Introduction | Paddling | Wave Knowledge | The Right Board | Lessons 
Safety | Surfing Etiquette | Care and Maintenance | Wax and Tail Pads

Introduction
You are about to start out on an experience that will change your life forever. Surfing will be one of the most frustrating things you have ever tried to do and one of the most satisfying.

Surfing will make you stronger and thinner, even though you might eat a whole pizza after a long session on the water. You will feel better, sleep better and stress will be gone from your life.

Beginner surfers come in all ages and in 2005 there were as many girls as boys taking up the sport. Many adults mistakenly think they are too old to take up surfing. Age doesn’t matter, what matters more is the ability to swim and the stubborn attitude needed to not give up during the learning process.

Paddling
Strength or more specifically paddling strength makes everything else to do with surfing much easier. There is no shortcut to becoming a strong paddler. Lessons won’t make you strong, only paddling your surfboard will.

Paddle around when waiting for waves to come in. Paddle on a lake or on the bay, just keep paddling right hand over then left hand over. Reach out as far forward as you can, paddle deep with your hand cupped tightly and finish your stroke cleanly behind you without creating drag as you remove your hand from the water.

Becoming a strong paddler will make it easier to get out through the breaking surf. Getting out quick preserves precious energy, which you will need later. Strong paddlers catch every wave they attempt to catch, and get the best waves in crowded conditions. A strong paddler will also catch the wave a second sooner allowing him to get to his feet before the board starts to drop out from under him. And finally strong paddlers rarely get into trouble when caught by a rip current or being blown towards a rock pile, because a strong paddler simply knuckles down and paddles out of trouble.
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Wave Knowledge
Wave knowledge is earned the hard way. No two waves on the planet are identical. If you sat on the same beach all day and studied the waves coming in, every one would break differently.

So how do you ride something that is constantly changing shape while it moves up, over and in? You need wave knowledge baby. You have to know so much about waves that you can look ahead while surfing and predict what the wave is about to do next before it does it.

Lessons will not teach you wave knowledge. You get good at reading waves from all the times the wave knocks you off. We as humans tend to learn real fast to avoid uncomfortable things like getting nailed by a head high closeout. Learning to surf is about learning how to avoid mistakes.
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The Right Board
Many people come into our shop wanting to surf. The adults and the kids are all astonished at the size of board we usually recommend. They watch the experienced surfers ripping it up on the little boards and they want to surf like them. They sometimes object to the storage and transportation problems encountered with a larger board.

Why do we try to sell you a big board? Because we want learning to surf to be a fun and an easy experience. The more waves you catch and the more times you get to your feet the more you learn. Falling, although a skill that needs to be learned and is addressed in the safety section, is not as much fun as riding a wave all the way into the beach. And a big board will allow you to catch and stand up on lots of waves. Many of the best surfers only ride a longboard in big and small waves.

A funboard is just a short longboard. When you are learning, you want to make sure the board is wide and long and has the thickness to provide plenty of floatation.

Most modern boards have three fins but if you can find a good deal on an older used single fin design, grab it. There is nothing wrong with a single fin.

If you go shopping for a used board, carefully inspect the deck or top of the board for depressions where the deck has caved in. Press down on the fiberglass to make sure the glass has not delaminated (delamination feels soft) or peeled up from the interior foam. Beware of boards with an excessively thick layer of wax. Some shady dealers will heavily wax up a damaged board to make the damage hard to see, request that all the wax be scraped off if you are suspicious. If there are some depressions but the glass still seems to be bonded well, (not soft) go ahead and buy the board but the price should reflect this wear and tear. Don’t worry about small holes or dings they can be easily fixed and should have been fixed before the board was put up for sale. Again, the price should reflect this wear and tear also. Finally, inspect the fins and around the fin boxes to make sure there is no severe damage from running the fins up onto shallow water.

