The first thing our surf instructor said to us was, “Practice makes perfect”.
That’s so annoying but unfortunately, as we all know, so true.
Like most adults, I am in a hurry to master these waves, do bottom turns, smash top turns and hang five with the best of them and yeah, also learn the ‘surf lingo’.
When we saw how awesome these surfers looked trimming the waves in front of us, we were told that it took them literally thousands of hours of practice to get that good. It’s said that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to go from a complete novice to expert in any new sport or new skill. So when you are about to surf for the first time in a beginners surf lesson, it can be a little disheartening to realise you are beginning what looks like a lifetime’s work.
Luckily, once you hit the water to catch your very first wave you realise that learning to surf is instantly rewarding. Within a few minutes we were all having a blast and realised you don’t need to be an expert to start having some fun. Unlike a few other sports I have tried, this sport of surfing is going to be fun to learn.
Now I’m looking forward to the hours ahead. And the sooner I get the basics down, I can move on to the next step, so this is where I have ended up at the iconic Scarborough Beach in Perth, Western Australia.
I’m learning with the crew at Scarborough Beach Surf School, the oldest surf school on the planet and the best Surf School in Perth. They came up with the idea of teaching locals, school kids and tourists how to surf in organised classes back in 1986. So I knew I was in good hands. Before this first surf school started, most surfers went through the ‘school of hard knocks’. No one would teach you- you had to work it out for yourself.
The first step is to be measured up for your wetsuit and surfboard. The wetsuit must be skin tight (but not suffocating) to keep you warm. I am surfing in winter, so am provided with a 4mm thick full O’Neill wetsuit that looks like new. The first lesson we are told that the bigger the surfboard, the easier it is to catch a wave and get up to your feet (and also stay there and keep my dignity!). We do spend a lot of time laughing at each other.
Now it’s time to learn the new skill of catching waves. This is a pretty essential skill for surfing. You might now look like a surfer but if you can’t catch a wave you can’t surf. Our surf instructor showed us how it’s all about timing and learning how to ride a wave on your board, on your belly.
My instructor talked me through the position you need to adopt, how to hold the board and look over your shoulders waiting for the wave. Then you need to push forward and slide onto the board, positioning yourself in the middle so as not to over or under-balance. After a few times being dumped into the ocean, you soon learn not to get too far forward or too far back on the board.
There’s no rush with any of this. Take your time to get it right and understand how the waves work – it’s fundamental to everything else you’ll do on the surfboard.
Next it was time to learn to ‘pop up’ and stand. Watching the experienced surfers do this on the waves, it looks so easy. But doing it in practice is not so easy, even when stationary on the beach.
Our instructor broke it down for us into simple movements. The key is to watch and then practice. Get it right, because when you add a wave into the equation it’s going to be ten times harder – so good technique now is essential. Once you’re ready it’s time to head out into the water and try it.
Don’t be disheartened at this stage – it is not an easy thing to do. You’re going to get thrown off, rolled over and generally battered around and dragging your soft beginners board back out is quite tiring. But you’ll also have enough adrenaline flowing through you not to care. With each attempt you get a little closer until suddenly, without quite knowing how, and looking like a baby taking its first few steps, you’re up. Not for long – it’s short-lived for sure – but you know what standing feels like and that was definitely standing!
As I progressed through this first surf lesson I got to my feet a few times and rode a couple of waves to the beach. Our instructor spent time with each of us in the group, gave us individual tips and then moved on to the next person.
I have now completed a few of Scarborough Beach Surf School’s Surf Courses and am now catching green, unbroken waves (small ones) and riding one of their Gnarly epoxy surfboards.
Learning to surf is a lot harder than I had imagined but it’s sure worth it. If you’ve been thinking about it for a while but never seem to find the time, then trust me, it’s well worth the effort.
Beginner surf lessons are essential, and the valuable insights, tips and experience of your instructors will definitely help you along the way.