The ABC’s of SURFING (Surfing 101)
- Rule 1: Avoid crowds.
- Rule 2: Practice in the whitewater first.
- Rule 3: Paddle the board on its trim spot.
- Rule 4: Stand with your feet on the center line.
If I had to distill years of teaching into a few seconds, those are the four biggest points. There are exceptions, and of course, there’s a ton of other safety issues, skills, and fine tuning that a good surf instructor will give you, and each of us needs a different prescription. A good surf lesson is actually a wise investment that pays off in saved time and frustration. Another thing that a good school or instructor gives you is local knowledge and a safe location to learn.
Let’s dive deeper into the points above:
- Avoid Crowds: The biggest danger in surfing is not the waves, the rocks, the sharks, or creepy crawlies. It’s other surfers. Always try to keep at least 20 feet between you and the next surfer, especially important if they are to the outside (toward the ocean) or directly inside/shoreward of your position, where you may get pushed into them. When big waves come through, spread out and give each other some space. This will ensure that the waves won’t pile you into each other. If you see the same surfer ride past you more than once, you’re probably in his/her way.
- Start in the whitewater: One of the hardest parts of surfing will always be the take-off. If you start out by catching the whitewater (after the wave has broken), this eliminates a huge timing issue. As you progress, you’ll want to catch the unbroken swells ‘on the outside’ – the way surfers and dolphins do. Problems with timing your takeoff are normal – it’s a skill that may take years to master.
- Paddling on the trim spot: That trim spot on bigger boards is generally found by keeping your toes on the tail when you paddle. It’s the balance point where the board moves forward with the least resistance. The same trim rule applies when you’re riding the wave: Keep your weight forward and the boards nose just above the water.
- Feet on Center: Keeping both feet, one in front of the other, directly across the center line (or ‘stringer’) fixes a lot of problems. When feet are on either side, the board wobbles, flips, and turns where you don’t want it to. Having your feet on the ‘sweet spot’ – particularly the back foot – is crucial to modern performance surfing.
- Currents: A “rip current” is like a river pulling out to sea. They usually appear as a sandy patch of choppy water. Rips account for about 80% of lifeguard rescues. Never fight against a rip; instead, swim or paddle along the shore (across the current) to get out of it, then paddle towards shore.“Longshore” or “downshore” currents are common to Huntington Beach and other beachbreaks, and are not as dangerous as a rip current because they merely sweep you down along the beach, making it harder to find your car.
- Never put your board in front of you, between you and the incoming waves. That’s asking for dental work.
- The Priority rule: In crowded situations, the surfer closest to the peak has priority. When someone catches the wave outside and turns toward you, they have priority. Try to stay out of their path and take the next wave.
- Surfing is ninety percent paddling. Good, strong paddling skill is important. It will get you into many more waves, and keep you out of trouble too.
- Take a tip from the dolphins: If you’re bodysurfing or bodyboarding out past waist deep water, WEAR SWIM FINS. Every good waterman will tell you this – fins make a tremendous difference.
- Stingrays: The best protection against stingrays is letting them know you are there. This means shuffle your feet, stomp on the bottom to ‘claim your turf’, and even slapping your board on the water as you enter the waves. This helps to scare them away. (They never liked you anyway : ) Our favorite dance, the Stingray Shuffle, helps to scare the rays, but it also gives you ‘bottom radar’ for holes and rocks. Stingrays prefer silty sand bottoms with warm, calm water, but can be present year round. Get in the habit of always doing the “stingray shuffle”.
- Sharks: With millions of people enjoying the beaches of southern California every year, you have to appreciate one statistic: In the Los Angeles area in the last 80 years there have been 6 attacks, and zero fatalities (and knowing Hollywood, those attacks were probably the “Wild Boys” dressed in tuna suits). If you’re worried about sharks, you should be buying lotto tickets: Much better odds. More about sharks here.
Wait, there’s more! The One-Minute Surf Lesson!