Learn to Surf at Bondi Beach
This page is for anyone interested in learning to surf. We cover off the basics, from choosing the right beginners board right through to the practical steps you need to take to get up and standing. Remember if you get the basics right then the rest will be a lot easier to master.
Learning to surf can change your life. But it’s more than just the thrill of dropping down a rising wave. It’s more than the feeling of speed or the exhilaration you feel when the enormity of the ocean is tamed for a few brief moments. It’s about watching the sun rise up from the ocean, the smell of salt and the lapping of the water against your board as you sit beyond the break. And it’s about the friends you make, the shared experience, the places you go and the places you dream about.
So why not pop down to the local surf shop for a bit of a chinwag. You'll never look back.
Choosing a board
Your local surf shop is probably the first place to go when choosing a board. They are usually staffed by a bunch of guys and girls that really love what they do and they are generally more than happy to chat about a beginners needs. They might even let you take out a board to trial if you are lucky and a lot of places rent them by the hour.
The main types of boards
Shortboard: Since the late 1960s, many of the surfboards in common use have been of the shortboard variety, between 1.8m to 2.1m (6′ to 7′) in length with a pointed nose and a rounded or squarish tail. The typically have three "skegs" (fins). Surfers generally find a shortboard quick to manoeuvre compared with other types of surfboards, but because of a lack of flotation, due to the smaller size, the shortboard is harder to catch waves with, often requiring steeper, larger and more powerful waves and very late takeoffs, where the surfer catches the wave at the critical moment before it breaks.
Longboards: The longboard is primarily a single-finned surfboard with large rounded nose and length of 2.4m to 3.7m (8′ to 12′). Noseriders are a class of longboards which enable the rider to walk to the tip and nose ride. These are also called "Mals", a shortened form of "Malibu boards". They range from 2.4m to 4.3m (8′ to 14′) long, or 0.91m (3′) taller than the rider in overall length.
The advantage of a longboard is its substantial buoyancy and planing surface enable surfers to ride waves generally deemed too small to propel a shortboard. Longboards are more suitable for beginners because of the board's size and ease of catching waves.
Basically your weight, age and general aptitude is going to dictate what sort of board is going to work best for you. That being said the following three points should be kept in mind.
Length - when you start out the length of the surfboard is pretty much the most important thing to watch. And realistically the longer the better. A board 30cm to 60cm taller than your own height is a reasonable guideline. Simply put, the longer the board the easier you will find paddling.
Thickness - A thicker board floats better and in turn will give you more of a glide when you are ready to stand up. You will need to consider a thicker surfboard if you are on the heavier side Generally a 6cm to 10cm thick surfboard should be OK.
Width - A wider surfboard will be more forgiving when learning, again being easier to paddle and provide a more stable platform. Look for width in the nose, centre and tail of the board.
If you are going to surf regularly and look to progress then a classic epoxy board may be the way forward, but if you are only looking to surf now and then, or if you are a bit on the larger size then a softboard or pop-out might work best. Mals and mini-mals are ideal beginner surfboards.
Softboard - "Softies" or "Foamies" are as the name suggests have a foam core, with timber stringers for strength, and have a soft outer layer, which allows them to be more forgiving to the novice. These surfboards are often very buoyant, big and stable in the water. They come in all shapes and sizes to suit all ages. The longer Mal types are generally more suitable for teens and adult learners. A three fin arrangement is common.
Pop-outs - These are tough beginners boards with plenty of float. They are made of a foam core with a thick fiber glass coating and can stand a lot of abuse! They tend to be a cheaper alternative than a custom surfboard and hold their resale value once you want to trade up to a custom surfboard.
If you can afford either the time or the money, a formal lesson is probably a good investment. There are plenty of surf schools to chose from and it's always fun learning something new in a group.
Choose the beach
Learning on the wrong sort of wave is going to be a disheartening experience. Pick a beach with an easy, spilling, mushy break wave in the 60cm to 120cm range. Keep away from rock or reef breaks, and the flags if the beach is patrolled, and let common sense be your guide.
