From a gidget starting out…
One of the reasons I moved to Sydney was to make surfing a way of life, after a brief, lustful fling several years ago. Like having a child (apparently), no one can prepare you for how hard it’s going to be but rest assured it is worth the aches and pains. It does help to know a few things though…
1. The waves really do come in waves.
The sooner I learnt this, the easier I found it to get out to the back. When you’re trying to paddle out, wait until the wave set has died; it’ll save on your arm power.
2. Patience is key.
That rush when you learn to stand up is worth the blood, sweat and tears, so don’t give up unless you really don’t think it’s for you (and that’s ok too).
3. It’s ok if it’s just not your day.
Tomorrow probably will be. Know when it’s not your day and stop – it didn’t help to beat myself up when I had a bad session, I just kept telling myself I will get better.
4. Trust yourself.
Once I had the basics, I found I needed to stop relying on my surfer friends telling me which wave to catch. It was too much pressure, especially when you’re trying to turn around on an incredibly buoyant piece of plastic (much harder to manoeuvre than your pro surfer friends’ toothpick of a board). Pick your own wave – when you’re ready – and make it your own.
5. There are two levels of commitment.
Financial: when I first started, someone said to me ‘if you’re not willing to buy your own board, you’re not committed enough to be a surfer’. Whilst I think this is a bit limiting, the sentiment is right. If you’re having second thoughts about splashing the cash, then it might be time to rethink if this is the right hobby.
Mental: when I’m paddling out and the waves are smashing into me, I find it strangely helpful to talk to myself (quietly!). It gives me the mental determination and physical strength to keep going. Honestly, try it.
6. How the ocean works.
I’ve found that understanding rips and learning to read waves are essential parts of being able to get out there and enjoy surfing back in. It’s also worth knowing the wind direction for your chosen beach, which I ended up writing down because I got so confused. It really does make a difference when trying to work out the conditions for that day, so I’d recommend checking out swellnet.com.au before heading out to avoid disappointment.
7. That there’s no point in worrying about sharks.
Who says you taste good anyway? A helicopter over the beach doesn’t necessarily equal Jaws attack despite what people think.
8. The rules – and when they matter.
It’s important to learn the basic rules of surfing the waves as people will shout at you if you don’t, especially in Bondi (think Keanu Reeves at the start of Point Break but less dramatic). Having said that, don’t worry too much if people get annoyed; they tend to do this as they’re scaring of beginner boards flying into them! Best bet is to apologise, move on and learn from your mistakes. Just don’t let your confidence slip; you are only learning after all.
9. The protocol when you’re out there.
I’ve found it important to observe the line-up when you arrive as some are quieter than others. I wouldn’t always advise trying to spark up a conversation when you’re sitting out the back. Once you’ve paddled out, take your time to choose your wave – after all that effort – and just enjoy chilling on your board in the middle of the sea. It’s the most zen I’ve ever felt (this coming from a very un-zen person so take what you will from this).
10. All the gear and no idea.
A 7 ‘ 6″ fibreglass board, second hand from Gumtree is a great place to start. You should be looking at around $200-350 depending on its condition and they normally come with a bag. Above all, make sure you invest in the right sized board for your standard. Getting one that is too small will leave you floundering hopelessly in the water and completely knock your confidence.
Secondly, make sure your wetsuit is the right size or it just won’t keep the winter ocean out. The price, brand and style are all secondary to the fit – and I wouldn’t recommend ever buying a guy’s wetsuit as it’s unlikely to keep you warm and snug all year round. As for in summer when it’s too hot, just wear a bikini with a t-shirt for protection – your very own free rash vest!
Oh and one more important one to sneak in: it is worth getting up to surf at sunrise…trust me.