Mountain Man's Global News Archive

FAQ: Learning to Surf

by Chris Payne via Tom Tweed

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia - Southern Summer 1996

FAQ: Learning to Surf

Date: 14 Dec 1996 20:39:26 GMT
From: tweedt@aol.com
Organization: AOL http://www.aol.com
Newsgroups: alt.surfing
Subject: FAQ: Learning to surf

Here's an old copy of the FAQ from about 1994 (note: Chrispy isn't at Boeing anymore- see his web page for the current version- I included the URL in a recent post). I hope the AOL newsreader doesn't truncate this, it has a nasty habit of cutting off long posts unexpectedly, but the newserver at my ucsd.edu account has not been propagating recent messages widely, I've noticed, so I'm hesitant to use it.

So you want to learn how to surf. Why?

Getting the equipment:

You're going to need a board, some wax, and something to wear. Most of these can be found at your friendly neighborhood surfshop. A used board is generally your best bet when starting out. Chances are good that you're going to ding it up just carrying it around. If you can afford it (and it's necessary) a new wetsuit can be a pretty good investment. See the upcoming FAQ on wetsuits for recommendations. You can usually wheedle the wax out of the surfshop owner if you buy anything there. Some surfers pride themselves on never having bought a bar of wax.

Finding a partner:

IMHO, one of the most important things to have in learning to surf is someone to surf with. Aside from the obvious safety reasons - cuts your chances of being eaten by a shark in half :) - a partner will give you moral support, keep you stoked when you get frustrated, keep you from sleeping in when its good, talk you into paddling out when its big, and mostly be a friend.

There are two schools of thought here:
1. Find someone good to teach you to surf. and
2. Find someone else who wants to learn and teach each other.

I subscribe to the second approach. Probably because that's how I learned and because when one person is better than the other someone is probably not having a very fun session. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy teaching people. But if its cranking on the outside, either I'm gonna be bored on the inside with the beginner, or he's gonna be in over his head on the outside.

[Ken Strayhorn Jr. accurately adds:]

Your friend you must choose carefully. He will become your brah, and over time will mean more than anyone else on this planet. Besides surfing, you will drink copious amounts of beer, smoke pounds of pot, and chase boxcar loads of women together. You will lend each other money when times are tight. You will never ask each other for gas cash. You will inform him when his ass crack is showing over his pants. If he doesn't like the woman you are seeing you will drop her like a hot rock. Conversely, if your new woman thinks your brah is a jerk, that's a sign that she's a bozo and should be avoided.

Boards and wetsuits will be shared. You will hoot for each other on fine days. You will badmouth anyone who drops in on him. People will come to view you as a team. Surf nazis will avoid you because they know that to fight one of you is to fight both of you.

And, years later when you are 40 years old and you and your brah are sitting on a break somewhere listening to the younger guys yacking it up, you will smile and know deep in your soul that there is nothing finer than surfing and the people you do it with.

Finding a place to surf:

Go to your nearest surf shop and ask people where a good break to learn is. Be honest about your abilities, surfers are a pretty friendly lot. Also, watch for the upcoming FAQ - "Where can I learn to surf without being killed, beaten, or eaten?"

Before paddling out:

Sit and watch the surf for a while. Watch what people are doing. Where is everybody sitting, where do they paddle out. Where do the waves break? As waves get bigger they break further out, so if everyone is sitting farther out than where the waves are currently breaking, it means that there are bigger sets coming. Watch for them.

Stretch. While you're watching the break, stretch your arms and back. Limber up.

Getting in the water:

You've noted where other people head out. Wax your stick and head down to that spot. Put your leash on. (Digression: Decide whether you're going to be a regular-foot (left foot forward) or a goofy-foot. Try both while standing on shore and see what feels better.) Put your leash on your back leg. Walk your board out until the water is about waist deep and hop on. Position yourself on the board so that the nose is just barely (2-3") out of the water. Too little and you'll be going under, too much and you'll wear yourself out pushing water.

Paddling out:

Go for nice, even, alternating strokes. When you have to get through the white water get up some speed and then either:

a. Plow right through it.
b. Raise your chest up with your arms so that the water passes between you and the board.
c. Turtle. Just as the wave is about to hit you, roll over on your back (roll the board too), and pull the nose of the board down. Then roll back up.
d. Duck-dive. Raise up on one knee, push the nose of the board under the wave and follow with your body. (This takes lots of practice). (See following notes on duck-diving)
e. Bail. Make sure no one is within 20-30' of you, get off your board, and dive for the bottom. This is for emergencies only. You lose a great deal of distance this way, and you endanger people around you.

Duck Diving:

(By Morgan Perry)

I have found a few things most helpful in my duck-diving:

1) Try to have some forward momentum before you give up paddling to begin pressing your board down. This provides some counter to the force of the wave in the direction of shore. Even if it is just a couple of strokes before the angry whiteness consumes you, you will come out further than a couple of strokes ahead of where you would have it you had not gotten going forward.

2) Push your board as deeply under as possible. The more of your body that you get above water quickly will result in getting the board deeper under. Sometimes I even tilt my board to the side in the water so that there is less resistance to it going down. Some people use only their arms and their knee(s) to push the board down. I like using the ball of one of my foot instead and to raise the other one high to provide more weight on the board.

3) Immediately before the surf subsumes you, pull yourself down to the board and angle the board slightly up to the perceived other side of the break. Too much angle and the nose of the board will catch the break and push you backwards. Not enough and the back of the board will be caught in the suction of the wave as it rushes by you and it won't help pull you through. If you have the right upward angle, and your hands are toward the front of the board, probably about where you press up from, you can thrust the board to the other side of the wave and it will help pull you through.

4) A key is not to stay under for as long as possible, just to start deep and shoot up as far on the other side of the turbulence as possible. The sooner you get back up the surface and balanced on your board, the sooner you are able to start paddling again... and that's the only way you really get outside anyway.

The line-up:

Once you get to where people are sitting around (in the water, if they're on the beach, you've been paddling the wrong way :)) sit back and take it easy for awhile. Watch what others are doing. A nice gesture is to say hello to the others in the water. This lets them know that you acknowledge their existance and will not run them over or drop in on them. Don't be chatty though. A simple "Hello", "Howzit", "G'Day" or li'dat is fine.

Catching a wave:

This is the first of many hurdles in learning to surf. The wave knowledge - knowing which wave to paddle for and which to let pass, and the timing - when to start paddling, how fast, how much to arch your back, and when to get to your feet, are things that no one can teach you. They will come with time spent surfing.

[That said, Clark Quinn graciously offers these tips:]

The rules:

Surfing tends to be pretty free form but there are certain accepted rules, mostly based on safety and common sense.

Author: chrispy@bcsaic.boeing.com (Chris Payne)

Contributors to this FAQ:

Posted by: Tom Tweed
La Jolla, CA
e-mail: tweedt@ucsd.edu or tweedt@aol.com

"Don't let your mouth write no check
that your tail can't cash."
-- Bo Diddley


Mountain Man's Global News Archive

FAQ: Learning to Surf

by Chris Payne via Tom Tweed

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia - Southern Summer 1996