Avoid big crowds, be aware of where your board may go if you lose control of it and always use a leash i.e. the ankle strap and cord that attaches to your board.
Also it’s worth mentioning that some locals can get a bit possessive of the good breaks. It’s not so bad in the city beaches but in some places it can get “interesting”. So be polite, check out the lay of the land so to speak and if someone is on a wave before you, give him/her right of way.
Surf breaks vary enormously and if you try to learn at the wrong one it can be really discouraging, will slow down your learning and probably get you hurt.
Paddling is an essential surfing skill so lots of practice at this will bring its rewards. Start in small waves and if possible paddle out when there is a lull in the waves. It's best to walk your board out until you are in waist deep water, then lay your body on the deck of your surfboard.
On a shortboard keep your weight centred on the middle of the board and on a longboard position yourself so the nose is around 2.5cm out of the water. The trick is to find the optimum trim position for the board which will provide least resistance when paddling. Once you feel the board gliding through the water with ease you'll have found the ideal trim, so remember your position and stick with it.
Start to paddle using a crawl stroke with your arms, using cupped hands to increase the pull. If you hit bumpy water or "chop", lift your chest slightly and lessen your weight on the board so the nose and rails don't go under.
Once you have learnt to balance your right and left sides, head, and legs, paddle your board out to the line up you're on the way!
Remember not to paddle straight through the heart of the lineup where people are surfing. Paddle out through the channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing. Sometimes at spread out beach breaks this is hard, but usually there is a less crowded area to paddle through. And if the lineup is crowded try to go out to a less crowded beginner break.
Duck-diving is a technique to allow you to pass under breaking waves when paddling out, rather than getting hammered by each breaking wave. Duck-diving applies to shortboards which are smaller and lighter, for longboards there are a number of techniques used to achieve the same result.
To duck-dive a shortboard, try to have as much paddling speed as possible when approaching the wave. At about 60cm (2') before making contact with the white water, grab both rails (edges of the surfboard) halfway between the nose and midpoint of your board. Push all your upper body weight onto your hands and arms until you feel the nose begin to go under. Point your head down and let your body follow.
Once your body is just below the surface,bend your front leg and use that knee to push the tail under the wave. Your momentum should thrust you under the quickly passing wave and only require you to be under water for a short time. As the wave passes let the flotation of your board lift you to the surface. Now you have the skill to paddle to the lineup or to the next wave and duck under it.
For paddling out on a longboard there are a few ways of tackling the breaking waves: The Eskimo roll, slice and duck, push-ups and the shoot and scoot. On smaller waves the push-up technique is probably best. Just push up your chest and the wave will pass under your body and over the board.
The Eskimo roll is the old school method of getting out back. It's simply a matter of grabbing the board and rolling it over so that the wave passes over the top of you. This is maybe not the most effective method as there is a chance you can get drilled by the wave and pushed further back to shore.
The slice and duck is executed by pushing down on one side of the surfboard so that it slices/sinks into the water, at the same time push down on the deck so that the board nose ducks under the water in the same way as a duck dive.
The shoot and scoot method is where you sit at the back of your board and sink the tail, grabbing the rails around the centre of the board so it rises above the oncoming wave. Don't grab the surfboard at the nose or allow the nose to raise too much as you'll flip the board.
Catching a Wave
To begin with, rather than paddling straight out the back into the line up, it's best to catch a few broken whitewater waves in shallower water. You should have your ideal trim/paddling position at this stage, so point your board directly towards the beach and as the white water approaches paddle towards shore.
The wave should pick you up and push you forward which is an unmistakable feeling, however if your board pearls or nosedives you have set off positioned too far forward on the board, likewise if the wave passes under you are positioned too far back on the board.
It's fun to catch and ride a few to the beach whilst still laying down to get the feeling of the wave, after that it's time to stand up which we will go onto in the next section. Once you have the hang of catching white water it's time to use those paddling skills and get out into the lineup to catch the unbroken waves which is what surfing is all about.
