Surf lessons: surf instructors should teach the basic rules of surf etiquette | Photo: Shutterstock

Surfing is an incredibly magnetic and exciting pastime. However, what most big wave videos don't discuss are the potential dangers of the sport.

Veterans know that water safety is at the root of the hobby. One must be comfortable in the water and be aware of their surroundings. Here's how to tame the ocean's power when you're a beginner surfer.

Learning how to respect the water and protect yourself will prolong your time in the water and years surfing.

Ride a Soft Top Board

The outer coverings of surfboards are made out of a hard plastic resin. The outside shell is very susceptible to damage, and if a rider is not careful, can attract an injury.

Novice riders are better off purchasing a beginner soft top board that will protect them from potential injury. It's also a smarter purchase regarding how well the board resists damage.

A regular board can cost hundreds of dollars to repair as well as pose a threat to a surfer's head, face, and body. Soft top boards are usually cheaper to purchase, or you can ask a surf shop if they sell used models.

Seek Small Crowds

Surfing is a community sport, and it will be difficult to find a spot with very few surfers. However, those who are new to the sport are more likely to feel comfortable in smaller crowds. It's a much safer idea for all involved.

A beginner won't have much control over their board, which makes it more likely they may surf into another. Similarly, some seasoned riders can be aggressive and are not always reasonable when it comes to the limited experience of others.

Surf smaller crowds until you feel comfortable enough to surf with a larger crowd.

Practice Out of the Water

Surfing is done in the water, but a lot of practice can take place on land. Aside from cardiovascular activity, stretching, and weight lifting, one can practice their pop up out of the water.

Popping up on one's board can look easy to an outsider, but novice surfers quickly realize how important and relevant it is.

Popping up quickly with stable feet means the difference between riding a wave with familiarity or clumsily falling off your board. New surfers can practice their pop up on the sand or in the home.

Using tape, draw an outline of a surfboard along with the middle stringer on a floor. Practice making a paddling motion before popping up so your feet are aligned with the stringer of the board.

Beginner surfers: learning how to surf includes staying safe in the water | Photo: Shutterstock

Spend Time on the Board

Surfers usually take their board out when there's surf. But those who are especially good, reserve time to be on top of their board regardless of conditions.

It's important to get very familiar with one's board to find the sweet spots regarding paddling and standing. For example, if you rest too low on your board, you will lack paddling power.

If you rest too high on your board, it's likely that you'll dip the nose in the water while paddling for a wave. Similarly, the board will respond differently depending on where a rider places their feet on top. Each board is unique like each rider's habits and style.

Protect Yourself from Falling

All newcomers fall. Even those who are experienced fall off their boards. It's not a question of if but when. Be prepared to safely jump off your board.

Don't jump off your board headfirst into the water. Likewise, do not fall with your back facing the water. Even falling feet first can be hazardous depending on the depth and contour of the ocean floor.

Practice falling flat into the ocean with your hands out to protect your face, head, and body from potential harm.

When you're coming up from under the water, place your hands on top of your head to protect it from your board or other elements in the water. Learn how to fall off your surfboard properly.

Go With a Friend

Go surfing with a friend. You can watch out for each other in the water as well as provide advice regarding pop ups, paddling, and obeying surfing etiquette.

For example, the surfer who is closest to the wave's break has priority. Do not paddle into a wave that already has another rider on it.

Doing so only jeopardizes the safety of riders and can damage each rider's board. As mentioned, find a spot with less of a crowd, where you can practice getting familiar with the ocean and your board.

If you're learning how to surf, find someone with experience who is reminded of the practical safety measures which are second nature to him/her but that he/she must pass on.


Words by Lily Turner | Hanalei Surf School

Competitive surfing can be divided into five different eras. From crowning the first world champion in 1964 until now, there have been several tours, spanning from 1964 to present day.

+ Surfing News