Can You Teach Yourself How To Surf? Read This

It is possible to learn to surf by yourself without taking a lesson. However, due to safety reasons, it’s recommended to have 1-2 surfing lessons to learn basic water safety and how to handle the big surfboard.

Not only is surfing highly enjoyable, but it also builds cardiovascular and upper-body strength. For this reason, surfing is gaining popularity continuously, and its industries are getting bigger.

In this blog post, you will learn about: 

  • Easy step-by-step surfing guide 
  • Choosing the right surfing gear
  • Surfboard vocabulary 
  • Additional tips and tricks 

How Hard is Surfing? 

Surfing is difficult to learn, but you can be a competent surfer if you are persistent with it. Ideally, you should first look for a beginner-friendly beach site with low currents and small waves. If you surf consistently over the next 3-6months with beginner-friendly equipment such as a longboard, you will see steady progress.

When you see a surfer riding a barrel with little difficulty, you might think that surfing will be nothing more than a cakewalk for you. But this takes years of practice to ride in a barrel like a picture above.

The difficulty is due to a lack of repetition in surfing. Every wave is different in speed, timing, gradient and power. A surfer must adapt to different surfing conditions while building his paddling endurance.

How Long Does it Take to Be a Good Surfer? 

There isn’t a set amount of time to learn surfing, but the basics can be learned quickly. You also have to determine which level you want to reach. How long it takes to surf shouldn’t be measured in days or weeks but instead in hours. If you stay consistent, then you can accumulate these hours under your belt in just a few weeks. Here is an estimate for every step: 

Balancing while paddling

This is the first skill you need to master to improve your surfing. On water, even the smallest movements make surfboards shake, it takes practice to paddle without losing balance. Learning to balance while paddling takes 20-60 hours of practice to be at a reasonable level, paddling well with feet close together.


Paddling is a life-long journey. It comes naturally for some people, but it takes years to master it for most people. There always will be something you can improve on, and even some pro surfers get a lesson from a paddling/swimming specialist to develop their stroke. Please see here for other useful paddling tips.


Sitting on your surfboard might seem easy, but for some people, it can be very challenging to perfect. It will allow you to rest your tired back and legs after paddling. Learning to sit securely on a surfboard and turn the board when the wave approaches might take 50-60 hours of practice. 

Standing Up

Once you have masted sitting and paddling, it’s time to learn how to stand up or pop up. Many surfers practice on dry land first. This is easily one of the most difficult aspects of learning to surf and can take 20 to 80 hours to master, depending upon your skill. Popping on a longboard is generally easier than a shortboard.

Overall, becoming a competent/capable surfer takes about 200+ hours (a competent surfer means you can catch 2-3 foot waves and ride along the wave and change directions with basic moves).

What is the essential equipment for beginner surfers?

The most basic equipment necessary for surfing is a surfboard with fins and leash and a wetsuit/board shorts.

The gear you choose to begin with significantly impacts your learning efficiency and pace. Let’s have a look at the right gear for a novice surfer.


Choosing the right surfboard is the key to learning the art of surfing. The most common mistake beginner surfers make is starting with a shortboard or board without enough volume.

Shortboards are more suitable for experienced surfers for medium to large-size waves.

A beginner should go with a minimal or longboard at least 2 ft longer than his/her height. Bigger boards allow surfers to paddle faster to catch more waves and provide a stable surface when standing up. A Softboard can also be a good option and read here if you are interested.


Choosing the right wetsuit depends on your body shape and the temperature of the water you will be surfing in. Please watch below on how to choose the right wetsuit.

How To Choose a Surf Spot For Beginners

Besides the gear, one must pay equal attention to picking the right spot to start learning how to surf. There is a lot of variety in the type of surf spots existing out there; not all are beginner friendly.

A beginner-friendly surf spot has the following features-

  • Consistently slow and small waves
  • Sandy bottom
  • Less crowded 
  • Warm water

A surf spot with these features allows the learner to practice all the basic skills with fewer injuries. Check out the most famous surf spots for beginners here.

Learn How to Surf: Step-by-step Guide 

Let’s get into the guide and see how you will fly on top of a wave! 

Step 1: Loosen Up

It is important to loosen up your muscles before surfing as it is physically demanding. Warming up has been shown to reduce injury and improve performance. That’s why it is often advised to jog a little before surfing.

Other ways of warming your body include squats, gentle stretching and practising pop up.

Step 2: Apply Wax on the Board

Waxing the board provides the surfer with a firm grip on the board, allowing him/her to not slip off the board. You may get away with one wax suitable for your region – different wax is made for its suitable temperature. However, I recommend having a basecoat that allows the main wax to stick to the board well.

One of the most common mistakes beginners make when putting wax on is putting too little. Plenty of wax cannot go wrong and hardly ever comes off the board. As you lie down on the board and paddle, the wax will stick more onto the board and provide an excellent grip on your board.

Step 3: Check for Ideal Conditions

You must check the surf forecast and analyse surfing conditions as a surfer. Before going in, you must analyse the wave height and direction, wind direction, and water condition. It will allow you to choose a more beginner-friendly condition and spot to practice.

For example, when the waves are big and coming from the south, you would want to find a little sheltered north-facing side to surf smaller waves. The ideal surfing size for beginners is 1-2 foot.

If you want to avoid surfing in a large crowds, you can check live-cam online and check different spots.

Generally, after heavy rain, it’s advisable not to go into the ocean for 2 days due to high water pollution. Keep on eye on water pollution level in your local area before you go in.

