We’re incredibly lucky here in the UK. As an island nation, we have miles of beautiful coastline – much of which is accompanied by rolling waves that are perfect for surfing.
Not only is surfing a thrilling way to spend some time in nature, but it also has many benefits for our minds and bodies. And once you catch your first wave, stand up, and feel the surge of euphoria as it carries you towards the shore, you’ll be hooked.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a short introduction to surfing. Below, you’ll find information on the benefits of surfing, what equipment you’ll need, and how to get started…
Why get involved in surfing?
There are plenty of reasons to get involved with surfing. For starters, it’s great for our physical health at any age. As an effective form of cardiovascular exercise, surfing can burn calories, boost heart health, and improve your overall fitness level.
It’s also a good way to strengthen muscles. Surfing is a form of ‘cross training’, meaning it engages various muscle groups, including your core, arms, legs, and back – giving you a satisfying full-body workout.
Anyone who’s spent any time in the ocean won’t be surprised to hear that surfing isn’t only good for our physical health, but our mental wellbeing too. Research suggests that interacting with blue spaces – like oceans, lakes, and rivers – can be particularly effective at reducing stress.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, surfing is great fun – whether you want to spend some time by yourself on the water or with friends and/or family.
Just remember that you’re never too old to enjoy surfing – just ask this 70-year-old grandmother of eight who’s still riding waves…
How do I start surfing?
Speak to any seasoned surfer and they’ll tell you that the best thing to do when starting out is to take a lesson or two. It’s the safest and quickest way to get to grips with the basics – and the quicker you learn, the more fun you’ll have.
Getting lessons from a qualified instructor will help you get familiar with the proper form and technique from the get-go. They’ll be on hand to watch and advise you so you don’t develop too many bad habits (a few are inevitable), and they can also provide first aid in the event of an accident.
What to expect from your first surfing lesson
Beginner surf lessons can vary depending on what surf school you go to. But typically, you’ll arrive at the beach, where you’ll be put into a group. You’ll then be given a large foam surfboard and a wetsuit (if you need one) – after which your instructor will take you through some safety information and surfing etiquette.
Next, you’ll be walked through the basic form and technique – from how to paddle and pop up (going from lying on your belly to a standing position) to how to catch your first wave and wipe out safely (you’ll be doing this a lot). You’ll practise all of this on the sand before heading out into the water.
Then, the fun begins, as you’ll get to try your new moves in the water. Though, don’t be discouraged if you don’t stand up in your first lesson – it requires a great deal of strength, balance, and skill, but you’ll get there if you keep trying.
Some things to think about before booking your first surfing lesson…
As we’ve already pointed out, surf lessons vary depending on where they’re being taught. For this reason, it’s worth thinking about what sort of lesson you’re looking for and doing some research before you book.
The first things to think about are class sizes and price. These two often go hand in hand – meaning the smaller the class size, the more expensive the lesson will be. So if you’re looking for a cheaper option, then a public group lesson would be your best bet.
Here, you’ll get paired up with a group of strangers (somewhere between five and 20), and you’ll all be taught at the same time by one or two instructors.
If you’re looking for something a little more intimate, then you could consider a private group lesson (where you can learn with your friends and/or family), or you could even opt for a one-to-one session.
The smaller the group, the more attention you’ll get from your instructor and so you might progress more quickly – although, as we’ve said, it’ll be more costly.
Most beginner lessons last around two hours. Though, if you live far from the coast, you may want to take a more intensive approach to make the most of your time on the beach. For example, it might be worth looking at half-day or full-day lessons.
Seasoned surfers will generally recommend having at least two or three lessons before you start practising in the water solo. Remember, you can always get another lesson when you need a refresher, or if want to unlearn some bad habits you’ve developed on your own.
How to prepare for your first surfing lesson
It might sound obvious, but it’s important that you’re a competent swimmer before you take your first surf lesson. This isn’t just for your own safety, but for the safety of others, as you could put your instructor and others trying to help you in potentially dangerous situations.
