Learn To Surf

The low down on the drop in! Beginner's guide to surfing


Surfing is all about having fun riding waves. Before getting started you should be able to swim and feel comfortable in the water. If you have this down, with the right location, good equipment, an understanding of the rules of the water and inherent dangers involved in surfing, you'll be up and riding waves in no time!

Let's Get Started!
  • Take a surf lesson - A lesson will get you riding waves faster and safer than going out on your own. If you don't want to shell out the bucks for a lesson or are too cool for one, definitely keep reading...
  • Wave knowledge is crucial to surfing - You can't catch what you don't understand. A boogie board and fins is a great way to learn how to recognize when a wave is coming, catch a wave, and get back out.  Riding waves is a thrill even on your belly. You will catch more waves and have more fun on a boogie board while you are still figuring out the motion of the ocean. Remember to never paddle out into something you couldn't handle without your fins!
  • Watch other surfers to help your own skills - Even expert surfers watch surf videos and other experts to improve their surfing. Just remember not to get in their way. The most dangerous thing about surfing is other surfers (see dangers for more).
  • Learning to surf is a lesson in humility - Don't expect to be good in a day, a week, or even a year.  It takes years of dedication to master the sport - just when you think you are there, you find yourself gasping for air and coughing up salt water after getting rag dolled.
Choosing A Location

Where you paddle out can make or break your surf session. Also, a beach that was great for surfing one day may not necessarily be great for surfing the next – depending on the tide and current ocean conditions. Having said that, here's what to look for in a beginning surf location:

  • Small and calm waves - You obviously don't want large rough waves, leave that to the experts.
  • Waves breaking on a sand bottom - Hitting a sandy bottom is softer than hitting reef!
  • Light or offshore winds (see surf terms) - Onshore winds create rough conditions.
  • Uncrowded spots - You don't want to hit anyone and you don't want someone hitting you!

Check out our recommended beaches for learning to surf »


Surfboards come in all shapes and sizes. Picking the right board for your skill level is crucial to catching waves and standing up. A surfboard longer than eight feet with a wide, rounded nose is a good board to begin. A soft foam board (used for surf lessons) is even better because it hurts less if it whacks you. Wearing a leash is a good idea so your board stays close by and doesn't go hurling into other people.

Rules of the Water (How Not to be a Kook)

Here are some general rules to remember while out in the water. They are the unspoken rules of surfing that apply everywhere in the world.

  • If someone is up and riding toward you, do not drop in (see surf terms) on them. Dropping in on other surfers could get you pounded by a local.
  • The surfer closest to the peak has priority to take off
  • Don't sit and gawk at a surfer riding toward you, move out of the way
  • Be courteous, one kook in the water can ruin it for everyone
  • Don't paddle out to waves beyond your surfing capabilities, you put both yourself and other surfers in danger

Surfing comes with many inherent dangers. Here are some of them.

  • Other Surfers - boards, fins, and people get tangled up when surfers run into each other.  Most surfing injuries happen because of these collisions.
  • Ocean - Always use caution.  It is a powerful, constantly changing, unpredictable animal. If in doubt, don't go out.
  • Your Board - try to fall away from your board as the board itself and the fins can cause injury. When renting a board, you may want to look for a soft top surfboard.
  • Jellyfish - stinging jellyfish (called Portuguese Man of War or pochos) can be blown into the surf zone when the wind is blowing onshore.  They have a blue air sac that floats on top of the water and a stinging tentacle that drags below. They are most likely to be found on east shore beaches and can be spotted on the beach in the high tide line.
  • Sharks - we all know they are out there. Avoid surfing in murky water where you can be easily mistaken for a tasty shark snack.
Before You Paddle Out

Alright, so now you're ready to hit the water, but before you paddle out, take the time to observe the ocean conditions. Waves come in sets and there can be up to 20 minutes between sets. Watch long enough to see at least one set so you don't end up in waves that are too big for you. And if you haven't already, now would be a good time to review the beach safety tips.

What are they talking about? Surf Terms »

Recommended Beaches For Learning To Surf

The following beaches are not great for surfing every day. Where and when you surf should always depend on current ocean conditions. When in doubt - don't go out! Always ask a lifeguard or local if you have any concerns.

  • Hanalei Bay - In the summer time, Hanalei's shallow, sandy bottom, gentle swells and pristine waters make for perfect conditions for the beginning surfer.
  • Kealia - Mostly sandy breaks and almost year round surf, make Kealia a great place to get wet with a board. Beware of underwater rocks at both ends of the beach.
  • Wailua - The extended shallow sand bar where the Wailua river meets the ocean can make for great knee high waves in waist deep water.
  • Kalapaki - The middle of the bay at Kalapaki serves up gentle rolling waves, perfect for beginning surfers.