Can I learn surfing by myself or do I need a coach?

Many people who consider taking up surfing, naturally wonder if they can learn it by themselves or if they need to take lessons with a coach.

The answer is simple – you can learn by yourself but it won’t be easy. There are quite a lot of people on the internet who say that they’ve taught themselves to surf, and of course, it is your own choice which way you want to do it. With a certain level of commitment and determination, it is possible to achieve a certain level in surfing, but there are several big BUTS. Let’s talk them over. 


It is true that many contemporary pro surfers began their way into surfing back in the 70s-80s by learning to surf themselves when there were simply no surf instructors around. But their roads weren’t at all smooth but rather rocky, quite often resulting in various injuries. It took them years to find the right ways and master the techniques, which nowadays you can learn in just a few surf lessons at a surf school. Unless you’re really determined to do it by yourself, you can easily save yourself a lot of time (and possibly, health) by taking surf lessons with a certified instructor.


Surfing has a long history, many techniques were passed down from generation to generation of surfers, so there isn’t much sense in inventing a bicycle if it’s already invented and mastered. You can binge-watch all the surf tutorials online to grasp the idea of surfing, but unless you actually try it yourself in the ocean, you won’t learn to surf. And a good surf coach can teach you all the techniques developed by the years and generations of surfers in a few sessions. 


Every beginner makes mistakes, and that’s totally fine. But if you’re learning to surf yourself and persistently make the same mistakes, it will take a really long time to progress to another level, and very likely, you will be even stuck at the same level. Quite a lot of surf instructors, when taking a student, who has been surfing on their own for a while, face a problem with having to make him or her ‘unlearn’ all the mistakes which have already become a habit. It would be much quicker and easier for a beginner surfer to learn all the techniques the right way from the start rather than learning the ‘bad habits’ that are hard to get rid of later. So if you’re serious about learning how to surf, learn the basics the right way from the start.


Surfing has a very steep learning curve, it’s not something you’re likely just to ‘pick up’. Unlike any other sports, progressing to another level in surfing can take a lot of time, sometimes even years. Some surfers have surfed for years but are still stuck at a beginner level. The progress can be very slow, and at some point, you may feel that you’re not moving anywhere at all. A good surf coach can save you from the depth of despair. They would review your surf style, correct your mistakes and help you take your surfing to another level. Sometimes simple advice coming from someone with a side view can be a huge help and save you hours and hours of trial and error and frustration. 


Learning surfing by yourself is simply not safe. Surfers are exposed to ever-changing conditions and forces of nature, which are sometimes unpredictable and pose a real danger to those who don’t know how to find their way of hazardous situations. Many beginner surfers don’t have the necessary knowledge of water safety and how to ‘read’ the sea, can be totally unaware about rips and currents, which can easily suck you out into the sea and are the most common reason for emergency operations. There might be other factors like marine life, rock reefs, shallow parts, etc. which are potentially life-threatening, and even though you can do extensive research by yourself, you will obtain much more information and knowledge from a certified instructor. They will get you a suitable board and wetsuit, read the weather forecast to set the best lesson time, assess the beach upon arrival and then take you to the most suitable and safe area.

Even though it might look easy, surfing is one of the most demanding and dangerous sports around. It is not enough just buying a surfboard and taking it to the sea, you need to know which waves are safe to ride, to be aware of your surroundings, otherwise you pose a threat not only to yourself but to other surfers around you. Surfing is all about having fun, and it’s totally not worth putting your own and others lives at risk simply because you don’t know the common rules and techniques of the sport.


You might come to a surf shop and be drawn towards those cool looking shiny surfboards. But you might not realize that being a beginner, you won’t be able to surf a board that you really fancy. As a beginner, you are likely to be hit by your surfboard, so you should always start with a soft-top. In this article, we talked about how to choose a beginner surfboard, and here we discussed some other necessary surfing equipment. But a surf coach would provide you with all the necessary equipment or at least put you in the right direction in regards to what to get to start surfing and later will advise you on a choice of a surfboard matching your level and your surf style. 

Surfing etiquette

Surfing, unlike some other sport, has a certain code of behaviour, otherwise known as surfing etiquette. You can easily read about it online and follow two most important rules – never drop in on someone, meaning that you must not take off on a wave that another surfer is already riding, and the second one – don’t get in a way of a surfer riding down the way while you’re paddling back after getting out of a wave. It sounds quite simple, but in reality, being in the water, it can be quite difficult to actually understand who got into the wave first and has right of way, how to understand where the peak of the wave is and if the wave is left or right-handed. You should be able to determine quickly if someone is already riding the wave, even if the wave is breaking next to you, and you must know how to immediately pull back in this situation without letting your board crash in the wave and into a fellow surfer. A surf coach would explain and show it to you, sometimes it’s much easier to understand something by seeing it once in real life rather than reading about it a hundred times. 

Pick a good teacher

Surfing is not just about the ability to ride the waves, it’s a certain state of mind and way of life. A good coach won’t just teach you how to surf, but also inspire you and help you to fall in love with surfing. So before taking up lessons, do a bit of research on several surf coaches, read the reviews, ask around and hopefully, you’ll find a real sensei who will fill you with a true passion for surfing. 

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