First, answering the question “how long does it take to learn to surf?” or "how long does it take to get good at surfing?" involves determining what “learn to surf” means to you. There are different skill levels in surfing. For example, one person might consider themselves as having “learned to surf” if they are able to catch a wave in the white water and stand up for a few seconds. Alternatively, another person might consider themselves a surfer once they are able to ride the open face of a wave. Finally, another person might not accept that they know how to surf until they are riding a shortboard and performing maneuvers.
At the Independent Surfer, we would say you have “learned to surf” once you:
1) have control over yourself and your surfboard in the water;
2) can catch unbroken waves on your own;
3) are able to stand up on the surfboard; and
4) have the ability to turn the board in the direction you want to go.
Ultimately, if you are able to do the four key points above, we would consider you a competent surfer who has learned to surf, or an “Independent Surfer.” In fact, this is where our name comes from as it is our goal to teach our students to become independent surfers and not need to rely on in-person instructors.
So, this leads back to our ultimate question: how long does it take to learn to surf? Getting to the stage of being an independent surfer will vary depending on how often you are able to practice surfing and how much surf theory you understand. Specifically, it can take you anywhere from a few days to a few years to reach this level. However, there are absolutely certain things you can do to make the process quicker.
We like to describe the Independent Surfer online beginner surf course as a way to gain 2 years of knowledge in 2 weeks. Basically, surfing is more than just picking up a surfboard and running into the ocean. Surfing actually has a lot of theory behind it. In fact, you can actually learn most of this theory outside of the water, including:
If you take a few weeks to learn these skills, you will undoubtedly progress in surfing much faster than if you were to just try catching waves with a rented board.
Let me take the opportunity to use my surfing progression as an example. I began surfing when I was 24 years old in 2016. I had tried surfing a couple of times on family vacations prior to that, but had never really pursued the sport. Basically, I was a total beginner. For my first introduction to surfing, I decided to attend an intensive surf camp in Indonesia for 4 weeks. This camp included surfing two, 2-hour surf sessions each day, a photo review every few days, and daily surf theory classes. On my first day of surfing at the camp, we were pushed into unbroken waves and I managed to stand up and go straight for a few seconds before falling each time.
Over the following week, we surfed for 4 hours and had 2 hours of surf theory lessons a day. Throughout that week, I had both good and bad days. On some days I was able to stand up on most waves I was pushed into and on other days I made many mistakes and fell most of the time.
However, we did have regular photos reviews where our instructors analyzed why we were falling. They pointed out the fact that I was standing on my back toes and looking down at the board when trying to stand up. Before each surf session we would discuss our goals and be sure to focus on improving these specific mistakes.
During my third week of the camp, I really started to notice some improvement. I was still being pushed into waves. However, I was popping up much quicker and starting to surf down the face of the wave. My stance and form were really starting to improve.
Finally, by the fourth week, I was able to consistently stand up and surf down the face of the wave. My popup and stance were solid. However, I was still being pushed into waves by my instructors.
When I left the Surfcamp and returned home, I was faced with the task of buying my own surfboard and paddling out into the ocean alone. At this time, I lived in New Jersey and was surfing cold water beach breaks. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from this time.
What I can tell you however, is that it look me a couple of years to start regularly catching waves on my own and surfing down the face of the wave. Leaving the perfect waves of Indonesia and learning to navigate the ocean on my own was an entirely different task.
The surf camp education prepared me for the journey, but it wasn’t until four years after leaving the surf camp until I truly felt like I knew how to surf. For me, knowing how to surf meant feeling confident enough to go surfing with friends and feel like I could catch at least one proper wave by myself.
It has now been a little shy of 6 years since I first started surfing, and I can now confidently say I know how to surf. Currently, I can catch most waves I paddle for, always ride down the line, perform advanced maneuvers, and am working towards even more advanced maneuvers.
Personally, performing turns on a shortboard was always my goal in surfing. So, until I was able to confidently do this, I didn’t feel like I truly knew how to surf. However, for each person this goal will be different. If your goal is to longboard, you might learn to catch waves faster than I did. Instead, if your goal is to just enjoy riding straight to the beach with your friends, then you will surely achieve this in less than 6 years.
Ultimately, it will take most people a few weeks to a few years to learn to surf. Learning correct etiquette, theory, and technique will make this process faster. Additionally, working with a coach and regularly reviewing footage of yourself surfing will also speed up the process. For this, we offer online surf coaching sessions and online surf photos and video analysis sessions.
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