Step 4: Riding Broken Waves / White Wash

Now, time to catch the waves.

A complete beginner should start surfing the broken waves or very small waves. Broken wave refers to whitewash where waves are already broken and form a white foamy wave. These types of waves give you push with minimal paddling.

You can wade out towards the ocean at your comfortable depth. Once you are far out, align your board directly towards the beach and wait for the whitewash. You’d want to jump onto the board about 5 seconds before the wave hit you. This should give enough time to put 5-6 paddles in before the wave pushes you.

Once you are on the wave and it pushes you with speed, you can now pop up onto your board and ride the rest of the wave until it stops. When you come off the board, try to fall/roll off to the side of the board instead of jumping off. It’s often difficult to judge the depth of water, and you may sprain your ankle. Never dive head first.

Now it’s time to repeat until you master it!

Step 5: How To Pass The Break and Riding the unbroken wave.

Once you are consistently catching broken waves more than 90 percent, it’s time to paddle out to line up and catch an unbroken waves.

You must pass the break where waves break to ride the unbroken wave. There is some different techniques that will help you go past this zone. Remember, you need to practice all of these techniques to get used to them.

Once you have passed the waves, join the lineup with other surfers. Being in the lineup, keep an eye on the formation and crashing of waves and bring yourself to the best position possible. But you must wait for your turn in the lineup and should never try to overrun other surfers. Patience and surfer etiquette is as important in surfing as in any other sport.

When you see a wave approaching, start paddling towards the beach and try to gain as much speed as possible. When the wave starts to lift you from behind, you must give the last couple of powerful strokes to get on to a wave.

Getting the timing right takes a lot of practice, and observing how other good surfers time and position themselves will help you develop your skills.

Step 6: Standing up / Popping up.

Once you are on the wave, it’s time to stand up on your board. Popping on while riding an unbroken wave feels slight different compared to whitewash. Timing is the key here. Rushing into any of the steps can have unfavourable consequences. Get up too early, and the wave will leave you behind. Too late, and you will break into the whitewater

Most surf coaches and Youtube videos recommend you practice on land first, and it’s probably the best way. However, it’s worth noting that Nick Carrol, The Complete Guide to Surfing Your Best’s celebrated author, stated that popping up correctly requires good timing. If you miss the timing, it will not happen correctly.

He mentioned that popping on the surfboard while riding a wave is far less demanding than practising on the floor. When you are on a wave, it feels much smoother and does not feel like you have to ‘jump up’ on your board. This is potentially due to your momentum when the wave pushes, and the board will sink slightly as you push down on the board, allowing space for your legs to come forward.

See below for full details of how to practice pop-up at home.

Once you are riding the wave, all you need to do now is maintain your balance and ensure you remain standing with relaxed shoulders. Allow gentle movement up and down the wave, and keep surfing!

Tips for Newbie Surfers 

Here are a few beginner-friendly tips  to make your surfing journey easier: 

  • Perfect your basic moves and be patient. Think of it as going to a gym exercising for an end goal at least 6 months away. Your surfing will improve, but you need to be patient.
  • Go to a local surf school, go to local surf schools and join some group sessions where they teach you the basics. While most surf schools cannot give you enough attention during a group class, having someone similar to your level may help you feel comfortable initially.
  • Position yourself correctly on the board. While paddling, your speed will decrease if you lay too far back on the board. Paddle too far up the board, and the nose will poke underwater. Thus, find an ideal paddle spot in the middle where you can balance and mark it for future reference. 
  • Bend your knees slightly, not your overarching back. This will keep the centre of gravity of your body in line with the board, which will consequently help you maintain better balance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know how to surf, here are a few more common misconceptions answered to make your journey easier: 

Do You Need to be Fit to Surf?

Surfing just requires energy and motivation and doesn’t call for only ultra-fit. Does being fit give you an edge? Sure, in terms of endurance and agility. But is it a requirement? No.

If you are unfit, you can build your surfing endurance simply by surfing more. You will start noticing after 6-12 weeks if you consistently surf 3-4 times a week.

Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Surf?

Yes, having some level of swim ability is important when surfing. Some surf schools will not allow you to surf if you cannot swim more than 50 metres.

Sure, you do not need to swim much as long as you have a leg rope. However, surfing can be unpredictable, and many people lose their boards after the leash snaps. If you are interested in learning how to swim, Total Immersion swimming provides a good online tutorial for relaxed freestyle swimming.

How Do I Stop Being Scared of Surfing? 

Generally speaking, you must gradually expose yourself to overcome your anxiety about surfing. Try to find out the cause anxious first and put yourself in that situation in a very small dose and in a consistent manner. This should gradually help you develop your confidence.

I have always been afraid of going into deep water. I have slowly practised floating in water in the swimming pool and gradually over the fear. It still bothers me sometimes, but I think I am more than capable of dealing with the deep ocean now.

I also applied the same strategy in dealing with the crowd. I always felt uncomfortable fighting for waves in crowds. I started surfing with crowd intentionally and made my way in the middle of the crowd over many months and years.

Summing Up

Yes, you can teach yourself how to surf, but there are many factors you need to keep in mind. If possible, you should have a couple of surfing lessons to speed up your learning process.

Surfing is also a very demanding activity, and a person needs to have a healthy physique and strong mentality to ensure success in this sport. Make sure to carry proper equipment when starting. In the end, it is your willingness and practice that decide how good you will be.

Head over to to know more about surfing tips and tricks. 


My name is James, the person behind With 15 years of experience in surfing, I am excited to help you on the journey to becoming a competent surfer.

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