they do, and while looking for an affordable option for surf instruction, know that a true surfer is compelled to share “the stoke.” He or she may take you on as a student for a small fee – or maybe even just a lunch or a ride to the beach. Calm, slow-breaking waves, sunny conditions, and thin crowds equal the perfect learning conditions.
If you have a friend who can take you surfing, great. However, here some other places to look to find an instructor to get you started:
- Online Forums. From the online community surfing board to websites like Meetup, you can make contact with fellow learners to share questions and concerns. Additionally, you can meet experienced surfers willing to take you under their wing to introduce you to the sport.
- Surf School. A referral or well-reviewed surf school is the best way to go. Group and bulk lessons will be less expensive, while private and single lessons cost more. The median range for the cost of surf lessons, depending on location, is $25 to $80 an hour. Check Groupon, especially if you live in an area where there’s an established surfing culture, for occasional unbeatable deals on surf lessons.
- Surf Camp. If you can afford it, attending a surf camp is an option that will immerse you in the experience and give you every chance to be successful. You should probably at least try surfing a few times to make sure you enjoy it before committing to the larger expense of a surf camp.
Learning how to surf can be expensive and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. Educating yourself about the sport, respecting the ocean, and starting with appropriate equipment will give you the foundation to be successful. The journey from “beginner” to “intermediate” to perhaps someday “advanced” is a great challenge filled with enjoyment and personal discovery. Be patient, and stay positive. You may never be as great as the surfer on the poster riding the 20-foot wave, but you’ll always be the one in the lineup with a smile on your face.
What other tips do you have for first-time surfers? Where have you gotten unbeatable deals on surfing equipment?