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Learning to surf is difficult, and it’s even more challenging when starting at an older age.

Yeah, you may want to get a lesson.


The Inertia

Learning to surf is difficult, and it’s even more challenging when starting at an older age. Although many surfers learn as children, more and more people are making the decision to pick up surfing later in life. The sport offers both cardio and strength benefits while being relatively easy on the joints and tendons, so it’s a great way to stay active at any age. While the benefits of surfing are undeniable, there are plenty of challenges to overcome to adapt to the surfing lifestyle. Here are some earnest tips to help you learn to surf as an adult.

Do a little of this. You'll be glad you did.

Do a little of this. You’ll be glad you did.

1. Prepare
Surfing is a very physical sport, and for those new to the water, it can be exhausting. If you are serious about learning how to surf, consider getting into shape beforehand. Building upper body strength and doing regular cardio can make the transition to surfing a whole lot more enjoyable. Being able to paddle out with ease will allow you to spend more time focusing on learning the skills specific to surfing. Spend some time improving your flexibility–surfing is full of uncontrolled movements, and it’s key in preventing injuries.  When you’re younger, everything moves a little easier, and it’s easy to forget that as an adult. Take a few yoga classes or spend a few minutes in the morning to limber up. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your flexibility improves. Finally, make sure you’re comfortable swimming reasonable distances in the ocean.

Those rocks weren't there before. Maybe come back in a few hours.

Those rocks weren’t there before. Maybe come back in a few hours.

2. Know the Ocean
Before grabbing a board, make sure you are versed on basic ocean knowledge. Learning about tides, swells, and currents will give you the big picture of the how the lineup operates. Knowing that at low tide your home break becomes a rocky graveyard will make a huge difference in your learning experience. Having this knowledge will help you make the best decisions possible as to when and where to surf. Learning to surf is difficult enough, so why not control as many variables as possible? Understanding what the ocean is doing will help make your session as enjoyable as possible, and more importantly, it will help keep you safe.

You really want this guy rescuing you? "When I was young, kids wore their short around their WAISTS, not their knees."

You really want this guy rescuing you? “When I was young, kids wore their short around their WAISTS, not their knees.”

3. Know Your Limits
Unless you want to be rescued by some 16-year-old lifeguard, it’s far better to respect your limits than to push them, especially when you’re just starting out. It can be difficult to swallow your pride and sit on the beach, but this is a far better option than getting in over your head. And just because you see someone younger than you doing doesn’t mean you’ll be able to–if you see a ripping 10-year-old, chances are good they’ve been playing in the ocean long enough to understand it. The ocean is ultimately far more powerful than any of us, and without the necessary skills and experience, it is reckless to get in the water in conditions beyond your skill level. You can be a danger to yourself and others, and I can guarantee you will experience far more frustration and fear than anything else. There will come a day when you can push yourself further, but for now, make sure you are realistic with your current skill level.

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Respect the children. Actually, respect everyone.

Respect the children. Actually, respect everyone. Photo: Gustavo Miguel Fernandes / Shutterstock.com

4. Be Humble
Everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s ok. Most surfers have no problem with shaky beginners, so long as they know their place. Make sure you select a beginner-friendly surf break before you paddle out, and yield to more skilled surfers of any age. It doesn’t matter if a fellow surfer is 7-years-old; if he or she is a more advanced surfer, they should be treated as such. But as long as you are polite and friendly, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Remember when you heard that guy call this one a "close out", and you had no idea what he meant?

Remember when you heard that guy call this one a “close out”, and you had no idea what he meant?

5. Speak with Poise
Surfing has a language of its own. To adapt to your local surf scene, you should learn and understand at least some basic level surf-specific terminology. No, this does not mean start yelling “gnarly” and “shaka” and other surf clichés. It means that like any other hobby or sport, you should learn to speak intelligently about the topic. Learn the nuanced differences between things like “swell” and “wave.” You don’t need to knock yourself out with surf speak, but learning to speak appropriately will help you better communicate in the water. Ultimately, being able to articulate your thoughts properly will help you earn the respect of other surfers, and will go a long way in actually learning to surf. Listening to someone who surfs well might give you a few ideas–but only if you know what they’re talking about.

Just because you own a surfboard doesn't mean you need to start talking like him. Or putting bagels in your pants.

Just because you own a surfboard doesn’t mean you need to start talking like him. Or putting bagels in your pants.

6. Don’t Force It
Ok, so now you surf. But you’re still most likely a respectable, job-holding adult. You don’t need to start dressing like a teenaged Spiccoli to let people know you surf. Naturally, you will adapt to the surf style just from the functionality of certain clothing items like thick hoodies for morning sessions or flip-flops for hot days, but other than that, you can leave the trucker hats and tank tops behind. Over time you’ll maybe get a wetsuit tan and maybe a couple highlights in your hair too. Just remember, the louder you are, the more easily local surfers will pick out the fact you’re a beginner. Rather than force it, just be the surfing version of yourself.

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Surfing is fun. Don't forget that.

Surfing is fun. Don’t forget that.

7. Be Patient
Learning a new sport takes time. You’re going to take spills, use the wrong word, and paddle out at the wrong place. And that’s ok–you’re learning, after all. While it might not always be easy, the reward of surfing is worth the obstacles you face along the way. The most important thing is not to take yourself too seriously, and just enjoy the ride.

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