The bigger the better within a range that you can handle. When I lend my 12 footer out to both adults and kids, they don’t want to give it back to me. They are catching so many waves and having a ton of fun. And that is what builds confidence. Being confident that you will eventually get better is one of the keys to learning to surf. Now all that being said we rarely sell a 12 footer. Why? The reason is most people don’t want to deal with the storage and transportation problems of a 12 footer and compromise with something shorter. The sizes I will recommend below are general. You must consider age, strength, and natural ability. Longer and wider boards go along way in making up for being born with two left feet.

Most surfboards we sell are to kids in their early teens. A seven foot six funboard is the most popular size. Remember, however, teenagers grow fast. In four years a 14-year-old boy will be an 18-year-old and will have grown six inches and put on 30 to 50 pounds. An 8 to 12 year old we might sell a little smaller seven foot two inch board. A smaller child might need a smaller board. Don’t base the size on “whether they can carry it” smaller kids can’t carry the proper size board to learn on and will need help.
Older teens and adults can vary in size so dramatically that weight becomes more important in deciding what size surfboard to buy. A thin 20-year-old girl might be fine with a seven foot six inch surfboard but her 19-year-old 225-pound brother might need a nine foot six inch board. An older guy who is going to give surfing a try probably shouldn’t look at anything under nine foot long. As you can see “what size” is not so simple. When in doubt go long.

Soft fins and soft surfboards – The back or trailing edge of most surfboard fins are very sharp. Some surfers have gone 20 years without ever being cut others have received 100 stitches in their first week. I personally have had two cuts in 30 years of surfing. Both were to the back of my head and required 7 stitches.

There are soft fins and soft trailing edge fins on the market now for pretty much every brand of surfboard. Soft fins should reduce the chances of a laceration dramatically. They will cut down on performance somewhat depending on the kind of soft fins that they are but beginners especially little ones should not be so concerned with performance for a few years anyway. Some manufacturers provide soft fins with their beginner boards, others don’t and you have to pay extra for them.

Soft surfboards are made out of a lot of different materials. It seems like every company is trying to get into the soft surfboard business. And each company is building them out of different materials. Some are awesome and high tech and others are a waste of money. I would recommend you stay away from boards that are soft all the way through. Most of these are made out of boogie board foam and have way too much flex in them. The companies try to glue a stringer into the middle to stiffen them up but the rails still flex like a wet sponge and later on when you start learning to turn the rail needs to be stiff so you can develop a hard carving turn. If you can pick one up real cheap used, it wouldn’t be bad for the first summer but your skills will soon go beyond what the board can do. Brand new they are not cheap and beware the stringers commonly snap in the center making the board pretty useless for anything other than riding in on your stomach.

High tech soft surfboards are actually hard boards made from fiberglass and then wrapped in a thin layer of E.V.A. foam. They have all the advantages of a softbord being soft in case of impact to your body. And they provide amazing traction, which is way better than surfboard wax. Surfboard wax can be pretty slippery for a beginner. The high tech softboards however don’t flex, float better, and can have hard fins installed in them at a later date if you decide to start out with a soft fin at first.
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Lessons
Lessons can help you to avoid common mistakes that all beginners seem to make. Group lessons are of less help because each individual in the group is making different mistakes sometimes. An individual lesson would probably be able to address your shortfalls more accurately.

The most common mistake novices make is when paddling. They tend to lay to far back on the surfboard causing the nose to point up at the sky to varying degrees. They do this because it is easier to keep their balance when half their body is dragging in the water behind the surfboard and only their chest and stomach are making contact with the tail of the surfboard. The problem is the surfboard cannot be paddled very fast this way. It you can’t paddle fast you will have a much harder time trying to get out through the breaking waves and won’t catch many waves if you catch any at all. You must slide up further toward the nose until the nose is only two or three inches off the waters surface. Yes that makes it harder to keep your side to side balance but if you want to catch waves you must learn to paddle from this position.

The second biggest mistake I see all the time is beginners trying to get up to their feet slowly. You are stable when laying on the board and surprisingly fairly stable when standing. But when getting up you are completely off balance so make it happen as quickly as possible. Do not get up on one knee first and then try to stand on the opposite foot as this results in all your body weight being put on that one knee which is going to be way off center near the rail. The result is usually the board flipping over sideways to the side the knee is on.

