Can you teach yourself to surf?

A first time surfer on Maui

You’ve probably seen some videos of pro surfers traveling the world, catching wave after wave with ease. Maybe you’ve driven past a beach and seen a tribe of tanned wave riders loading up their boards with beaming faces and thought, “How hard is it to teach yourself to surf?” Let’s be real, surfing can be intimidating to pursue for beginners. There can be big waves, crowded spots and lots of other hazards to avoid. But with enough practice in the ocean, the right board and knowing when and where to surf, you can teach yourself to surf without hurting your body or your ego. It usually takes a couple of months, surfing three to four sessions a week to really start getting the hang of it on your own. It’s no wonder that during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lots of folks found more time on their hands, many took to the waves to learn the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing. People around the world dedicate all of their free time and energy to pursuing their next great wave. In this post, we’ll talk about the fundamental elements of surfing and some tips on learning to surf.

Safety First

To surf safely it is important to know the particulars of a surf spot before paddling out. Knowing where the sharp reefs and rocks are located, when the tide will drop (which will make the water more shallow and expose more hazards), how to handle your board in various scenarios to avoid injuring yourself and other surfers, and of course surf etiquette, are all extremely important in staying safe while surfing. If you have little or no experience in the ocean, you should spend some time swimming and bodysurfing in calm conditions to understand how the water moves.

A young surfer jumps off his board
A young surfer jumps off his board on Maui

Get in Shape

Paddling a surfboard efficiently requires unique movements that most people do not perform in their daily lives. If you are a regular lap swimmer or avid rock climber, you will have an advantage here. Various shoulder and back muscles take some time to develop before you can surf for long periods of time without exhaustion. Once you develop these surf-specific muscle groups, you will be able to paddle fast and efficiently enough to enjoy hours of surfing at a time. Swimming and shoulder exercises help surfers maintain and train for the next swell.

Surfing at Honolua point in Maui Hawaii

Where are the waves?

Here on Maui, every surf spot has its own characteristics and things to watch out for. Professional surfers come to Maui every year to surf some of the biggest waves in the world at Peahi (aka “Jaws”). Maui is also home to another world class surfing spot, the legendary Honolua Bay, where many professional contests take place. Beginner surf spots like Cove Park in Kihei and Breakwall in Lahaina are well suited for beginners but are crowded with surf schools that make it difficult to catch a wave on your own and avoid collisions. There are other beginner surf spots on south and west Maui that offer plenty of waves and room to practice without crowds, but we won’t give them away here ; ). Most Maui surf spots will be reef breaks or point breaks, which can take some time to learn their nuances and when to surf them. Surf reports and swell charts help surfers predict when their favorite spots will be “firing” and have the best conditions.

Learn to read waves

Another major component to surfing properly is reading waves. Experienced surfers are able to look at an oncoming set of swells and predict exactly how those waves will break, including their shape & size. Once you know which waves are worth paddling for, you will be able to position yourself and pace your paddling for the best results. This takes experience and time in the water to learn well. Start by sitting at the beach and watching waves as they roll in. In time, you will be able predict when the wave will start to crest and which direction the wave will break. Once you have a good idea of what will happen, you will be able to pick and choose which waves are worth your precious paddling energy.

Like everything in life, surfing is all about balance.

If you’ve never done another board sport like skateboarding or snowboarding, fear not. Most people are able to balance on their first waves with some instruction on proper surf stance and technique. You can start slow, surfing smaller waves with little consequence. Take your time going from a prone position, to a kneel, to a full pop-up. Once you understand how the board will behave as you shift your weight, your muscle memory will kick in and balancing your board will come naturally. Soon, you’ll be able to turn your board, using small movements in your back foot and shifting your weight to carve.

A surf instructor provides feedback
A beginner surfer learns to balance his board

So in short, yes, it is possible to teach yourself to surf, but it will take patience, persistence and practice. If you want to save yourself months of paddling around, frustration and embarrassment, take a lesson with an experienced surf instructor. A good surf instructor is like a personal trainer in the water. They will teach you the foundations to help you catch waves on your own and avoid being labeled a “kook”. Professional surf instructors will show you where to catch the best waves for beginners, how to keep yourself and others safe, and surf techniques that will preserve your energy for much longer surf sessions. Surf instructors will usually have a substantial collection of boards (called a “quiver”) to outfit you with the best board for your size and ability. A quality surf lesson will be tailored to your skill and comfort. Your instructor should take some time to get to know where you are on your surfing journey and your goals. They should provide feedback on how to improve and offer specific advice to keep you progressing.

Surf instructor gives a student a boost
Surf lessons at 1000 peaks
Icon of a man with a surf board preparing for his Maui surf Lesson

Swell Maui Surf Lessons

Swell Maui Surf Lessons offers private surf lessons in south and west Maui at uncrowded breaks with instructors that have been surfing these spots for years. We prioritize safety and will patiently teach you proper techniques to get you surfing and shredding fast. Everyone has to start somewhere, but its worth it to give yourself a head start.

Learn more about our surf lessons

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