However, as most first lessons are conducted in waist-deep water, you’ll always be able to stand up – so you don’t need to be a 100m champion! Though, if you’re looking to brush up on your swimming skills, you can use this handy directory on the Swim England website to find lessons near you.
You’ll also need a relatively reasonable level of fitness if you’re going to enjoy your first surfing experience. It’s often called ‘the lazy man’s sport’, but surfing is anything but easy on the body. When you’re in the water, you’re constantly moving and working – using muscle groups that you wouldn’t usually.
So, if you’ve got some time between now and your first lesson, then you might want to prepare yourself physically by doing some swimming, interval training, or weight training (or a combination of all three).
Where to find a surfing lesson
In the UK, we’ve got a whopping 7,723 miles of coastline, and lots of that’s made up of surfable beaches – especially in the Southwest of England and Wales.
Though, there are also some great spots in the north – like Portrush in Northern Ireland and Saltburn in North Yorkshire. So if you live by the coast (or you’ve got a holiday planned), then it’s worth checking out if there’s a surf school nearby.
To find a surf school near you, why not use this handy directory from Surfing England? Or check out this list of the best surf schools from Country and Townhouse.
What equipment do I need to start surfing?
As with many sports nowadays, there’s plenty of surfing gear and accessories out there. But to get stuck into surfing in the UK, all you really need is a wetsuit and a board.
As we’ve already said, when you’re taking lessons, these will both be provided for you. Although, when you want to start practising surfing on your own, then you’ll need to get a hold of these yourself.
If you’re only going to be surfing a couple of times a year, then you probably won’t want to spend much – so you might want to consider renting what you need. Surf shops all over the country rent both wetsuits and boards for relatively reasonable prices.
However, if you’re planning on surfing regularly, then you might want to get your own equipment…
Humans certainly aren’t the most weather-proof of creatures, so if you’re looking to get into surfing, you’ll need to invest in a good wetsuit to keep you warm in the water.
Wetsuits are made of a synthetic rubber called neoprene. And they work by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. Your body then warms up this layer of water and it acts as insulation.
Now, you might be thinking, “If I’m learning in the summer, then surely I don’t need a wetsuit?” But, trust us, this isn’t a corner that’s worth cutting.
Firstly, here in the UK, even in the summer months, the water can get cold. You don’t want to have to end your surf session early because you’re chilly – especially if you live inland and only have limited time at the coast.
A wetsuit also provides various other forms of protection. For instance, it shields you from…
- Sea life like jellyfish – which can give you nasty stings.
- The sun – a wetsuit will prevent much of your body from burning. Sun damage is even more likely when surfing, as the water reflects the light and increases the amount of UV rays that hit your skin.
- Your board – which can rub and irritate bare skin. Its sharp fins can also cut you if you’re surfing with lots of exposed skin.
- The ocean floor – when you take a tumble, the sandy/rocky ocean floor can give you a bit of a scrape.
To find out about the best wetsuits for beginners, pros, and everyone in between, why not check out this article from T3? And to find out more about wetsuits and what kind might be the best for you, have a read of this wetsuit buying guide from Gwithian Academy of Surfing.
The next essential piece of equipment you’ll need to get your hands on if you’re looking to get stuck into surfing is, of course, a surfboard. There’s a wide range of different board types available, which all vary in length, weight, shape, and more.
Some of these board types are particularly suited to beginners. For instance, when you’re just starting out, a longer board (8-9 feet) makes things easier than a shorter board (7ft or shorter) in terms of stability.
It’s also best to go for a board with a rounded nose when you’re getting the swing of things because this increases buoyancy and makes paddling and catching waves easier.
So if you’re just starting out and looking to buy your own board, then here are two different types you may want to consider:
When it comes to surfboards, there are two broad categories: soft top and hardboards. What most people picture when they think ‘surfboard’ is a hardboard. These are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam and wrapped in layers of hard fibreglass or epoxy.
The other type of board (soft top) has a soft, foam top that feels like a yoga mat. There are a few reasons why, as a beginner, you might want to consider investing in a soft-top board.