Paddle as hard as you can as the wave approaches if you have acquired good wave knowledge you won’t be to early or late. As the wave starts to propel you forward toward the beach, pull your hands out of the water and place them palms down just under and behind your chest and shove your chest into the air as you push off the deck with both knees. Ideally, you will lift your upper body high enough in the air that you can pull both feet under you and plant them solidly on the center of the deck of the board. One foot should be ahead of the other and your toes should be pointing off to the left (goofy foot) or right (regular foot) side of the board. Feet should be about shoulder width apart and most of your weight should be on the rear foot. Placing a lot of weight on the front foot is beginner mistake number three. The result will be the nose going under water (pearling) and you will then go flying forward over the front of the board. Pearling can result in some bruising injuries as the board then surfaces and strikes you.

The way to master the palms down chest lifting move is to practice at home over and over on your living room rug. Practice every day until you are fast and smooth.

Enjoy the drop in as you shoot down the wave face and start racing toward the beach. Try over and over to master these moves and be happy just going straight in. Later, you will try turning after completing the drop in and you will end up riding parallel to the beach climbing up and down the wave face. Facing the wave is called “frontside” and with your back to the wave looking over your shoulder is called “backside”.

You are now mastering the basics and will start getting a little over confidant. Use common sense and don’t go out in waves or conditions that are way beyond your skill level. If a hurricane or big northeaster arrives and the waves jump up to head high and barreling it might be a good day to just watch if your only experience so far has been ankle slappers.
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Safety
Surfing is listed as number 82 in the federal government’s list of the 100 most dangerous sports. In other words it’s a pretty safe sport. Riding a bike is number 2 in fatalities per 100,000 participates. Yet many parents who let their kids ride a bike every day without a helmet are afraid to let their children take up surfing. In anything you do in life using common sense will help prevent most injuries, since some people don’t think about injury until they are in the emergency ward.

Obviously, if you are not a confident swimmer you have no business taking up surfing. You don’t have to be a Olympic swimmer but you need to be confident so you don’t freak out if a big wave holds you under for awhile or if a rip current starts pulling you out into deeper water. If you are confident you will relax and deal with whatever situation you are in and get out of it.

The sun causes cancer. We all know it but we all tend to ignore it and fail to wear sunscreen. Get a good waterproof sunscreen and wear it religiously. You will still get tan. A rash shirt is rated at a 40 SPF. Most everyone wears a rash shirt or in colder weather a wetsuit. Some areas are still not protected though so wear sunscreen on exposed skin.

Most beginners only surf in warm water so hypothermia is less of a threat, but we will get days in the summer after a hard wind where the cold ocean water will get pushed off the bottom and onto the beach. A wetsuit is a good thing to have with you at all times even if you don’t need it at that moment. Get a spring suit first before any other luxury wetsuit gear. A spring suit has short arms and short legs and a surfing springsuit has the zipper in the back. Some diving springsuits have the zipper in the front, which is very uncomfortable when lying on the surfboard. You will find yourself wearing your springsuit all the time if you have one. Greenhead flies can’t bite you on the back when wearing your spingsuit, which can be reason enough to have one on.

The fins, as discussed above in the softboard section, are sharp and can cause severe lacerations. You will fall a lot when learning to surf. Even the best professional surfers fall off their surfboards. When you fall, try to get away from your surfboard as you fall. You want to end up toward the ocean not toward the beach. The surfboard is getting hurled toward the beach by the wave you are on or possibly the next wave so if you can stay on the ocean side of it, you minimize the chance of it striking you or the fins striking you.

The best way to get away from your board when “wiping out” is to do a shallow dive through and out the back of the wave toward the open ocean. The word shallow needs to be stressed because a deep dive especially toward the beach can cause you to strike your head on the ocean bottom. In NJ that can result in a broken neck, and in the tropics a coral reef is even less forgiving.

