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.
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 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
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
BACK TO TOP
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
BACK TO TOP
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
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
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
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.
BACK TO TOP
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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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