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What to Expect: Surfing Lessons

Let me preface this post for Fit Bottomed Vacay Week by saying I am not a surfing expert. I took two classes while in Hawaii — one in some pretty rough water with little success, and a second right on Waikiki Beach on the day we were heading home.

However! I think this actually makes for an interesting angle to this post — I’m able to tell you what to expect because the things that caught me off-guard are still quite fresh in my mind.

That being said, those of you with lots of surfing experience should feel free to shout out what you’d add in the comments. Remember, this is the Internet, and I can always add tips!

what to expect surfing

What to Expect at Your First Surfing Lesson

1. You’ll want a rash guard with long sleeves. The boards used for newbies have a softer top, which is great for grip, but not great for the skin that’s rubbing against it as you’re paddling out over and over. Even with a rash guard, other areas might get a little raw by the end — I ended up with some definite wounds on the fronts of my thighs and knees from my lesson, so if you have board shorts or something, that’s not a bad idea.

2. Speaking of attire, you’re going to need bottoms that fit. Like, really well. The last thing you want to be worried about as you’re getting up on your board (or falling off of it) is whether your booty is hanging out. And if you’re not wearing snug bottoms? It’s gonna be hanging out. Let’s not talk about how I know.

3. You won’t start out in the water. Your instructor will go over the basic motions with you on the sand to make sure you understand the mechanics of paddling out and popping up. My lesson was really short, but I’ve spoken to some folks who spent half an hour or more on land. If you’re worried about it one way or the other, it would be wise to ask about their policy ahead of time. If you’re doing a private lesson, there might be wiggle room, but if you’re taking a class with a group, that might be difficult.

4. Getting out there is hard work. If you haven’t spent much time swimming in open water, swimming out into the waves might be challenging, or even intimidating. Be honest with your instructor about your level of comfort. In fact, be honest with yourself — you have to be able to swim. Period. Not only would it be dangerous to take a lesson without strong swimming skills, but it would not be fun. Take it from me — even strong and experienced swimmers can find the idea of standing on top of the water, falling off the board and getting pounded by incoming waves daunting.

All of that being said, there are ways your instructor might make things easier on you, either by going to a more sheltered location, giving you long breaks between going after a wave, or even by towing you around.

5. Weird things will be sore. Both Jared and I had majorly tender rib cages afterward, probably from banging up and down on our boards a bit. And my toes! That was the part of me that gave out before anything else — I used them a lot to pop up on the board. Talk about unexpected!

6. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done, and it’s more than a little addictive. Granted, I didn’t exactly catch a monster wave and ride it all the way in, but I was able to get up and stay up long enough to understand why so many people are so devoted to the sport. Even as I was hobbling through the airport (wearing $40 sweatpants from the Honolulu airport gift shop that said “HAWAII” down the leg because it hurt too much to put my jeans on — true story), I couldn’t help but think about when I might get another chance to get out on a board.

Have you ever surfed? What advice would you give to a first-timer? —Kristen

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  1. Christina says:

    Get ready to be scared and to call on not only your zest for adventure, but your courage. My first few lessons were a LOT of falling off the board and getting tumbled by waves and learning to be OK with that. About 3 lessons in, my brain had kind of accepted that fact and I could move onto staying standing. It takes time for each piece of the puzzle to click, and the time it takes is different for everyone. Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the time your in the ocean sitting on your board, paddling out, trying to stand because it’s time in nature, time to yourself.

  2. madison says:

    Wow. Thanks this really helped and make me laugh at the same time and it made me realize just how much more I want to get out on a board. iv’e been wanting so bad to surf lately even though its -1 degrees and there’s no beach where I live but I still I just find a big interest in the sport and one day I want to move to a beach to do it daily. Well anyways now that you read all that haha I would l just like to tell you that this site is great and your doing a great job.

  3. Sheri says:

    I just got back from a week long surf trip in Barbados. Never having surfed before, I was pretty nervous. I’m the person that holds their nose when jumping into a pool. I had a blast! I got rocked by one wave that rattled my confidence, looking back I wish that I would have gotten back on the board instead of freaking out. My advice, make sure you know the area where you plan to surf. For example, Barbados has a bunch of sea urchins so it’s best to wear water shoes. Also, research your instructor/school where you’ll be taking classes from. If going to Barbados I highly recommend Zed’s Surf Adventures. The instructors are amazingly patient and encouraging. Also, enjoy it! Don’t be afraid and make sure you loosen up. Don’t try to pop up on the board right away, take your time and get the form down before trying to do some serious wave work!

  4. Portia says:

    We vacation in Hawaii and my goal on this trip is to learn how to surf! I have to ask what kind of board you used! A long board or shorter one? Is it hard to direct the board wear to go when you pop up? How do you maintain balance? Thank you!!!!!

  5. Katherine says:

    I would say to a newby surfer…don’t get discouraged. Practice makes perfect. You will not get it on the first try. Hardly anyone does. Just keep at it. Another thing, even the best of the best wipe out. Don’t let that scare you. Just recover, take a breath, and get back out there!

  6. My wife and I want to learn how to surf now that we are by the ocean. I like your point how you might get sore in odd places. We’ll be sure to stretch and warm up beforehand so we don’t pull any muscles.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    This is a fun read. Thanks for posting such valuable insight. Surfing can be dangerous but for me it’s the best way to coalesce with God. Born and raised Hawai’i surfing since I was small check out my blog for craft ideas for women in small business and real Hawai’i stories. Aloha

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