When it comes to learning to surf, finding the right school, camp, or teacher and having the right gear can make a huge difference. Here's what you need to know.

Want to Learn to Surf? You Can!

Have you watched surfers riding the waves and wished you could do that? Well, there are surf schools, teachers, and camps all over the U.S. that can teach you how. All it takes is some lessons and the right equipment, and you’ll be one of those everyone else on the beach is watching. Here are some top tips for beginning surfers to get you started.

Find a Class, School or Camp

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a friend who offers to “show you how,” there’s really no substitute for learning the basics from a professional instructor. And you’ll value the support of your fellow students, too. And who knows, your future surf buddy might be in the group! A few more thoughts on choosing a surf school or camp:

  • Make sure they have equipment for each student. If there are 30 students and 10 boards, you’re going to get frustrated.
  • Find out the teacher/student ratio; the fewer teachers per student, the better.
  • Ask how much water time you’ll get. You’d be surprised how many schools teach many of the basics on land, but you’ll learn best by doing.

Seek Out Calm Waters

Where you learn to surf will obviously depend a great deal on where you live, and you may have limited options. But given the choice, look for a protected beach with smaller surf. Of course, warmer water helps, too, so if you have an opportunity to take surf lessons in the Caribbean, you might want to take it.

Get the Right Equipment

If you’re joining a camp that provides equipment, you can skip this section, but sooner or later you’re going to want to think about gear. And you’ll be much better off knowing what the experts recommend for beginners before you walk into the store. Look for a board that’s:

  • Stable. This usually means wider, thicker or both.
  • Soft. Most surf schools and camps have students learn on foam softboards, also called foamboards and funboards.
  • Light. The heavier the board the harder to paddle.

You’ll choose the size based on your weight and height; for example an 120-pound 5’4 woman would use an 8′ board, whereas a 200-pound man of 6’2 would use a 9.6″ board. So work with the school, rental agency or shop to help you find the right size.

You’ll also want a wetsuit and a leash, which tethers the board to your ankle. Gloves, booties, and a hood are optional, but consider the fact that as a beginner, you’ll be doing a lot more waiting and less paddling. So get what you need to stay warm.

If it’s warm enough to surf without a wetsuit, wear a rashguard, which is a stretchy layer that protects your skin from salt, sun and friction from the wax on your board. Many surfers wear rashguards under their wetsuits as well.

And about that wax: Surfers use wax to create a sticky textured surface that helps keep them from slipping. As a beginner, you want to “stick” as much as possible, so get tips on which wax to use and how to apply it.

Be Patient

Surfing isn’t easy to learn. If it was, everyone would surf, right?  The first time you surf, you may do nothing more than paddle around. Even the second and third times, you may not really get up to standing, or at least not for very long. And you’re going to get thrown off and thrashed around while you try. But with some practice, you’ll get the hang of it, and once you do, you’ll know why your surfer friends are willing to get up at 4 a.m. on workdays to hit the beach.


Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.