Since we were kids we all learned that if we were swimming, ducked under the waves, and pushed with our feet we could easily pop out the back of the wave and avoid its power. It’s the same thing, only you do it off the surfboard and the push off with your feet to get some distance between you and the board. Every wipeout is different however and there have been times where I needed to improvise and use my hands or feet to push the board away as I fell toward it to avoid impact.

Sometimes you just get hammered and the wave controls the entire situation. You body goes one way and the board goes another way. As you plunge under water you have no idea where your board is. As you come to the surface the board could be toward the beach (fairly safe), toward the ocean (fairly dangerous), or it could be flinging around up in the air about to plunge down through the waters surface and strike you just as you surface (very dangerous). This is how I received both of the cuts to the back of my head. I was also struck in the throat once when I was young. I surfaced and looked toward the beach for my board. It wasn’t there so I turned around toward the ocean to look for it and there it was coming in sideways on the next wave and it hit me in the throat. Also, there are other people out surfing with you who may have wiped out behind you and have lost control of their surfboard, which can also be a source of injury.

I now follow the same routine whenever I fall off and go under water. First, I try to feel the leash tugging on my ankle. If I feel that tug chances are that the board is toward the beach (fairly safe). If I don’t feel the tug, I stay under water a little longer. This gives the board a chance to come down if its up in the air or to pass harmlessly over top of me and then I will feel the tug on my ankle leash. As I surface, I always come up with my fists over my head and my forearms and elbows in front of my chest and face. Your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees and simply look through the space between your forearms for your board or any other possible threat. As soon as you spot your board, reach out and grab it and get back out there to catch another wave.

Wearing a leash can be a pain sometimes when it gets caught between your toes or wraps around your ankles just as you stand up on the best wave of the day. But the advantages of staying with your board, which is your life preserver or of always knowing where your board is, as discussed above during wipeouts, are more important. So wear a leash and become familiar with how to take it off quickly if needed.

There are a lot of stupid ways surfers get hurt by not using common sense. Jumping off jetties or the ends of piers. Riding close behind another person on the same wave. Surfing during a lightening storm. Paddling out into 20-foot hurricane surf with not enough experience. There are too many stupid things that have been done to mention them all. Just use your head before making decisions and you will be fine.
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Surfing Etiquette
Yes there is a right way and wrong way to handle yourself in the water. What bothers one old time surfer might not bother another so I’ll address the things that bother everybody.

Beginners clearly don’t belong out in the most powerful waves. They should stay in close and practice in the smaller easier to ride waves closer in to the beach or off to the side of where the bigger harder breaking waves are occurring.

Most surfers are going to share waves and if you come out in deep water and paddle for a big one you owe it to the other guys to catch it. One or more surfers probably backed off to let you have it and its frustrating to give up “the wave of the day” to a guy who either got scared or just wasn’t physically ready to catch it. So on big days don’t come out with the big boys until your ready to play.

The unwritten rule is first guy up on his feet has the wave and the others who were trying for it should back off and let him have it. Some surfers believe the one furthest back and closest to the biggest part of the wave should get priority. The guy closest to the “peak” should be able to get up first anyway so the two interpretations are actually the same. This means if a guy has the wave and is standing up you don’t “drop in” on him if you’re out on the “shoulder” still trying to catch it. It’s ok however to catch the wave and go the opposite direction of the guy whom has claimed the wave by getting up first. This is sometimes handled by verbal communication before the wave is caught, by two guys who are close together trying for the same wave. One might yell to the other “I’m goin right” This means the left is yours for the taking. If the guy your yelling at is closest to the peak he has priority and he may also plan on going right or he could be a gentleman and go left just so both of you can share the wave. If there is no verbal communication, you should indicate which way you are going to not only the other guys trying for the wave but also the guys paddling out in front of you with your body language.

