All it takes to become a surfer is a board, a beach, and some determination. Anyone new to surfing that doesn’t have a friend or mentor to introduce the sport needs to learn the rules. Knowing the dos and don’ts will prevent injuries, fights, dirty looks, and maybe even save your life. Surfing is fun, but the ocean needs to be respected.
First, know your limits. “When in doubt, don’t go out.” If you are uncomfortable with the conditions, then stay on the beach. There is no shame in watching a swell as it comes into your local beach. The more you watch the more you will learn about the ocean and her moods. Study the waves, how the current moves, where the rips are. You may find that after some time watching you feel confident and want to try. This rule also implies that you are fit and comfortable with the ocean. People that are fit and have good stamina can push their limits, while fair-weather or out of shape surfers should really make sure they are ready for the conditions.
Next, always tell someone where you are going or bring a buddy. The buddy system kept you alive on field trips in first grade and it will keep you safe while surfing. Whether the waves are small or huge, having a friend around to keep an eye out for each other is helpful. If no one will surf with you or you prefer to be alone, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be home.
Be aware of your surroundings. Look for the lifeguard tower if there is one, any dangerous rock outcroppings in the water, and locate rips. If the is strong current, watch a few sets come in and determine the best way to paddle out before you get wet. Notice the crowd and judge the skill level. Beginner surfers are less able to control their boards and crowds increase the risk of injury. Remember, most surfing injuries are caused by surfboards striking surfers.
Don’t paddle out if you are drunk, extremely hung-over, or in any other fashion intoxicated. It is unsafe for you and those around to not be in control, especially when the waves are big. Save the drinking for after your session. Give yourself 45 minutes to digest food before paddling out.
Once you are ready to paddle out, observe the basic rules in the line-up. Give priority to the surfer closest to the peak or first on his feet. Learn how to duck dive and don’t throw your board in a crowd. If you can’t control your board, keep practicing and avoid endangering others by avoided crowds in serious conditions. Respect locals and the pecking order, especially if you are visiting. Just because a friend invited you to surf a new spot, doesn’t mean the locals are going to like you in the line-up. Show respect and surf well. Nothing gains respect like surfing well.