Surfing is an extreme year-round sport and one of the most popular water outdoor activities in the world. Since 2021, it has become an Olympic sport. The name comes from the words "surfboard" and "moving".

In surfing, you ride on a board on the big waves (swell). Then different types of boards are used for different types of surfing: from longboards about 3 meters long to small boards called handplane which are slightly larger than a palm. Also, surfing-like sports are popular. In cities and resorts, it is wakesurfing — riding on a small board behind a boat that creates a steady wave. Another type of surfing is riding on artificial flow-waves. These are engineering structures in which a wave pressure is created that imitates waves in open water. The movements of athletes on artificial waves and wakesurf are not quite the same as in real surfing, therefore they cannot be a full-fledged preparation before going to the ocean.

Surfing is usually practiced on the coast of the seas and oceans, but waves suitable for surfing are found on lakes and rivers. The most popular regions for surfing are Hawaii, Bali, and Australia, but also Peru, Ireland, and Great Britain. In particular, Hawaii is considered the birthplace of modern surfing. Waves suitable for surfing can also be on rivers and lakes, for example, on the Great Lakes in the USA and Canada, or on the Eisbach River in Germany.

Surfing is usually done in summer when the water is warm, but swell is more important, it's like the wind in yachting — without swell you just can't surf. Winter surfing in cold water is also gaining popularity: it is practiced in Scandinavia and in Kamchatka in the Far East of Russia, as well as in warmer Japan.

The main pleasure of surfing is riding big waves. Surfing is also characterized by a close-knit community of locals. However, due to the fact that recently surfing has become a very popular leisure activity, it’s often crowded in the spots in these countries. Therefore, pay attention to lesser-known destinations. The disadvantages of surfing can also include the fact that to start it, it’s also desirable to be in good physical shape. Surfing is a very energy-intensive sport — most of the time in the water, the athlete rows on the lineup, but doesn’t stand on the board.

If you haven't tried this outdoor activity yet or want to improve your skills and get to the next level, this guide to kitesurfing from the team is just right for you.

Brief history of surfing

The idea of riding on waves has always attracted man as much as the idea of diving to the bottom of the ocean or yachting around the world.

Archaeologists have found that the Peruvians were the first to use fishing boats similar to surfboards about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. But true surfing originated in Polynesia on two islands, Hawaii and Tahiti. There, on these Pacific islands, over time, surfing has developed from an activity known only to the locals into a popular recreational sport.

The founding father and the promoter of modern surfing was Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (date of birth: August 4, 1890) from Hawaii, USA, 5x Olympic swimming champion. Yes, he was also the pro swimmer. After he finished his pro swimmer career, he went to Hollywood to be an actor. In particular, one of his films triggered the boom of surfing.

Thanks to him, and others, by the late 1930s already tens of thousands of Americans were traveling to Hawaii every year to surf on the local spots. But the real popularity of the sport came in the 1960s in California, USA. This is the third significant place of development of the sport — the Californian coast, where there are also many great spots. Other places include the famous Gold Coast in Australia, as well as many spots in Europe and around the world.

Today surfing is one of the most popular sports on the open water. More: it's a whole culture with its own heroes, equipment and clothing manufacturers, events, and so on. The International Olympic Committee voted to include surfing as a new sport that will be featured at Tokyo 2020 on August 3, 2016.

Surf gear and equipment

A surfboard is the main thing you need to practice this water sport. However, it is not the only one, as you might think:

  • First, boards come in various kinds. Surfing on the wrong type of board is a guaranteed way to ensure more wipeouts.
  • Second, not having the right accompanying surf gear will also lead for a rather uncomfortable day at the beach. These include wetsuit and rash guard. Among the essential "small things", however, you should not forget about earplugs and sunscreen.
  • Third, it's important not to go broke going to the surf store for your first board and other surfing equipment.

Learn more about minimum surf gear and its cost in a separate article on the blog.

Seasons and best weather conditions

When you’re just starting out, finding the correct wave is crucial. Remember to have realistic expectations: you’re not going to be catching a six-foot wave after a lesson or two. A good rule of thumb is not attempting to surf in any wave that you wouldn’t swim through. As a beginner, look for rolling waves that break slowly into semi-shallow waters—waves that are about 1-2 feet in height.

One of the most common beginner mistakes is attempting to surf in waves that are just too big, which will not only be frustrating but also potentially dangerous. Don’t hesitate to ask the people at your local surf shop or local instructors for advice on where the best place is to catch your beginner waves. You can also look for the places where instructors conduct their beginner surf lesson.

