The time has come to venture out there by yourself for the first time after your surf lesson. Admittedly, it can be a bit intimidating at first when you go out on your own. All of as sudden there’s no one to tell you where to go out, how far to go and where to catch the waves.
Look for a nice shallow sandbank with spilling 1-2 footers on low to mid tide. OK, so you maybe thinking…sounds good in theory but how the hell do I find a spot like that? And how do I know when the tide is right? Here are some tips to identify that perfect spot.
Before you head into the water, ALWAYS make sure you watch the waves and the other surfers for at least 10 minutes from the shore and ask yourself a few questions that will help find the best spot:
Where are the flags? Are there any designated surf areas? In Australia, the red & yellow flags mark designated swimmer areas, which are a no-go for surfers. On some beaches, especially during the busy summertime, you are not allowed to surf a hardboard in certain areas. So make sure you familiarise yourself with these rules.
Where are the sand banks and rips? The water is usually a bit darker where the rips are and there are no waves breaking in a rip. If you did not grow up by the beach, it can be a bit tricky to spot the rips. A sure sign on a patrolled beach are the yellow warning signs (usually saying “Dangerous Current”) put up the lifeguards. They place them in front of rips. In between 2 yellow signs (i.e. rips) you usually find sandbanks with breaking waves. The rips can be dangerous for swimmers, but once you are a more experienced gidget, they are the easiest way to get out to the ‘line-up’ because the current takes you out, with less paddling.
Any super busy areas? I know it’s not always easy to find a spot that isn’t crowded, especially on busy city beaches. However, people are a bit like sheep and tend to flock to the same spot even though there might be a spot just as good for your purposes. So try to avoid busy areas when you can. After all, you wouldn’t learn to drive a car in busy, peak hour traffic, would you?
Are there any hazards I should avoid? Is it a rocky beach? Could there be any submerged rocks?
Where are the really good surfers? Where are the beginner spots? Are there are other gidgets or groms practicing? Where does the local surf school take people out? That’s the place for you to go. Most beaches have a corner or a part that’s the spot for the most advanced surfers. E.g. Bondi Beach’s South corner is generally known to be for more advanced surfers whereas the North corner is known to be a great beginners’ spot.
How big is it? Sometimes it’s a bit hard to tell. But I find it always looks smaller than it actually is. So if you think it’s too small, think again, it might be great day to practice your pop-ups. The best way to access the actual size is by watching other surfers. Looking at a surfer who’s riding a wave and the waves reaches his knees or hips that would be the best wave size for you (1-2 foot). Quite often, you’ll find one end of the beach is smaller than the other depending on where the waves come from (the swell direction).
How are the waves breaking? We are looking for waves that are gently breaking i.e. where the white foamy bit (=whitewash) ‘spills’ down the down the wave face (hence, their name spilling waves). Try to avoid waves that are hollow and break quickly with quite some force (dumping or plunging waves). Make sure you stay in the area where the waves have already broken, in the white foamy bit, when you first start practicing on your own.
What is the tide doing? If the tide is too low, it tends to be very shallow in the whitewash and you might get stuck in the sand if it’s a very low tide. If the tide is too high, sometimes the waves are not even breaking until they reach the shore and you don’t have any whitewash to practice on or only very short rides. You can usually tell if it’s low or high tide by looking at the sand. The water is deeper and comes up higher on the beach if it’s high tide. So if there is a big strip of damp sand, it means the water has receded and the tide is dropping to ‘low tide’.
What is the wind doing? Which direction is it coming from? Easiest way to figure out is to look at the flags on the beach. Is there a corner of the beach that is more protected from the wind than another?
Learning how to read the waves and finding a spot that’s right for you is a big part of learning how to surf. It will take time but the quickest way to learn is spending time on the beach and watching the surf as well as other surfers.
In the meantime, just ask a lifeguard where the best spot for beginners is. No need to be shy. That’s part of their job. No lifeguard around? Ask another surfer.
Good luck gidgets!
‘How to find the right spot’ is a chapter from the e-book ‘Whitewash Warriors – must have tips for beginner surfers’. For more surf tips for beginners, download the full book here.