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How To Surf - Learn To Surf

Updated on May 6, 2010

Surfing is the sport and art of riding an ocean wave. surfing is the sport of riding on waves on some kind of floating apparatus or with the body alone. Rubber mats, outrigger canoes, and kayaks are sometimes used, in body surfing no equipment is used, but the most popular form of the sport utilizes the surfboard.

Surfing was already being practiced in Hawaii when Captain James Cook landed there in 1778. The sport was popular among Hawaiian noblemen, and competition often involved wagers of land or livestock. The Hawaiians used surfboards that weighed as much as 150 pounds and were from 14 to 18 feet in length. In the early 20th century, surfing was introduced into Australia and the West Coast of the United States, but it developed slowly because the boards were too heavy and cumbersome for use by any but the strongest participants.

During the 1920's, surfing became a tourist attraction in Hawaii and enthusiasts began to experiment with new board designs and materials. With the innovation of a board made of balsa wood and fiber glass in the late 1940's and of a plastic-foam model a decade later, the sport boomed. The new lightweight boards allowed women and children to participate.

Photo by Kent Murray
Photo by Kent Murray

Boards

The modern surfboard measures 5 to 9 feet (1.5-2.7 meters) long, depending on the surfer's size and style, 18 to 22 inches (45.7-55.8 cm) wide, and 3 to 4 inches (7-10 cm) thick in the center, with the nose and tail sections frequently tapered. Each board has a point of balance, generally a short distance behind its center, in relation to the size and weight of the surfer.

Weighing between 5 and 12 pounds (11-26 kg), the board has one or two foiled fins laminated to the underside at the rear for directional stability. Surfboards are made of polyurethane foam and are covered with fiber-glass reinforced plastic with a coating of wax across the deck for traction.

Fundamentals of Surfing

A foot-high wave will propel a surfboard, but the average size of a ridden wave is about 3 or 4 feet (0.91-1.2 meters). The fastest surfing is done on waves that reach heights of 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters).

To get to the takeoff point offshore where the waves are suitable, the surfer, lying flat or kneeling on the board with his weight slightly aft to keep the nose clear of the water, paddles with his arms. The surfer paddles his board from 50 yards to a half mile or more out to sea, to the point where the waves first break. Once he is at the takeoff point, he floats on his board, waiting for the break of a ridable wave.

Just before the unbroken wave he has chosen to ride reaches him, he begins paddling shoreward to gain speed. As the wave moves him forward and his paddling speed increases, the board starts sliding down the wave face.

The surfer rises to his feet while the board is actually gliding down the moving hill of water. At this point the surfer has caught the wave, so he pushes up with his hands and stands, legs apart and flexed, one foot leading the other. Now his objective is to stay involved with the breaking part of the wave. He maneuvers the board close to the breaking section of the wave and travels a path somewhat parallel to the shoreline. The beginning surfer must keep away from the breaking part of the wave, or else he will be knocked from the board or have to ride it straightforward to the shore.

He maneuvers the board to the right or left primarily by shifting his weight to the right or left with the trail foot while keeping the lead foot in place toward the center of the board. The fastest ride is obtained when the surfer rides as close to the breaking part of the wave as possible at an angle to the direction in which the wave is moving.

As the wave diminishes, he leans back and turns the board over the back of the wave. In a spill, the surfer should stay under water a few seconds and then come up with his head protected to avoid being injured by the board.

Surfing experts perform exciting maneuvers, such as riding the nose while going at full speed, turning back and forth, and climbing up and dropping down the face of the wave. One of the most challenging feats is riding completely within the curl of the wave.

Many surfers have come to regard the sport as an aesthetic and spiritual experience, involving the mind as well as the body. The individual operating within a territory of danger feels the power of the wave. The closer he can bring himself to the power, and therefore the danger, the better he is at surfing.

Safety

There are dangers connected with the sport of surfing, and in some areas it has been banned from waters surrounding public beaches. Fallen surfers must be extremely careful to avoid being struck by their own boards. If a rider is knocked off his board, he should stay below the surface until the wave and his board have gone by. No person should attempt to surf unless he is a proficient swimmer and in excellent health.

Photo used with permission.
Photo used with permission.

Surfing Conditions

Geography and winds determine the desirability of a surfing site. Although rides can be made on waves as small as a foot high, the fastest surfing is done on waves that reach heights of 15 feet. Ideal surfing conditions are found in Hawaii, and the sport is still most popular there. Surfing is also widespread in California, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, and South Africa. Major competitions are held annually in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Makaha, Hawaii; Lima, Peru; and in France and Australia. Surfers in competitive runs are judged mostly on form and skill.

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