While so many brags about how good surfing is, there are some downsides.
Here are 9 things you may not have thought about before starting or did not realise even if you have been doing it for a while.
Surfing requires the right conditions of multiple different factors. At a minimum, you require a wave at minimal ridable wave height, the wind needs to be optimal for the wave quality, and heavy rain must be avoided for water pollution. Therefore, even if you have all the time you need in the world, there are times you cannot surf.
Please note that these components are for the minimum requirements for surfing. If you want sound quality waves to enjoy, the size of the wave, swell direction, bank shape, wind direction and tide must be optimal.
One of the essential things for exercise is consistency, and for surfing, there will be days you have to choose alternate exercise.
This is why there are so many issues regarding the competition or choosing surfing as an Olympic sport. It’s challenging to compare pure athleticism when it comes to competitive surfing.
When it comes to surfing, there is some hidden cost to surfing that most novice surfer has not considered. At the bare minimum, you need a surfboard and wetsuit/swimsuit to be able to surf.
Second-hand beginner surfboard range from 200-600 dollars and new wetsuit range around 250-600.
Then you need to get a leash, fins and bag if you did not get it with your board.
A surfboard leash costs around 40-60 dollars, and fins cost anywhere from 40-150 depending on the quality. A surfboard bag costs 100-150 dollars; if you would like a surfboard sock instead, it is usually around 40 dollars.
Surfing wax is a must; you may need to apply it every month or so depending on how often you surf. It costs 5-7 dollars per bar.
You will need sunscreen every time you surf and parking fees and petrol if you do not live within walking distance from the beach.
Surfboards and wetsuits do not last forever even if you look after them very well. If you surf 3-5 times a week, you may need to replace or repair the surfboard every 2-3 years from ongoing usage and accidental damage.
The wetsuit generally lasts about 1-2 years if you surf on a regular base. Boardshorts also last about 2-3 years if you wear one of those stretchy types of boardshorts.
When you start to take surfing seriously, you quickly realise you want/need more surfboards for different conditions. Some boards claim that they can be ‘All Roundder’, but the reality is that you will have to compromise when if you do not have a suitable surfboard for specific conditions.
For example, you better have a longboard when the wave is slow and lacks slope. And riding longboard can be very challenging on a 3-4 foot steep beach break, not to mention duck diving.
Some may argue that even considering all the cost of materials and lessons; surfing is relatively cheap compared to other sports and leisure.
3. Surfing May Not Be Environmentally Friendly.
This is the quite irony point. Most surfers consider themselves environmentally friendly or at least environmentally aware. After all, we need nature to be able to surf.
Manufacturing surfboard requires fossil fuel material and transporting the surfboards also require petrol.
Foams and fibreglass are generally eco-friendly. However, resins are derived and manufactured using petrol. Major surfboard manufacturers have developed environmentally friendly materials for the last 3-4 years that reduce carbon footprint.
It’s not just the manufacturer who is at fault. Every market is the same, and consumer behaviour dictates the manufacturer. If some manufacturer offers a board half the price of a similar quality board, it’s difficult to force the consumer to buy a more expensive one. Lastly, travelling to your favourite spots by car or plane also adds to the carbon emission.
A wetsuit is made of neoprene and is derived from petro-chemical based materials. And the manufacturing process can be hazardous to humans. Thankfully, led by Patagonia, there are now eco-friendly versions of wetsuits.
Sunscreen also is not environmentally friendly. Sunscreen has been negatively impacting the ecosystem of marine life. The main ingredient of sunscreen, Oxybenzone or Octinoxane, is toxic to juvenile corals and marine life. There are sunscreens free of those chemicals, so check what they claim and the ingredients.
Lastly, things that go on the surfboard are plastic or resin. Leashes and trackpads are all made of plastic, and most fins are made of plastic or resin materials.
4. You Cannot Surf For A Short Period.
If you have 30 minutes to exercise, what exercise can you do?
You can walk or run for 30 minutes with good exercise benefits. Swimming can also be done in 30 minutes if the pool is close enough.
Surfing, however, can be challenging to fit into 30 minutes. You must get to the beach, change to a wetsuit or swimmer, run on sand, and paddle to the breaking zone. By the time you get to the surfing zone, you may have 15 minutes to surf if you are lucky.
Then, you must wait for the waves to come and share them with others!
When you have finished, you have to quickly rinse, change to regular clothes, and tie the surfboard back if it goes onto your roof.
Therefore, most surfers allow 1+ hour of minimum surfing time. Otherwise, getting to the beach is probably not worth your effort.
5. Over-exposure to the Sun.
Depending on where you surf, you may get too much sun if you surf often. A little sunshine is essential for us, but you are at high risk of developing skin cancer if you do too much.
There are ways to reduce excessive exposure.
- Water-resistant sunscreen. Ideally free of harmful chemical
- Long rashguard or wetsuit.
- Surfing hat.