Everyone is watching if you have your board angled one way or the other or if you have your head turned and are concentrating your eyesight in a certain direction. That being said, always look quickly in the other direction to make sure you are not “dropping in” on somebody else. I always get po’d by someone who looks one way the whole time and then gets up and comes the opposite direction which is the way I have gone.

All these rules should be obeyed twice as much when in a foreign country or out of town when you’re surfing with the locals who have been riding that break since they were kids. If you have guys paddling out in your way, try not to get to close to them. If you can’t handle turning on command to avoid running into another surfer, you don’t belong out there. If you wipe out, don’t do it right in front of a guy paddling out where you may loose control of your board and it takes somebody’s teeth out. If you have to “bail out” before coming close to someone else, do it. Better you shorten your ride a little bit than hurt someone with your loose board.

The best surfers rarely loose control of their board. They usually turn it though the back of the wave and go from standing, back to laying down, and paddling all in one smooth motion.

The guys paddling out as mentioned above are watching you body language intently to see which way they have to paddle out. When paddling out, you always paddle behind the guy who is riding the wave, never in front of him. It’s easier to paddle in front of him because the wave hasn’t broke yet but you must go behind him and punch through the whitewater, which is chasing him.

Never let go of your board when attempting to “duck dive” through a breaking wave. If you have to, look behind you first because other surfers may be paddling right behind your feet in order to give the riders less obstacles to have to maneuver around.

Cursing and screaming might not bother some guys while others are out there trying to relax and clear their heads of all the days problems in peace and quiet.

A little compliment to someone who just had an awesome ride might go along way in breaking the ice when out with strangers.
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Care and Maintenance
Surfboards are fragile. A competition weight glass job on a polyester board is about as resistant to cracking as a hard-boiled egg. If you don’t get free surfboards, you should look for something stronger. A stronger polyester surfboard will weigh a little more but just a few pounds of extra glass can add years to the lifespan of your surfboard. Weight however is not the only factor in strength.

The chemicals that are used in glassing surfboards have to be mixed precisely based on the temperature and humidity. If it’s too hot or humid, glassing should not even be done. Small manufacturers who work out of their garages or rental spaces can’t control the quality of their glass jobs without controlling the temperature and humidity of their glassing rooms.

Some manufacturers both big and small sub out their glassing to outside glassing sweatshops, especially in California. Some of these places consistently do lousy glassing and some have superb quality. Manufacturers who do their own glassing in house in professional glassing rooms using old timers who know what they are doing usually have the highest quality glassing on polyester surfboards. They also charge the most for their glassjobs. But some manufacturers who have low quality glass also charge a lot so even a high price does not guarantee quality.

The newest type of fiberglass used in surfboard production is epoxy rather than polyester. About 20 years ago a few adventurous surfboard shapers in Florida decided there has to be a better material to make surfboards out of. They wanted the boards light but they knew light weight polyester surfboards fell apart quickly so they experimented with Styrofoam as a core material and epoxy resin saturated into the fiberglass cloth. What they discovered after much trial and error the epoxy surfboards were much lighter and also more durable. As they experimented, the boards got even stronger. In the mid 1980’s we sold a line (now out of business) called Davo Surfboards. I still see many of these surfboards in use even though they were hand glassed with epoxy almost 20 years ago.

About 10 years ago we started carrying machine glassed epoxy surfboards made by Surftech. Machined glass boards are even lighter and stronger than hand glassed epoxy surfboards. The shapes are provided using a hand shaped model, which is then digitized and machine, shaped with computers. The glass quality and shapes are consistent which is something, which has been lacking in hand made surfboards. The surftechs are very light because of a 3 layer composite veneer that is used in the glassing. Other companies are making machine glassed epoxies using a very strong layer of epoxy-laden glass. Their boards are a little heavier but much stronger than even the Surftechs.

Another company we sell is using computers to make surfboards out of polycarbonate (shotgun proof) plastic. The machine they use is the same one used for NASCAR car bodies.

