Woman surfing on wave

Can You Teach Yourself To Surf?

Booking professional surfing classes is the go-to for many would-be surfers out there. Find out if you can teach yourself to surf instead and things to be aware of before jumping in.

Watching surfers do what they do best and tame the waves is awe-inspiring. It’s no wonder, therefore, that many want to get started as soon as possible. The question is, do you need professional classes, or can you teach yourself to surf? Read on to find out.

Why Surfing? 

Considering that surfing can be a relatively tricky sport to get into, along with being at the mercy of mother nature, surfing still manages to rein in thousands of newcomers every year, and it’s no surprise why. Surfing is an exhilarating sport that satisfies your inner adrenaline junkie and stands out as an incredible experience and offers the following:

• Fitness and stamina building in both cardio and strength
• An outdoor experience where you enjoy the beach and fresh sea breeze
• It is a lone sport - you don’t have to rely on anyone else but your board
• Every wave feels different and can provide a different kind of challenge
• A great sport to indulge in on any beach holiday and vacation time
• It’s a great spectator sport

If you're interested in surfing, there are plenty of reasons to get into it, from providing a great workout to posing a challenge you'll be hooked on.

Are Surfing Classes Necessary? 

If you have the funds, opting for surfing classes is best to get the proper induction. This is because it’s incredibly easy to pick up bad habits that are harder to unlearn in the long run. With a professional instructor, you’ll be able to nip these in the bud early on to help yourself progress quicker and solidify your foundations with the help of those who know a little more about it - including tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else.

With a tried and tested action plan, you’ll be able to skip the frustration and delays experienced by those self-taught and skip the hassle of unlearning and relearning the basics. An instructor will help you get your form and techniques right from the get-go. Here are a few more reasons why you should book a surfing class instead:

Ask Questions
Having an instructor on hand to ask specific, lengthy and ungoogleable questions is a unique benefit to those going the lessons route. It’ll make a huge difference in your confidence when in the water.

Time Your Wave
A beginner will usually be at a loss regarding wave selection, which is a crucial aspect of surfing. Step-by-step guidance is typically necessary, as much of this requires a visual, in-person guide. This includes direction as to when to paddle and when to pop up, as every second counts.

An instructor is the best form of safety you can bring with you and give you the peace of mind you need to launch yourself into the sport. In addition to the supervision, your instructor will be certified and should be well-versed in first-aid training (the international surfing association sets the standard for surf coaching). Part of this will also be about learning to identify ocean hazards which is best done with an instructor.

Birds-eye-view of shoreline

Your instructor will also be able to recommend anything from surfboards to wetsuits. While there are plenty of buying guides and top ten lists online, your instructor can offer some knowledge built up from years of experience that you won’t find online as easily.

By having an in-person surfing lesson, your individual needs, strengths and weaknesses are taken into consideration.

You can choose classes for 1:1 sessions or larger classes to learn with fellow surfing newcomers if you enjoy the social aspect. Whether it’s a positive motivation or the extra support gained, entering a new sport with fellow peers can transform the experience.

By having a streamlined, tried and tested surfing course taught by professionals, there’s a huge difference in how quickly you’re able to level up. If you’re learning by yourself and run into a roadblock, you’ll have to figure it out yourself or take the time to find solutions online. An in-person instructor is readily available and can give you tips and tricks to overcome your hurdles quicker.

Woman surfing a large wave

Teaching Yourself to Surf

Teaching yourself how to surf is certainly possible, especially if you’re naturally athletic and have experience in surfing-related sports like sailing and water skiing, bringing some transferable skills to the table. Whether through videos, online courses or by reading lengthy guides, if you’re a quick learner and have some experience in watersports, you can try your hand at teaching yourself to surf.

Surf Etiquette

Most sports and lifestyles have some unwritten rules and etiquette that’ll help guide you on your surfing journey. This includes how you interact with other surfers and beachgoers in the water to support an organised, safe and positive environment for all.

Ultimately, if you make a mistake, basic niceties apply; apologise and let them know you’re new to surfing and be on your way. Here are a few more rules and etiquette to follow:

• Figure out who has the right of way
• Don’t cut in front of other surfers who are up and riding
• Don’t repeatedly paddle around someone to get into position
• Don’t hog the waves
• Don’t ditch your board or paddle in the path of other surfers
• Pick surf spots that suit your experience level
• Help other surfers if they’re in a spot of trouble
• Don’t litter or vandalise
• Have a leash on hand

The most crucial surf etiquette is to stay out of the way of other surfers when riding a wave. This can be difficult to do in practice, especially as a beginner, as you’ll be less aware of your surroundings.