Firstly, they make catching waves and paddling easy. This is because of their wide profile and the fact that they’re mostly made of foam, which makes them particularly buoyant.
Soft tops are also safer than hard boards. This is because they’re less likely to injure you or others in the event of an accident, like a collision. Remember, the majority of surfing-related injuries come from our boards – not the water or the ocean floor.
They’re also more durable. Unlike hardboards, soft boards can withstand far more bangs and dings without becoming damaged or needing expensive repairs. This makes them excellent for beginners who’re still finding their feet. And, finally, they’re significantly cheaper than hard boards.
To find out more about soft top boards, check out the video below from Boardshop…
Mini mal boards
Although soft-top boards are perfect for beginners in many ways, lots of surfers recommend that, if you’re going to buy a board, you might as well go straight for a hardboard – especially if you’re planning on surfing regularly (once or twice a week).
This is because soft boards aren’t very manoeuvrable – meaning that if you want to progress past riding broken waves fairly quickly and you want to start getting some turns in, then you might out-grow a soft top in not much time at all.
If you do decide to go for a hardboard for these reasons, then it’s worth considering a mini mal.
As a shorter version of the longboard, also known as the ‘malibu’, mini mals typically range from around 7’2 to 8’6 – which will be perfect for most adults. And, like soft tops, they have thick, rounded noses and tails – making them very buoyant and easy for paddling and catching waves.
Although, it’s worth bearing in mind that mini mals are not as safe, durable, cheap, or as stable as soft-top boards. They also aren’t meant to be ridden on white waves (which beginners start on). So if you live inland and you’re looking to surf occasionally, then you might be better off investing in a soft top.
To find out more about mini mals, check out the video below from Second Hand Boards.
When buying a surfboard, size is key. If you get a surfboard that’s too small, then you’ll struggle with balance and stability. Buy one that’s too big, and you’ll struggle with turning and manoeuvrability.
Although, if you’re a beginner, it’s always best to remember that bigger is better. This is because the first thing you’ll want to get to grips with is balancing on your board, not necessarily making turns.
Your height will also factor into what size board you need. For help with working out the perfect board size for you, why not check out this article from Surf Researcher, which includes a handy sizing chart?
Some other equipment you might need…
If you want to surf in the non-summer months, then you might want to think about investing in a few more items to make your surfing experience a little more tolerable, namely neoprene gloves, boots, and a hood. All made from the same material as wetsuits, these ‘add-ons’ will help you stay warmer for longer.
When surfing in the winter, you don’t only need to think about staying warm in the water, but out of it as well. As soon as you exit the surf and that not-so-friendly British breeze hits you, you’re going to want to get dry and warm as soon as possible – and this is where a changing robe comes in handy.
A changing robe is effectively a big coverall that allows you to get undressed (and dressed) on the beach while keeping you warm and dry. Many hardened surfers recommend buying one from Dry Robe. These have a weather-resistant outer layer with a warm, towel-like inner layer.
And finally, if you didn’t get one with your board, you’ll probably want to invest in a board bag. This is particularly important if you have a hardboard because it’ll protect it from bangs and dings when travelling to and from the beach.
Once you have all the equipment you need, you’re ready to hit the waves!
If you’re looking for an exciting new hobby that’s beneficial for your physical and mental health, and that’ll get you outside amongst nature, then we hope that surfing has piqued your interest.
And now that you know the benefits of surfing, the best ways to get involved as a beginner, and what equipment you need to get started, you’re one step closer to giving it a go yourself.
Although surfing is great fun, it’s also worth remembering that it’s an extreme sport. And as an extreme sport, it has its dangers – so it’s important that you understand the risks involved and take the proper precautions to make your time in the water as safe as possible. For information on surfing safety practices, it’s worth taking a look at this article from the Royal National Lifeboats Institution.
And for more ideas for hobbies to get stuck into, why not head on over to the activities section of our website? Or, if you’re looking for more content to inspire you to get moving, you can visit our fitness and exercise section.