Independent Surfer

A step by step guide on how to get better at surfing.

This is a guide to help you get better at surfing.  In this post we will cover all the measures you can take to improve your surfing, but we will not automatically make you a better surfer.  Surfing requires a high level of commitment and the deeper we get into discussing ways to improve,  the more apparent it becomes that surfing is hard work and to get better you need to put in the time and effort.  

So, how do you get better at surfing?

Set Goals

Step 1: Set a Goal

If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever get there? 

Unfortunately, “I want to learn to surf” as a goal just isn’t going to cut it. Sure, it’s a starting point, but goals need to follow a certain criteria.  “I want to learn to surf” is a great starting point, but it’s important to elaborate.

Here are the specific questions you should be asking yourself: 

  • How am I going to get there?
  • How long will it take me?
  • How long should it take me?
  • How many hours do I need to put in? 

Goals should be specific, so that when you set them, they answer multiple different questions. You should set a time frame, they should be measurable and somewhat realistic. For example, a good goal would be “By next month, each time I surf, I want to catch at least one unbroken wave and go down the line.”

In order to set goals, you need to know what’s possible which leads us to our next step…

Proper Surf Education

Step 2: Educate Yourself

Before we get into the next step, you’re probably thinking that this article has no underlying value. Thoughts that come to mind might be, where is the knowledgeable content like how to catch waves and how to pop up on the board? Or, what kind of board you need to be a better surfer? The truth is though, to learn how to get better at surfing, you need to hear what is being said here. 

Most people who are learning to surf underestimate the power of knowledge. Educating yourself is not just about going out to surf and trying to learn the ropes. Rather it is seeking knowledge from other more experienced people whether it’s via research, online classes, coaching, or even going to a surf camp. The quickest ways to learn are to go through an extensive, detailed surf course or surf camp. What you decide to choose depends on your goals and how much time you are willing to spend on getting better.

There is so much to learn about surfing.  It is arguably one of the hardest sports to learn and be a beginner at because there is so much technique and knowledge that comes into play. If you are just going out to surf every day, without having any clue or purpose, you are really doing yourself a disservice.

This article is not about giving you all the knowledge that will make you a better surfer – that would be impossible. Instead, this is an encouragement to go and seek out some professional help to better prepare yourself for the grueling task at hand.

Fitness and Flexibility

Step 3: Get Fit and Flexible

If you’re neither fit nor flexible, surfing will be hard. Surfing requires a healthy balance of strength and flexibility, tipping the scales too far on either end of the spectrum creates problems down the line. If you want to be a better surfer, or even start surfing ,then strength and flexibility are key. If you want to progress faster and take your surfing to a new level, training is the second most important thing, next to actually surfing. 

There’s no need for a regimen designed for professional athletes, and you really don’t need to even sign up to a gym membership. A little self-discipline and some body weight exercises go a long way. 

Exercises to try:

Pop ups – If your pop ups are perfect, your surfing will undoubtedly improve. Pop ups are a great way to get the heart rate up, build explosive power and stamina, and build a solid foundation for surfing. Make sure to practice these correctly to build good muscle memory.  Our tip is to take videos of yourself and seek feedback. This is important to do sooner, rather than later, so that you avoid building improper muscle memory. 

Paddling in flat water – This is a little unorthodox, but even if there aren’t any waves getting out and paddling will help increase strength and stamina. Be sure to practice as if you are paddling out and as if you are catching a wave. There is a difference when it comes to catching a wave, which requires explosive power, versus just paddling around.

With the two training methods mentioned above, it is important to keep in mind that if you have the wrong technique, it doesn’t matter how frequently you train, you will never quite get to where you want to be. Be sure to have someone review your technique regularly if you are unsure. 

As a beginner these two exercises ,along with some core work (training abs), are all you need for now, but as you progress you may want to look into additional training techniques that will help you get better. 


Step 4: Visualize

Visualisation is a powerful tool that you can use to help take your surfing to the next level. There is not much time spent standing on the surfboard so we need to visualise to make up for that lost time. When visualising, it is important to try and visualise the scenario as accurately as possible, the more accurately you can imagine the environment around you, the better you will convince your brain of the scenario happening so that when you find yourself in that situation in the future you can be better prepared to deal with the environment. You are normalising what is otherwise an unusual circumstance. 

Tips for visualising:

  • Practice makes perfect, visualizing is something you need to practice.
  • Set clear, precise goals.
  • Be in a quiet, non distracting environment or add sounds of waves crashing.
  • Visualize texture of the water.
  • Visualize emotions felt before, during and after.
  • Practice the movement while visualizing.


Step 5: Surf

Surfing is made up of 90 percent paddling, 8 percent falling, and 2 percent riding waves.  If you are really good at surfing and you are at a surf spot that allows for long rides, you may end up surfing for about five minutes during a two or three hour session. This all equates to not much actual surfing time. 

Get your wave count up.  Specifically, try to catch as many waves as you can in each session (just be cautious to avoid overstepping your boundaries and taking too many waves from other people). If you are going out there and only picking off the best waves, getting one or two in a session, it will be impossible for you to progress quickly. Also, try to avoid surfing crowded breaks where you have to deal with other people catching your waves.

Surf all conditions. Even if the wind is onshore and the waves are terrible, go out and surf. The harder you make it for yourself the easier it will be when the conditions are good. 

If you are able to surf every day, don’t forget to rest. The body needs to recover, if the body doesn’t recover, you may feel fatigued and that will slow down your progression and performance. 

To conclude, if you are serious about getting better at surfing then the most important thing you can do is educate yourself, as you are doing now by reading this post about how to get better at surfing. Surfing is incredibly technical and definitely rewards those who work smart. 

Also remember to check out our online surf classes and our online surf coaching options.  Our goal is to help you become the best surfer you can in the shortest amount of time!


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