Your Surfing Essentials

Before you learn how to surf, you need to get your gear in order. This means you should have the following ready before your first day out at sea:

Surfboard or a longboard if you’re a beginner
Leash to keep your surfboard attached to you at all times and ensure it won’t get lost at sea
Wetsuit to help you retain body heat.
Board Wax to be applied on your surfboard for extra grip

Once you have the above, you’re ready to start practising the fundamentals.

Man carrying surfboard to shore

Practice on Land

Lie on your front on top of your board and make sure your body is lined up to the centre of the board to practice paddling.

Getting up
• When lying on your board, bring your hands up and place them below your chest with your palms flat on the board as your fingers curl over the sides of your board.
• Push your body with your arms and tuck your feet under you quickly.
• Place your foot where your hands are and push yourself up.
• Position your other foot a shoulder’s width behind.

If you struggle to stick to one motion, practice getting to your knees first before getting into a standing position.

Standing on the board
Keep your knees bent, arms lose and extended by your side. Your torso should lean a little forward to lower your centre of gravity.

Place whatever foot comes forward naturally in front and avoid squatting; you should balance side-to-side. Keep your eyes focused on where you’re going.

Young boy holding surfboard near shore

Surfing Steps

1) Paddle
Get on the water and find your board's sweet spot. Your board should plane across the water with the nose slightly above. If you're not positioned correctly, the nose can dig into the water, and you'll feel off-balance. When paddling, practice deep strokes.

2) Find the right spot
• You should be waist-deep in an area where the waves begin to break.
• Make sure not to paddle out too far.
• It's a good idea to pick a reference spot, such as a landmark on the shore that you can check on as you move into the water. This will help keep you at the right spot without drifting in too far.

3) Paddle to the spot
• Walk your board into the water until you're waist-deep, then lie on the board to paddle into the waves.
• Try and position yourself so you only have to paddle in a straight line.
• You should be positioned perpendicular to oncoming waves to cut through them.
• Push up with your upper body as your board goes over the wave to stop the wave from pushing you back to shore.

4) Turn and wait for the right wave
• Sit back on your surfboard so the nose is up and out of the water.
• Kick your legs in a circular motion to turn the board to face the shore.
• Position yourself in your sweet spot and be ready to paddle.
• If you see a wave coming, get near the peak and paddle using deep strokes.

5) Catching the wave
• Start paddling and try and get a sense of the wave's motion and speed
• Take off using the techniques highlighted for popping up highlighted in the above section.
• Speed is essential, so try to catch the wave at the optimal time - this will take practice.  

6) Ride the wave

• You should keep your feet planted, knees bent, and arms lose while focusing on where you're going.
• It's best to ride your wave in a straight in and try turning only when you're ready.

7) Turning

• Lean into your turn with your entire body to keep your centre of gravity stable and on the board.
• Dip one rail facing the wave in the direction of your turn.
• With the right angle, keep your balance and ride down the wave's curl.

8) Wipe-out
• If you think you'll fall or the wave dies down, jump away from the board. Try to aim towards the side or back of the board.
• Make sure to cover your head in case of collision.
• The wave will carry you so that you can swim gently upwards.
• Land flat in case of shallow water.
• Use the channels to get out of the way.

Longboard Vs Shortboard

A longboard provides a more beginner-friendly induction to the world of surfing and is designed for ease of use. Usually 8-12 inches long, a longboard is generally fitted with a single fin and offers greater volume. This makes it easier for beginners to find their balance while losing out on some of the manoeuvrability and versatility found in shortboards.

You can move onto a shortboard once you’ve grown accustomed to learning the fundamentals on the longboard. With a sharp nose and multiple fins, this will take a little longer to master but result in better performance in the long run. A shortboard usually offers a tri-fin setup and allows you to take faster turns and surf at greater speeds when riding larger waves.

Olaian surf 900 epoxy soft 5'6

Find your Surfboard

Ready to get into the water? You’ll need a trustee surfboard to get started. Decathlon’s surfboard range features our very own in-house brand Olaian with beginner-friendly boards that are the perfect essential to help you ride small waves.

Offering stability, control and speed, discover our surfboard range below. Want to rent instead? Check out our Decathlon Rentals for any surfboards available in a Decathlon store near you.