Surfing is undeniably one of the most endorphin-inducing activities I have ever taken on. Coming home after a long day on the waves with salty hair and your board under your arm, could not be a more satisfying feeling. As a beginner, popping up and gliding in towards the shore brings nothing but happiness.
If you are normally on the beach watching others surf towards you, chances are you will have seen plenty of people nosediving or falling off their boards, which might be how you found yourself reading this blog and thinking ‘is surfing hard?’.
Surfing is not hard to stand up for the first time and you’ll be able to surf down a wave within your first lesson, but it only gets harder! The more you do the more you’ll think it’s one of the hardest sports ever because of how physical and technically demanding it is, especially at an intermediate level. But somehow surfing is the most fun at the same time.
It’s one of those sports that never really ends. Once you stand up in white water, you then want to surf across the wave, then you want to do more aggressive turns, then go in bigger waves and so on and so on.
Compared to other sports it’s much harder than paddleboarding, but probably about the same difficulty as windsurfing.
All surfing really takes is a little balance, a board, and a love for the ocean, and seeing as you’re likely already looking it up, it seems like you are part way there!
Table of Contents
What makes surfing hard?
Surfing is like any sport: it takes patience and time to build up skills. You won’t be tube-riding in your first week of surfing the same way that you won’t be completing marathons in your first week of running. Luckily for you, I’ve delved into some of the biggest challenges you’ll come across when you get started.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges when progressing through the stages of surfing is knowing your waves. Athleticism will genuinely only take you so far with surfing- a lot of your success will come from choosing the right wave, and standing up at the right place and right time on that wave. Generally, when getting started, the main ones to know are:
1. Beach breaks. These break when they hit the sandy bottom, and are pretty changeable depending on where the sand shifts. These are great for beginners because they break with less force, and injury is less likely because you’re only falling onto a sandy bottom.
2. Point breaks. These are some of the longest waves, which are great for refining your surfing, like practising turns in.
3. Reef breaks. This is more suited for intermediate to advanced surfers because they break with more power and need a faster take off.
Having the wrong equipment in surfing is detrimental. It can prevent you standing up or catching any waves at all. Mostly, you will see a lot of people going out to surf with boards under their arms that are just too small. Especially as a beginner, having a too-small board will crush your ego and leave you feeling disenchanted with the whole idea. For our recommendations, head over to our Board Size section in Tips to make it easier.
Surfing is a physically demanding sport in a number of ways. It requires strength, agility, and fast reflexes for paddling out, catching a wave, balancing, and then turning and trying out moves.
Being generally fit and maintaining a nutritious diet is of course really beneficial, but every surfer will tell you that the only way to boost your surfing fitness- is surfing.
My advice would also be to warm up using some dynamic stretches before getting in the water, helping to increase your stamina and avoid any injury. But best tip – get out there and get going!
Surf etiquette is a big thing to remember, and is another thing that can put beginners off. The main things to remember are:
1. Don’t drop in. First and foremost, don’t steal anybody else’s wave. When you paddle for a wave, check to see if there is anyone closer to the peak of the wave (considered to be closer to the inside). If someone else is closer to the peak, they have priority, and you have to stop paddling and let them take the wave.
2. Don’t snake. Now having understood the surfing right of way, ‘snaking’ is constantly paddling around someone to get to the inside position. Don’t do this.
3. Find a spot that suits your ability. Choosing waves that are too big for you will mean that you’re getting in the way of the other surfers or becoming a hazard. Have a read of our wave knowledge and see where you would fit.
4. Respect the locals. Localism isn’t too much of an issue in the UK, but generally, be respectful and polite to the other surfers, as they will frequent this spot a lot. Keep the beach clean too.
These rules are there to keep each other safe and to maintain a good vibe in the water, so although it may seem intimidating at first, you’ll be glad for them!