It is clear to me that technology is coming so fast to surfing that hand made polyesters are coming under a lot of pressure. The only advantage they have left is that hand shaped allows the consumer who is knowledgeable to have the board custom shaped, colored, and glassed to fit his needs. Most surfers are not that knowledgeable to design their own shape that works best for them.

A legal surfboard manufacturer who complies with all the regulations is under increasing pressure to make a profit. Its seems inevitable that the machine made surfboards, most of them coming from overseas, are going to replace the U.S. handmade surfing industry in sales. However the designing of those surfboards and the building of the prototypes will continue to be the sole territory of the expert surfboard shapers. Many of them have made deals that pay them for the use of their shapes by the machine made industry. Some of those shapers are making way more money off contracting out their shapes then they ever made building surfboards themselves. So don’t feel bad about buying a machine made composite board. The shaper is happy and you are getting a lighter and stronger board then can be made by hand.

So treat your polyester surfboard like raw egg. Try not to bang it on anything during transport. Don’t jump up and down on it on the beach and don’t let children play with it. If you do damage it, the rule of thumb is “if you can catch your fingernail on the damage it needs to be repaired.” You should learn how to do your own basic repairs if you are going to own a polyester surfboard.

We will be adding a section on repairs here at the web site in the future with photos. There is also a time to bring the board in to the shop and let us repair it. If it is in two pieces for instance. There is also a section on our message board if you have any questions about ding repair.
 
It’s a good idea to keep a piece of silver duck tape in your gear. Not the Grey sticky duck tape. That kind of tape leaks and lets water in. You want to get the shiny metallic type tape to use to cover a small crack until you have a chance to get it fixed. A vinyl sticker also makes a great temporary repair. NEVER put wax in a ding, this will only make the repair much more expensive!!!

Now if you have a composite/epoxy surfboard it will be much harder to crack. You still want to baby it but if you bump it on the deck railing on the way out of the house you probably wont crack the glass. Epoxy’s tend to scratch easy however because the finish is usually acrylic paint. It’s a good idea to store a high-end surfboard in a padded carrying case. Both polyester and high-end epoxies will continue to look new and have higher trade in value if kept religiously in a padded suitcase.

If you bust off a fin because you surfed into shallow water it is usually a simple repair. Just come by the shop and we will replace it with a new one. They are not very expensive. Try not to surf right up on the dry sand. Jump off the board when you are in knee deep water and walk it in the rest of the way.

At home store the surfboard up high near the ceiling so all the activities below don’t cause something to bang into your surfboard. There are plenty of different display racks on the market for this purpose.
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Waxes and Tail Pads
Wax goes on top of the surfboard. It provides traction on the smooth fiberglass. Surfboard wax is made from a combination of beeswax which is sticky and paraffin which is dry. Some people prefer a sticky formula and some prefer a drier flakier wax. No matter what you end up preferring to use always coat the board first with a dry base coat or tropical wax.

Wax is rated for the different water temperatures you may encounter in your world travels and during the different seasons. A tear round surfer in NJ may use tropical as a base coat and then put summer wax over it. As the water temps cool down in the fall, he may then rub cool wax on top of the summer wax. As the temperature of the water plummets in January and February, he will need very soft cold wax to maintain a grip on his surfboard. As the next season approaches. he will need to scrape all the soft wax off the surfboard and start all over again for the next warm season.

Cleaning all the wax off is best accomplished by leaving the surfboard out in the sun until the wax softens but doesn’t yet melt. You then use a plastic scraper to scrape it up into a ball and dispose of the ball in the trash. If you want to now clean the film of wax remaining on the board, you will need some kind of oily solvent. The best solvent is the cheapest and that would be kerosene on a rag. There are also products made from orange oil made just for this purpose.

A tail pad or stomp pad is sometime placed on the tail area between the side fins. This pad provides both protection for the board from the stomping of the rear foot but also provides superior traction to the rear foot which is the foot used for turning. A third benefit is the pad provides a target so that you can place the rear foot where it belongs between the forward fins. Stomp pads use a peel and stick glue and are best applied before any wax is rubbed on the tail which will interfere with the glue.
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