How to Surf

Ever wonder what its like to ride a wave, taking advantage of the free ride nature provides to those who have mastered the art of surfing? It can be daunting to think of yourself out in the surf and catching a wave!

Although some of the feeling of surfing can be replicated by skateboarding or strapping on a rental snowboard and headed to the closest ski resort, you still will not be able to truly match the essence of actually surfing until you hit the perfect wave on your longboard.

The first pre-requisite is knowing how to swim. This is less important today than in the early days of surfing, because today almost all surfers wear leashes to keep their boards next to them when they 'wipe out'.

However, what is required is a familiarity with being in the water that is over your head and being comfortable in this environment.

If you have any phobias about being in moving water and going underneath the waves, sometimes when you don't expect it, then the first step is to learn to be comfortable and at ease in the ocean before attempting to learn to surf.

The Fundamental Steps

Surfing can be broken down into three distinct steps: 1. Balance, paddling and turning the board

2. How to read the waves - where to position yourself to catch the wave - this is known as 'wave knowledge'

3. Getting up and riding the wave

For equipment, most schools use a recent technological advance - the 'soft board' - a long board (8 1/2 to 9 1/2 feet long) that has a sponge-rubber-like deck (the same material as a boogie board) and a harder plastic bottom. The 'rails', or sides of the board are also soft.

These boards are lighter and softer and, therefore, much safer if they hit someone.

Before the advent of these boards, there were lots of banged up heads and bruised bones from runaway longboards that would hit someone. That was also before surf-leashes, which now keep the board within the surfer's control.

As to balance, the easiest way to learn is in a swimming pool or lake. By spending time with the board, you learn your center of gravity, where to sit, how to turn by swirling your legs and paddling with your hands, and feeling very comfortable with the board.

Its a little harder to do in the ocean, because of the constant sets of waves coming in, but its still possible to learn balance at the beach.

Reading the waves is harder and takes practice. Watch how other surfers approach the waves. At each break, the waves usually will "peak" at, or near a certain spot. That is why you usually see the surfers clumped in a general area.

As the wave approaches and builds, it will either break left or right. The optimum part of the wave is where it starts to break, so the surfer can get the longest ride along its unbroken face in either direction before it breaks.

Knowing where to be when the wave comes, when to start paddling in the direction of the wave and, when you feel the board moving on its own, that is the time to stand and ride the wave, are important 'wave-knowledge' items.

The last thing to know is how to ride the wave. This, I believe, is actually the easiest part. One you have the first 2 parts down, actually riding the wave is why we do it... its a blast!

As you feel the board moving on its own, its time to stand up quickly and use your weight to steer and trim the board in the direction you want to go.

Most non-surfers think you catch a wave and ride it straight to the beach. Actually, you determine which way the wave will break best - to the left or the right, then paddle towards shore, but an a slight angle towards the direction you want to go.

Once you jump up, at the center of gravity on the board, you can move your feet slightly and shift body weight to turn the board in the direction of hte wave and ride the unbroken face as it peels along. This is the essence of surfing.

To practice getting up, lay the board in the sand. Now lay upon the board, positioning yourself as you've learned in the pool, to be in the center of the board. This means when you paddle, the nose of the board will be one to two inches above the water (rather than being buried in the water as you paddle if you are too far forward on the board.)

If you are too far back, the nose will be 3 to 12 inches in the air, and try as you might, your paddling will not really move you forward.

So back in the sand - practice doing a quick pushup on the board. Once that feels comfortable, this time as you push up, jump in one motion to a crouch, being aware of staying in the center of the board.

You can also practice this in a pool as well - paddling for momentum, then jumping to your feet and staying balanced.

These three steps are the building blocks to learning the absolute joy of riding waves. It is a sport that you can do well into older age. I''ve seen people in their 70's and 80's still catching waves... good for the body, good for the soul!

Surfing Schools

If you walk along the beach from 29th St. to 15th St. in Del Mar, you'll find several surf schools conducting training for young (and not so young) surf students. However, the quality varies widely... I've surfed near some of the students and asked what they're learning. Many said not much - just did a few exercises, then they sent them out on their own, with the "instructor" sitting on the beach watching his or her 20 plus students flailing away...

Others are much more thorough and comprehensive, including water safety and lifesaving techniques, as well as how to ride a wave.

While there are numerous surf schools in the Del Mar area, I am most comfortable recommending one because I love their approach: holistic. Its more thanjust training - its a full service provider that's worth checking out... Fulcrum Surf