Once you find a potential spot for surfing, be sure to take some time to get comfortable in the water. Go for a swim or just practice paddling. You never want to be in a situation where you wipeout and aren’t comfortable swimming back to shore.

As a beginner, an ideal day will be about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with a water temperature of 73 degrees. Sunny, no clouds, and a little offshore wind.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that determine the surfing condition, things like power, swell size, speed, direction, and tide. While you don’t need to know what all of these terms mean right away, you’ll want to get practice learning how to read a surf forecast. Talk with more experienced surfers in your area to learn about the conditions optimal for surfing and check the Windy. app for a look at real-time surf forecasts.

Learning surfing

Surfing is a very beautiful, but, let's be honest, somewhat challenging water sport. It requires an understanding of some specific skills and techniques before you go into the ocean or sea with a board for the first time. But if you take enough time to prepare on land, you can expect to have a more successful first try or session with a surfing coach in an open water. There are five major steps to learn surfing:

  • Learn to swim. No matter how experienced a surfer you are, you will wipeout out. And when you do, you may find yourself in hostile waters, struggling to stay afloat. That’s why knowing how to swim is a necessity when surfing.
  • Get into good surfing shape. Surfing is — first and foremost — a sport — and a physically demanding one at that. That means that one of the best ways to prepare for the water is to get into the proper shape on land. And that doesn’t mean just spending a day at your local swimming pool. Surfing requires a combination of balance, strength, and cardiovascular endurance.
  • Practice surfing by watching and asking. Do you know the saying that good writers are good readers? The same goes for surfing. Before stepping onto the board, take time studying other surfers in the water. All you need is a spot on the beach. Try to examine the surfers’ stance, how they stand up, how they’re turning.
  • Book your first surfing lesson. Theoretically, you could attempt to learn by reading more articles, watching videos, and/or talking to friends but that puts you at risk of picking up bad habits — habits that will have to be broken once you start to progress. So, now, when you're finally ready to head into the ocean, it’s time to book your first surfing lesson.
  • Stick with it and practice. How long does it take you to get good at surfing? There is no definite answer to this final question. It varies from person to person. You might be able to stand up and ride a small wave by the end of your lesson or it could take several weeks or even a month. Stick with it and be patient. Like any sport, the more you practice, the faster you’ll improve and the better you’ll be.

Read more about each of these steps on the blog.

Dangers of surfing and safety rules

Surfing, like any sport, is not without its risks. The most common one is a blow to the head. It could be either from your surfboard when you wipe out or from hitting rocks or other protruding objects in the water. Being knocked unconscious puts you at risk of drowning

The second most common danger realted to the first one is your surf leash becoming caught on underwater rocks or reefs, pulling you under, so watch it too.

Other common dangers of surfing include choosing the wrong spot, rip currents, sharks, constantly changing weather conditions, not paddling enough and not knowing your limits.

Read more about the surf dangers and safety rules to avoid them in a separate article in the blog.

Surfing etiquette

As in many other sports, surfing has its own etiquette, that is, unspoken rules of conduct on the water. However, it is in surfing, due to the peculiarities of the sport, namely the natural conditions for doing it (waves on the spot), to know and follow the etiquette is a must.

For example, one of the first and the main rules is observing right of wayWhen the waves are good, competition for waves can be steep. Typically only one surfer will ride a particular wave. That’s why it’s important to learn proper “right of way”.  If more than one person is paddling up to a wave, the one closest to the peak—or furthest inside—gets wave priority. If two people are approaching the same wave but from different sides, each surfer has the right to ride the wave in his/her respective direction.

Popular beginner surf spots typically have less strict rules and more than one surfer is allowed to ride a particular wave. So, if you’re looking for more practice, your best bet is spot designated for beginners.

Other rules of surf etiquette include such things as not dropping in, not shaking and not hoging the waves, as well as knowing where to paddle, avoding the conflicts and apologizing.

Read about all of these additional rules of surf etiquette on the blog.

Learn more about how to read the surf / swell forecast in a special presentation with examples and tips from professional surfers with many years of experience of riding the biggest and best waves on the planet.


Text: team. Ivan Kuznetsov contributed to this guide

Cover photo: Sincerely Media / Pexels

Learn more about surfing in the

How to surf. Brief instructions to learning this sport

The guide on surf schools for beginners, intermediate, and pro sportsmen

How to choose a surf school or surf camp

How to read a surf forecast to get the best surfing experience

The collection of article about surfing

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