Surfing 101 – Part 1 – Getting out there
The first thing you’ll need to know is how to get out past where the waves are breaking. This requires a little observation and a few techniques.
If you spend some time observing the break before you paddle out, you’ll save yourself a huge amount of energy and frustration. Just sit and watch the waves break for at about 15-20 minutes and observe a few of the following things.
Determine the best time to paddle out
Paddling out at the right time will save your energy for riding the waves instead of spending it all fighting them.
Make a mental note of the sets
Sets are the bigger waves that come in groups of 1 or as many as 15, with the last wave in the set normally the largest. Sets are what you ride, and they are what kick your ass when you’re trying to paddle out. Avoiding them is key.
To do so you need to figure out how many waves there are per set, and how much time you have between sets.
Once you have a good feel for the sets, you can time your paddle out right and make the most of your precious energy.
For example, if the time between sets is only 5 minutes, you may want to start paddling out when a set starts rolling in. That way by the time the set ends, you can be in the home stretch and get past the critical section before the next set rolls in.
Determine the best place to paddle out
Sometimes the waves break in the exact same spot every time, other times they break all over the place unpredictably. Choose the path of least resistance:
- Avoid where people are surfing
- If possible, paddle around the break (this is common sense but not common practice for beginners)
- If there is a channel, paddle out there to avoid the breaking waves
- Watch where other surfers get in and the line they choose to paddle out (they may be avoiding rocks, reef, surfers, etc…)
Watch the currents
Next to waves, currents are another force of nature you’ll have to battle, but if you notice the currents before you get in, you can use them to your advantage.
- Watch the surface of the water and the foam to see current direction
- Watch the surfers, which direction are they paddling most of the time?
For example, if you notice the current moving across the shore from left to right and the break is straight out, start paddling out way left of the break and by the time you get out there, you’ll be just to the right of the break, instead of 50 yards away from it.
With rip currents, where the current is moving straight out to sea, sometimes you can catch a free ride out by paddling right in it and it will carry you out past the break.
The best way to get out of a current is to paddle perpendicular to it, not against it.
Getting past the waves
Now that you’ve taken the plunge and you’re on your way out to catch your first epic waves, you need to know how to get through the white wash. Since you’ll be out in small waves for your first few surf sessions (knee to waist high are good beginner conditions), there’s a simple technique to avoid getting pushed back to where you started:
When a small breaking wave is coming at you, do a push-up on your board and let the wave roll between you and the board. For best results, ensure that you face the wave straight on. As the wave passes by, push the nose of your board down a little by leaning your weight forward. This will keep your board level and prevent the wave from taking you with it.
Knowing when you’re far enough out
All that hard work of getting out can be for nothing if you stop too soon. It’s usually best to paddle out too far, wait for the next big set, see where it breaks, then paddle back in to the right spot. If there’s a lot of other surfers out, they’re usually a good indication of where the right spot is.
On a clean day, foam is of the best indications of where the best takeoff spot is. Think of the foam that the wave leaves behind as a breadcrumb trail of the wave. It only lasts for 10 seconds or so, but can really help you get into the right position.
Now get out there
At this point you should be well armed with the knowledge to make the most of your energy and stay safe while getting out to catch some epic waves. Remember, every surf spot is different, and every spot can change drastically from hour to hour.
These tips should be common practice for every surfer, for every surf spot, no matter how experienced you are.