To succeed in surfing you really need to pass through the mental barrier of fear. Not only are a lot of people wary of the sea itself, but it can take guts to stand up in white water and challenge yourself in bigger waves, when your mind is telling you that you will fall off. Lots of people feel nervous about this, it really isn’t uncommon at all. The best way to get through it is to keep practising and gain more confidence. Don’t worry about looking like an idiot falling off either, you’ll see that it happens to absolutely everyone!
Tips to make surfing easier
Like anything, practice makes perfect. But with surfing, you really do need to be out on the water to properly get the knack of it. No matter how many times you fall off, keep going, it is truly the most certain way to keep improving (and also the most fun).
Get some lessons
If you’re lucky enough, try a beginner surf camp. Not only do these allow great tuition through the stages of surfing (allowing you to pass through the beginner’s stage if you’re there long enough), but it’s a great way to meet like-minded people. Everyone knows surfers are a great crowd.
With staycations booming as the latest trend, there are loads of surfing spots in the UK that offer one-off lessons too. A lot of the most popular spots are around the South of England and Wales – for the best beginner’s waves go to:
– Sennen Cove, Cornwall
– Woolacombe, Devon
– Porth Neigwl, Gwynedd
– Newgale, Pembrokeshire
I live in the North of England and can sometimes get frustrated at the constant focus on Wales and the South of England when it comes to surfing. But don’t worry, I told you it’s inclusive! You can also find lessons at:
– Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
– Pease Bay, Berwickshire
– Saltburn, North Yorkshire
– Dunnet Beach, Caithness
This really is the most effective way to build up your skills at surfing. Sometimes you need an instructor to give you a push through a wave to build up your speed, shout when to stand up, and give advice about balance and footwork that you wouldn’t notice yourself.
One of the great things about surfing is that the beginners’ lessons are really inclusive. If you’re worried about your ability to stand up and balance on a wave, don’t worry, because you will be able to achieve this in your lesson!
Ending up with the wrong type of board for your ability will make surfing undoubtedly harder. For beginners, soft and foam surfboards tend to be the most popular, because they provide a more stable ride. This makes it easier to get up and begin to link turns better because of the wider, flatter surface area.
Once you begin to head towards intermediate level, you could start to look at getting a harder surfboard with more of a defined shape. These offer more precise control and therefore are perfect for improving your technique.
Even with this information, choosing the right board is an investment, so can be daunting! If you’re still unsure, head into your nearest water sports shop and ask for some advice. They’re always a friendly lot and will be happy to help.
Get a good wetsuit
On top of finding a good board, finding a decent wetsuit also needs to be around the top of your to-do list before starting- especially in the UK! Coldwater can be off-putting, but with a good wetsuit, you can happily surf at the north coast of Scotland in winter months without feeling the chill.
For surfing, the focus of a wetsuit is warmth! Surfing wetsuits are designed to trap a thin layer of water between the suit and your body, which warms up due to your body heat and allows you to stay warm. These suits will also be heavier because you won’t be needing to swim in them.
While it sounds obvious, you also need to make sure the wetsuit fits you. It needs to feel almost like a second skin, so that it won’t flood with freezing water.
Again, don’t be afraid to head into a water sports shop and ask for advice! But make sure that you specify that you need it for surfing, or you could end up with the opposite of what you need.
For an idea of what a great surf wetsuit is, you might want to read our Oneill Hyperfreak review.
Taking time to travel to a surf location only to be disappointed by the weather can be heartbreaking. Although we live in a modern age in which we can pre-judge this on a surf forecasting site, the information can still be confusing.
Some good websites to look at are:
When looking at these, you will want the following conditions:
– Swell size: Under 1 metre for beginners
– Swell period: At least 10 seconds
– Wind direction: Ideally you want a light offshore wind
– Wind strength/ speed: Anything under 3mph will be great, anything over 20mph will be too much.
So although the answer to is surfing hard is undoubtedly yes – get yourself out there and get going! The time and effort you invest in surfing is guaranteed to be worth it once you feel yourself grow confident in the water. Absorb these words of wisdom, and go catch some waves.
Written by Sally Devlin
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.