Once in the lineup, past where the waves are breaking, sit up and straddle your board (you might want to practice the art of sitting on your board as it takes a little time to find your balance). Always face out to sea until you are ready to catch a wave. Practice swinging the nose of the board left or right so that you can easily turn around to catch an oncoming wave. Pick a wave that has not broken and be sure to sit far enough out among the sloping swells,not where the waves are standing up straight.
As a wave approaches, turn the nose of your board toward the beach, lay down and begin paddling. As you feel the wave lift you and your board, paddle as hard as you can and lean your weight forward. The natural tendency is to lean back to keep the nose from going under water, but that will only slow your momentum which in not conducive to wave-catching.
Lean forward but raise your chest so that your weight is just above the centre of the board. You should now be sliding down into the trough of the wave. The first phase of surfing will entail that you wait until you are in the flat water in front of the wave before you stand up. However, the ideal is to begin standing just as you feel the pull of the wave. Now you are ready to work on standing.
Remember the surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if you’re paddling for a right, and a surfer on your left is also paddling for it, or about to take off, you must yield to him or her. Dropping in is probably one of the biggest no-nos you can do as a beginner. Also avoid “Snaking", which is when a surfer paddles around another surfer in order position himself to get the right of way for a wave.
Standing up on a surfboard can look very easy but once you place that surfboard on a moving, pitching, surge of swirling water where you must simultaneously leap from a prone position while weighting and unweighting left, right, front, and back just to keep from diving face forward, you'll soon realise a lot of practice will be needed!
The place to start to stand is on the beach. Firstly you will need to know which foot will feel most natural to you in the forward position. The left foot forward is called natural stance and the right foot forward is a goofy foot stance. The way to find out which way you swing is to stand up straight, close your eyes and ask a friend to gently nudge you forward, the foot that goes out first to steady yourself is your leading foot!
The motion from prone to standing is called the pop-up, which is basically a quick push up to your feet. Lie the board on the sand (watch the fins) and do a push-up, once your arms are at full extension, pull both knees toward your stomach and hop to your feet. If you practice this regularly it will help when in the water.
The next step is to get out there and do it. It will be best to start in the whitewater:
Step 1 Paddle for a wave and just as you feel the momentum of the surfboard flow faster than your paddling speed, you are ready to hop up.
Step 2 With your hands firmly grasping each rail push up quickly.
Step 3 Simultaneously, extend your arms completely and pull your knees quickly up to your chest. Be sure to keep your weight centred with just a little slant forward.
Step 4 Place your feet firmly on your board, one foot near the tail and one foot just above the midpoint of the board.
Step 5 Don't stand up completely erect. Keep a low centre of gravity by crouching down and focusing your weight on the midpoint of the board. Keep your arms out, your eyes looking forward and balance.
Remember to try and maintain control of your board at all times. Otherwise someone is going to get hurt, including quite possible yourself. If you’re paddling out or attempting a bigger wave than you can handle don't just ditch your board and dive under. Keep contact with it and be aware of others in your immediate vicinity.
Angle on a Wave
Once you've mastered paddling and standing, it's time to climb to the next level of wave riding. The real aim of any surfer is to angle along on the open face of the wave parallel with the beach, getting the longest possible ride with the greatest amount of speed. You should decide which direction (right or left) you will ride as you begin paddling for an oncoming wave.
Understanding and predicting wave behaviour will come with time, but how you approach your drop-in will depend on the typeof wave you are riding. If you are surfing a mushy, sloping wave, then you may want to start angling to the right of left even while you paddle which is a more effective use of the wave's energy and helps you to stay ahead of the whitewater.
However, on a more critical/hollow wave, a surfer must follow his/her drop line to the flat trough of the wave in order to avoid digging a rail or nose and thus falling during the drop. The technique of turning the surfboard is relatively simple.
While keeping a low centre of gravity with legs bent at the knees, lightly lean your weight in the direction you choose and towards the wave face. This will push the rail into the water and create a keel effect, cutting into the water and directing the board in the direction you choose. On a longboard the principle is the same but you will need to use the rear section of your board to turn, if you lean whilst too far forward the rail will dig and its end of ride.
So that's it, get out there and have some fun.