Surfing Tips for Beginners – 10 Common Mistakes When Learning to Surf

24 September 2022 Posted by: Lake Lawn B&B Travel Tips

Learning to surf is on many people’s bucket list.

Maybe you live on the coast and see surfers whenever you go to the beach. Or perhaps you are planning a trip somewhere to learn to surf.

I have been surfing all my life and am the author of How To Surf – From Beginner to Great Surfer in Just Three Weeks!

I love sharing surfing tips for beginners and in this article I want to share common surfing mistakes beginners often make.

Surfing Tips for Beginners – Common Surfing Mistakes to Avoid

The Biggest mistake beginning surfers make are the things they don’t bother learning to do correctly.

Let me share with you ten things beginning surfers don’t do that make surfing much harder to learn.

1. Choosing the Right Surfboard

Various surfboards on a beach

The right surfboard for a beginner needs to float well enough to be stable while the beginner learns to paddle and surf on it.

The ideal size for that would be at least a full arm’s length overhead.

Too many beginners watch videos of famous surfers and want to surf on the same type of small surfboards the pros are using.

That’s fine, eventually, once a surfer progresses past the beginning stage. But while you are learning to surf you need to use a surfboard that is stable, and larger surfboards are more stable.

Once you learn to surf, you can transfer the ability you’ve learned on the longer board to a shorter board.

It might take a few surf sessions to feel comfortable on the shorter board, but it should be able to be accomplished with a little effort and persistence. The level of ability acquired on the longboard will be directly proportional to the level of ability transferred to the shorter board.

2. Putting Enough Wax on the Surfboard

Not putting enough wax on a surfboard, one of the surfing beginner mistakes
Surfer waxing his surfboard in Ericeira, Portugal

Nothing is worse than sliding off your surfboard while trying to get up or while in the midst of riding a wave.

Too many beginners don’t put enough wax on the deck of their surfboard to prevent that from happening.

They get distracted or don’t realize how important it is to keep their board waxed up and they tend to step in places on their boards by accident where more experienced surfers might not place their feet.

So, it’s important for a beginner surfer to wax the entire deck of the board and wax it again each time they go for a surf.

3. Not Knowing Where to Surf or Not Surfing

A girl learning to surf

The inability to recognize waves that are good for learning on is a problem many new surfers face.

Many surf spots in the world can be great for beginners one day and terrible for beginners the next day.

Beginners often don’t spend enough time studying the place they intend to surf to make sure it is conducive for their level of surfing.

Part of learning to surf is learning about the ocean and how it behaves and changes from day to day.

Learning how to recognize and avoid bigger and stronger surf with associated rip tides and undertows is an important part of the learning process.

Sometimes it’s better to avoid surfing the same place you surfed the day before and go look for a different surfing area with a little smaller and more gentle surf.

4. Inability to Recognize Conditions and Tides Conducive for Beginning Surfing

Surfer riding a wave in Hawaii
Surfing at Sunset Beach Oahu, Hawaii

Every decent surfer knows the difference between onshore and offshore winds and how waves at particular surf spots break at low tides much differently than they do at higher tides.

Beginners usually have no clue about how waves break and will just head on out into the water when they get to the beach, regardless of the conditions or tides.

Onshore winds make rough seas. Offshore winds make smooth surfaces. Tides vary with changes in longitude. That means that Hawaii will have smaller tide changes than California. New England and France will have more extreme tide changes than California.

A nice breaking, easy long wave in at low tide can be a whomping dangerous shore pound at higher tide.

It’s useful for beginners to learn what makes waves change their shape and form during a typical surfing day.

5. Devoting Enough Time to Learn

2 surfers surfing at sunset
Surf as much as you can!

To improve surfing ability a surfer needs at least three or four surf sessions a week.

Two surf sessions a week is only enough to keep the surfer at their same level of ability. A surfer’s ability begins to decline when they surf once a week or less.

Beginners can’t expect to improve their surfing if they can’t surf at least three times a week.