When you purchase a long rashguard, there are two options. One is a thin rashguard that does not have an insulation effect. Alternatively, you can buy a 1-1.5mm wetsuit top instead, which gives you slight insulation and skin protection against all the rubbing. Those wetsuit top does cost significantly more compared to rash guards.
When choosing a rash guard or wetsuit top, it’s essential to try it on. All manufacturers produce the wetsuit slightly differently, and you can only find out by putting them on. Rash guards and wetsuit tops tend to stretch a little so ensure they are nice and tight on you before you purchase them.
Surfing hats come in all different brands but essentially serve the same purpose. When you purchase a surfing hat, consider whether you want the back of the neck coverage and whether you would like a cap or a bucket shape.
Some hats have a safety attachment to a rashguard/wetsuit; during a turbulent wipeout, the surfing hat may come off, and it’s easy to lose. Most surfing hats float, but it is not easy to spot when there is movement in the water’s surface and reflection. Therefore little safety cord attachment can be handy.
6. A Surfer Needs To Live Close By A Beach.
This point goes with the fact that you need at least 1-2 spare hours to surf. If it takes 45 minutes to drive to the beach, it would not be easy to surf regularly. It would be best if you considered not only the travel time but the price of petrol too.
However, as Nietzsche once said
When I first started surfing, I had to drive 50 minutes to an hour to get to the closest beach, and it was such a joy to drive to the beach and back. If you have spare time and an open mindset, you may not need to live too close to the beach.
If you truly enjoy something, you will make it work. Either moving close to the beach or travelling long distances.
7. Surfing Skill Progression Is Excruciatingly Slow.
Surfing is one of those sports in that you only see progression at a slow pace. This is because there are limited waves during a session and all the waves behave differently. It would be best if you could practice paddling, pop-ups, and turns over and over again on waves, but it is not possible while surfing.
There are ways to compensate for this, and I have made 5 suggestions to improve your surfing as fast as possible here.
As a beginner, it’s pretty common to be yelled at or get prompted to do the right thing.
The most common mistake or fault is the inability to avoid a surfer on a wave. It isn’t easy to estimate the surfer’s speed on a wave and beginners end up on the surfer’s way despite trying. This could result in a collision which can be dangerous.
Therefore, some people will (gently or not so gently) remind you, especially what you did is unsafe for yourself and others. So it may not be personal most of the time( sometimes it may be..), so use it as an opportunity to learn.
8. Dangers from sea creatures
Here is a short list of sea animals that can critically injure and even cause death to surfers.
With a big mouth with millions of teeth, it’s easy to assume sharks want to hurt humans. However, unlike misconception, shark attacks are rare, even more, rare than a lightning strike. See here for a full report about Shark attacks on Sydney beaches and sharks’ behaviour.
2. Box Jelly Fish.
Box Jelly Fish attacks are more prevalent in a specific part of the world.
There are a few Box Jelly Fish species confirmed to cause death in humans, and they predominately live in the Indo-pacific ocean. The Philippines is the most affected by Box Jelly Fish, where 20-40 people die annually. Australia (especially in Queensland) has been known to have deadly attacks, with 80+ attacks recorded since 1883.
Stingrays generally do not attack humans unless they feel they need to self-defend. The most common attack occurs when you step on them, and they stab the ankle. It causes extreme pain but rarely causes death. There have been 17 death recorded worldwide so far.
Steve Irwin’s death is probably the most widely known stingray incident. He casually swam on top of the stingray which attacked his chest causing almost immediate death.
4. Sea Urchins
Although these creatures do not move, it’s easy to step on one of them on the reef. Their thorns are sharp enough to penetrate the skin and tend to break off once inserted. Always inspect the rock or reef before you step onto it and visit the hospital if you end up stepping onto them. It may cause infection, and surgical intervention may be required to remove the broken piece.
5. Blue Ring Octopus
Blue ring octopus can be found throughout the Australian coastline. However, you will have to look for them to find one as they tuck themselves under a rock, shells or discarded cans to hide from predators.
Their venom paralyses the human body including breathing muscles which may cause death. Therefore, it’s important to quickly take the victim to the hospital for necessary monitoring and breathing support.
Luckily the attacks are rare: a couple of bites per year in Australia and so far, only three deaths have been documented caused by the blue ring octopus: Two in Australia and one in Singapore.
Surfing can be very addictive for different reasons for different people. Some seek thrills, and they chase the big waves around the world. This adrenaline-driven enjoyment is not limited to 20+ foot waves. Surfers of all levels have their limits, and challenging bigger waves for your ability gives you a big adrenaline rush.
Another reason people get addicted to surfing is that riding waves gives you a unique feeling; there is nothing quite like it. This is probably from a combination of exercise, the speed of riding waves, and being right there in nature.
Those addicted/obsessed will constantly check on the forecast and may drop everything to surf good waves. It may sound excellent, but you may neglect some parts of your life unknowingly.