You’ve followed the pros, you’ve watched the movies, you’ve even waxed up your first board. But before you paddle out for the very first time, there are a few surfing safety tips you need to know to ensure you have the time of your life without putting yourself in too much danger.
Before You Paddle Out
1. Understand The Ocean
Surfing safety begins with knowing what kind of ocean you’re entering. You should be aware of the water and weather conditions before you even head to the beach. Check Surfline for local water conditions, detailed forecasts, and live surf cameras. Don’t be afraid to ask questions– when you’re all set out to surf, stop by the lifeguard tower and ask your local guard where the safest spot is to paddle out.
Educate yourself on rip currents. Rip currents are narrow channels of powerful water that launches seaward. They form when waves break with stronger force in some areas than others, often over a sandbar and in relation to bathymetry (the depth of the ocean in relation to underwater terrain), sending that excess water forcefully out to sea. If you’re ever caught in a rip current, remain calm, float along the shoreline, and paddle shorebound at an angle when you have escaped the rip current.
Warm, loose muscles help prevent injuries and keep you flexible. Flexibility is a total plus in surfing. The more comfortable your muscles are with bending, stretching and swerving, the more comfort and maneuverability you’ll have.
3. Lather Up & Chow Down
Surfers tend to spend hours out in the water, losing track of time. Forgetting to apply sunscreen can lead to gnarly burns, dehydration, and serious skin diseases.
Trust us, we feel your stoke and want to hit the waves as quickly as you do, but skipping breakfast might not be the best call if you’re planning on surfing for more than an hour. Check out The Inertia’s suggestions for meals based on how long you plan on catching some waves.
4. Gearing Up
John John Florence rides a 6-0 round tail. Why can’t you? Well, technically, you can ride whatever board you’d like, but we highly suggest you begin with a foam board or a longboard. Shortboards are awesome for more advanced surfers looking to charge, but they’re pretty difficult to control and balance on when you’re still learning. Prevent wipeouts (and frustration) by starting out on a longer board. Keep surfing safety in mind while choosing your gear.
Into The Blue
5. Duck Dives and Turtle Rolls
Paddling out is one of the most frustrating experiences for the new surfer. Paddling requires a great amount of upper body strength. When the waves are crashing pretty hard, it can feel near impossible to make it out to the lineup. There is hope, though! Practice duck diving under these thrashing waves to avoid being carried back to the shore every time a wave crashes. The Inertia has some tips on duck diving and turtle rolling, which is a better option for surfers on bigger boards. Learning these moves are key to surfing safety and will help you conserve energy for riding the waves.
6. Surf Etiquette
It can be super intimidating entering the lineup when you’re a beginner. The key here is to have confidence in your abilities and an understanding of how to navigate the lineup. In short, be aware of your surroundings and give the right of way where it’s due. Everyone is out there to have a good time, but it’s important to be mindful of where and when you’re paddling. This prevents accidents out in the lineup and keeps spirits high. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets dropped in on. Communicate with the other surfers so they know which direction you’re heading and you know where to avoid a collision.
7. Heads Up!
For multiple action sports out there, a helmet is highly suggested. In surfing nowadays, helmets are usually reserved for high-performance athletes in dangerous surf, and not so often seen in the morning lineup at Malibu. Whether you’re strapping on the headgear or not, it’s important to protect your head while surfing– more specifically, while wiping out. When you’re thrown off your board, make it a habit to throw your arms up to cover your head. One arm protecting your head and one extended in front to break your fall is a good strategy to keep your head and neck from taking the blow. We’d rather sport an arm cast than a concussion.
Surfing safety is about protecting yourself AND the surfers around you. So stay with your board! As intimidating as a wave may seem, it’s important to keep contact with your board. Ditching your board when bailing on a wave can lead to collisions with other surfers, collisions between your board and your head, or even your leash pulling you underwater with your board. Your board is your floatation device. It takes a while to learn how to maneuver, but in the end, it’s safer to keep it with you.
8. Water, Water, Water!
You just spent five hours out in the sun, soaking up saltwater. Drink water and restore for your next paddle out!
9. Reflect On Your Sesh
Did you wipe out consistently? Take a board to the head? Accidentally cut someone off? Hey, man… It happens. The best part about learning something new is it’s just that– a learning process. After your session, take a moment to think about how you can be safer next time, what you can do to be even better than you were today, and how you can communicate with other surfers in the lineup to make it a pleasant experience for everyone.
Surfing is tough, but the feeling of gliding on water is absolutely worth every wipeout. Keep your body, your board, and your buddies safe out there by following these simple guidelines to a smooth surf experience.
Are you a first-time surfer? A surf instructor looking to get more students out there? Share this article to share the stoke of surfing with your friends and ‘like’ our Facebook page for updates on surfing events near you.