Learning to Surf: Sometimes Painful, Often Embarrassing, Always Fun

Learning to surf can also be an exercise in pain management and humiliation. It can hurt, bruise and leave you questioning whether or not it’s worth the effort.
Cesar Alvarez
Cesar Alvarez


Surf nomad

Roaming the globe with a surfboard and a laptop, crafting digital stories that ride the wave of surfing culture.

Learning to surf is an enriching experience.

It will push you to your limits, make you question your athletic capabilities then reward your struggles with fleeting moments of sheer ecstasy.

But learning to surf can also be an exercise in pain management and humiliation.  It can hurt, bruise and leave you questioning whether or not it’s worth the effort.

Don’t let this deter you though.

I myself have taught surfing back in Australia and recently took my girlfriend from floundering neophyte to confident wave warrior.

This is especially poignant because as a semmelknödel eating Austrian, most of her childhood was spent walking the woods and hiking mountains. The ocean and its many nuances were relatively unfamiliar to her when we first started, which means I had to coach her from scratch.

Now I can proudly sit here and write that after only a few sessions, she’s fully capable of paddling out, catching a wave and riding it to shore.

In fairness, this is probably due more to her persistence rather than my stellar coaching methods. In any case, watching her go through the ups and downs of learning to surf showed me that everyone can do it, as long as they have the right attitude.

If you’re thinking about booking into a surfcamp, trying your hand at a few surf lessons or renting a board on your next overseas vacation, there are a few important things you should be aware of.

Learning to Surf Is a Humbling Experience

If you can paddle out and stand up the very first time you try surfing, good on you. For the most part though, your ‘learn to surf experience’ will be humbling to say the least.

Expect to spend most of your time nosediving, falling off and being unceremoniously washed around in the impact zone.

In extreme cases, you’ll exit the water with a new scar or bruise.

Even if all goes to plan, there’s still a chance you’ll end up with more sand in your wetsuit than on the actual beach.

Yes, learning to surf can be pretty embarrassing, but couldn’t everyone benefit from a little forced humility every now and then?


Surfing Hurts, but It’s Worth the Pain

Surfing has the potential to hurt, especially if you’re just beginning.

That’s because you’re essentially trying to control a large, hard and heavy object in an ever changing, sometimes dangerous, turbulent environment.

The best thing to do is just accept the bumps and the bruises as being part of the process.

It’s worth it in the long run and the better you get, the less you’ll feel like a human punching bag for mother nature after a session.

Mother Nature Doesn’t Care About You

You can curse the ocean all you want when you’re learning to surf, but Mother Nature doesn’t care about your feelings.

Granted, she’s not malevolent. But she does have a habit of chastening those who foolishly think they can best her.

In fact, the more you try and fight against the current or force a turn, the more you’ll open yourself up to humiliation.

Go with the flow and try to find your happy place if things get hairy. You’ll save yourself a hell of a lot of stress and energy in the process.


Scary Sea Creatures Do Exist, but They’re Not out to Get You

Stingrays, jellyfish, sharks and little bitey things exist in every ocean on this planet. Your chances of bumping into one (or one of them bumping into you) are incredibly slim though.

As with all fears, the more you think about them the more you’ll work yourself into a state of terror.

Just remember, if they can avoid hurting you they will.

My wife recently trod on a stingray and received quite a nasty barb to the foot for her effort. If she hadn’t of stepped directly on it though, it would never have gone out of its way to hurt her.

Innocent party foul on behalf of the stingray.

Persistence Always Pays Off

Surfing requires an incredible amount of persistence if you want to improve.

This is because the ocean doesn’t always offer up the perfect conditions to learn in.

Unlike skateboarding, riding a bike or learning to drive, you can’t just grab your board and go whenever you feel like it.

Due to this aspect of surfing, you need to always be on the ball and ready to paddle out when the waves get good.

One little tip regarding learning to surf is that you should always try to finish your session on a good wave.

Sometimes this’ll entail staying out for an extra 30 minutes or longer. But think about how many opportunities you’ll have to refine your technique in that timeframe.

Not to mention coming in after a good wave can lead to an overwhelming feeling of contentment, or as I like to call it, a post-surf glow.


The Feeling of Riding Your First Wave Will Stay with You Forever

I still remember the first wave I first caught and my wife still talks about hers.

Feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment, pride and joy will bathe your soul and penetrate so deeply into your psyche that the sensation of surfing your first wave will stay with you forever.

From that moment you’ll become a hopeless addict; constantly chasing waves and checking swell reports whenever you find yourself with a second to spare.

Learning to Surf Can Lead to Profound Personal Growth

Learning to surf is humbling, painful, scary and embarrassing.

Most of all though, learning to surf is damn fun.

It’s more than just a chance to pose with your board, take a few Instagram snaps and while away the holiday. It’s an opportunity to overcome your deepest fears and challenge yourself to become a better person.

You’ll have your ups and your downs and a lot of the time you’ll feel like giving up.

But as I said before, it only takes the right attitude to master this wonderful sport.