6. Learning to Float and Balance on a Surfboard

A surfer balancing on his surfboard

The main reason many beginners take a long time to learn to surf, or never learn to surf, is because they spend too much time in the waves dealing with trying to figure out how to float and balance on their surfboard. They then get knocked around in the waves and fall off their board because of it, which robs them of their ability to focus on actually learning to ride waves.

Beginners want to surf and too often think that spending some time learning to deal with floating and balancing on the board is boring.

Sometimes spending a little time doing something tedious and boring can pay off. Learning to float and balance the board before hitting the waves can be well worth it, even if you have no better place to practice it than in a swimming pool.

7. Learning to Paddle Properly

Various surfers paddling

After learning to float and balance on the board, a beginner surfer needs to know how to paddle and paddle strong.

Being able to paddle strong in the ocean is absolutely required if a beginner wants to ever get past the beginning stage of their surfing.

Spending time learning to paddle a surfboard seems so rudimentary to beginners that they just skip past it and don’t realize how important it is. This is another thing you have to learn to do well if you want to proceed past the beginning stage of surfing.

8. Learning to Feel How the Ocean Moves

A woman learning to surf in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, a popular place to learn to surf

The movement of the ocean isn’t just in the waves moving to shore. The ocean moves in currents and currents sometimes move with or against the waves, and waves themselves refract and can change directions. Sometimes the same wave can change directions several times.

A beginner needs to spend time in the ocean riding waves to get a feel for how the ocean moves.

Too many novice surfers want to go out to where the good surfers catch waves and try and get a good one for themselves without spending enough time riding what they can where the easy waves break, just to get a feel for how the ocean moves.

Getting a feel for the ocean is invaluable for beginning surfers.

It’s hard to explain if you don’t understand the concept, but if you get out into the ocean and catch lots of small, easy waves, you will begin to understand how the ocean moves.

9. Learning to Pop up Quickly

A young boy surfing

Once you get to the point where you’re standing up on your board, you need to pop up quickly.

Many beginners don’t understand how important it is to get up as quickly as they possibly can.

If you want to get past being a beginner, you have to get up lightning quick on every wave. It has to be a mantra in your brain, get up quick.

10. Learning How to Catch a Broken Wave and Ride It in to Shore

A beginner surfer catching a broken wave

This is a step most beginners want to skip because it’s another thing that seems kind of boring.

They almost always want to get out and emulate the good surfers and ride with the breaking waves, not the ones that already broke.

If beginners hope to be good surfers someday, they need to spend a lot of time riding the soup, also known as the white water, and riding those broken white-water waves into shore.

As a beginner surfer, this is where you should learn the techniques of turning your surfboard. Practice doing it all the way into shore as many times as you can until you’re very good at it, before following the pro surfers out to where the waves are breaking and trying to ride on the walls of the peeling waves.

Beginner Surfing Tips – Conclusions

A pro surfer riding a wave

If you don’t skip any of the above ten requirements in learning to surf, you will be well on your way to becoming a good strong surfer.

For more tips check out my book How To Surf – From Beginner to Great Surfer in Just Three Weeks.

And, surfing is a great way to travel!

There are so many incredible surfing destinations all over the world. From tropical surf spots in Indonesia, Hawaii, and French Polynesia, to mixing surfing with sightseeing in South Africa, France or Australia.

And those are just a few of the many places you could travel to to improve your surf skills.

Enjoy the ride!

Also Read:

Like this article about beginner surfing mistakes to avoid? Pin it!

Surfing tips for beginners and mistakes to avoid

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Author: Roger Raffee
Roger first stood on a surfboard when he was only seven and has been surfing continuously from the age of twelve. He grew up near the beach in San Diego and has surfed almost every surfing spot in Southern California, most surfing spots in Hawaii and many in Mexico. He has been featured in surfing magazines and is the author of How To Surf – From Beginner to Great Surfer in Just Three Weeks!

Source :