There’s no denying surfers have great bodies, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. Surfing is great form of exercise and a refreshing way to keep fit without being stuck inside on a treadmill.
With summer at its peak, there’s no better time to hit the water and learn to surf. Alice Algie discovers the thrills and spills of hanging ten.
Yet with daunting images of sky-high waves and deep water, it’s no wonder most of us are intimidated by the thought of taking up surfing. But at the right beach, with the right knowledge, surfing can be an exhilarating workout that will leave you coming back for more.
While we don’t expect you to be tackling huge barrels or hanging ten just yet, this beginner’s guide to surfing will have you at the very least balancing on your board and having fun in no time.
Surfing has been a part of Polynesian culture for centuries, but these days it’s a mainstream pastime, with coastlines around the country dotted with surfers, no matter the time of day.
The thrill of riding on the crest of a wave produces an immediate adrenaline rush, and surfing is often described as an addictive sport. And with the thrill of the surf combined with our amazing coastlines, it’s no wonder Australia is considered a surfing hotspot of the world.
The two main types of stand-up surfing are longboarding and shortboarding, which refer to the type and size of the board used. Shortboards are between six and seven feet (1.8 to 2.1 metres) in length, with a pointed nose and square-shaped tail. Due to their manoeuvrability and speed, they’re often the choice of experienced surfers. Longboards are generally in excess of nine feet (2.7 metres) in length with rounded ends. The extra length gives them additional buoyancy and stability, making them the ideal choice for beginners to prevent you from toppling headfirst into the fishes. When choosing a longboard, select one that is around one metre taller than you.
The key to surfing for all beginners is to get a professional lesson first. Without proper guidance, it’s almost impossible to learn the proper form and technique to keep you balanced on the surf.Brenda Miley is president of Bondi Girls Surfriders Club and women’s director of Surfing Australia. She is also surf school director of Lets Go Surfing and knows the importance of lessons when hitting the surf for the first time.
“Taking lessons when starting off is important to get all the information you need,” Miley says. “It also guarantees you start off on the right equipment and it’s safe with someone constantly watching you.”
Even if you’re feeling confident, surfing can be challenging so you need to be prepared to fall off before you succeed. Without expert advice it’s likely you’ll become frustrated with the sport and give it up before you’ve even properly started. Practice is the most important part of learning to surf, and that doesn’t just mean standing on the board in the water. Testing your technique on the sand is important to master the method.
If you’re not familiar with the water, its also important to jump in and understand the feel of the waves. Practice diving through them to get a feel for the ocean.
“People often come to us with terrible experiences, many are scared of the ocean and trying to overcome fear,” Miley says. “When you’re starting out you need to learn a range of different skills.
“If you’re going by yourself, make sure you go when the surf is small. It’s also good to start in a low tide so you can walk out to the waves without having to paddle.”
Unless you’re a fan of falling off repeatedly, choosing the right surfboard is essential when getting started. Foam boards are usually the weapon of choice for beginners, as they provide you with extra buoyancy and grip. You also need a board with an ankle leash to stop it from going walkabout in the water. Getting professional advice when selecting your board is the key to successfully riding the waves, and this is often part of learn-to-surf packages at surf schools around the country.
Although surfing is so much fun you might forget you’re exercising, it’s hard to ignore the huge physical benefits. Not only does the whole process of paddling, riding and recovering the board give you a cardiovascular workout, it also targets specific muscles.
Paddling your board out into the waves gives you a great upper body workout that targets your arms, back, shoulders and core, while balancing on the board targets your leg muscles and also helps improve your core stability. “You need a certain level of fitness when starting out to carry a board, stand up and lay down, as well as paddle through the waves,” Miley says. “But surfing is a journey and you will improve your fitness along the way.”
The benefits of surfing aren’t only physical – many also note the psychological benefits that come with getting outdoors and experiencing the exhilarating rush of the ocean. Surfing is a great stress release that can help you unwind from the day’s troubles. It can also be a good social outlet, and getting a group of friends together to go surfing is a great way to relax, even if you don’t end up standing on the board.
Best of all, surfing is for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. It is about experiencing the ocean and having fun – talent and skill comes after.
As with all forms of physical activity you need to be aware of the risks. Surfing has a number of aspects that warrant caution, but the main risk comes from the surfboard itself. “Most surfing injuries occur when the surfboard hits someone,” Miley says.
“Short fibreglass boards have a very pointy nose that can cut you so start on a big foam board as they’re easy to stand up and paddle on. They’re also good as they don’t overbalance quickly and don’t hurt when they hit you.”
As with any water sport, it’s important to have somebody keeping an eye on you at all times. This is why surfing lessons are a great option for first-timers. With someone keeping their watchful eye on you, it’s hard for things to go wrong.
Warming up and cooling down with stretches or yoga is the best way to keep your body in top shape. Surfing is very physical and if you’re not properly warmed up you’ll definitely be feeling the aches and pains the next day Because you might be out on the water for hours at a time, it’s vital to keep the sun in mind. Always wear a wetsuit or rash vest and cover up with sunscreen. Keeping hydrated is also essential and although you may not feel hot and sweaty in the water, your body will lose essential vitamins and nutrients through perspiration.