Ocean Surfing Rules for Beginners and Surf Campers
It’s highly recommended to get surf lessons from a Professional Surf Instructor, who can teach you the proper technique and fundamentals of surfing. They can also guide you into the right waves, and keep you safe. There are many factors that can increase the dangers when entering the ocean, such as strong waves, rip currents, side currents, crowds of swimmers, and other surfers, as well as shallow sandbars, piers, and jetties. A surf instructor can show you the ropes, teach you the ins and outs, and proper etiquette of surfing and let you know when you may be ready to surf on your own. Always wear a leash and surf with another person (use the buddy system and watch out for each other), and always surf in front of a lifeguard.
1. When wiping out or ending your wave Do NOT dive head first off of the surfboard. Instead, fall back gently into the white water or in the case of shallow water, land on your feet with your knees bent. Always fall behind your board. If you are falling forward into shallow water, belly flop with your hands out to avoid bumping your head on the sand bottom.
2. After each wipeout come up with your hands over your head, just incase the board or fins are above you or close by. Try to cover part of your face as well. This is especially important when you nose dive as the board may become airborne.
3. Unless you’re in the process of riding a wave, or paddling into one, face the ocean at all times. When you finish riding your wave, face the ocean immediately so you can be ready for what’s coming. Waves are constant and another surfer may be riding towards you. If you have enough time before the next wave comes, gain control of the board, get back on, and continue paddling back out to surf.
4. When walking out in the surf, hold your board on one side of you. Do NOT hold the board out in front of you because waves will push the board back into you and knock you back. You can jump over small waves while holding the board, until the water gets deeper. Then start paddling out. Always keep the nose up when holding the board, and jumping over waves.
5. If waves are coming, and you do not have control of the board, make sure to get out of the boards way, push the board towards to the beach if you can. But always glance behind you incase there is another surfer that may get bumped by your loose board.
6. When walking and paddling out as a group, space out and “find your own lane”. This way you prevent boards and leashes from getting tangled up, especially if a surfer get bumped off their board.
7. Always watch the surf conditions before paddling out. Be aware of obstacles such as piers and crowds of swimmers, and know which way the ocean flow is moving. Keep your eyes out for rip currents as well. If the waves are crashing in shallow water by the shoreline, be very careful. These steep waves are not suitable for beginners learning on their own. It’s best to surf with a friend, using the “buddy system”, and always surf in front of a lifeguard. Watch for red flags around each beach access indicating strong surf. If you see a purple flag, there may dangerous marine life, such as jelly fish. You may want to consult the lifeguard to make sure the water is safe.
8. The surfer closest to the peak of the wave, or closest to the curl of the wave has priority for that ride. In some cases surfers may want to take off behind the peak as well, thats when it can get tricky. If you are unsure who has the right of way, its best to let the wave pass. Keep in mind some surfers are traveling down the line of a waves quickly, and although you may be far from them, you may eventually cross paths.
While surfing, you are sharing the ocean with other sea creatures, like fish, sea turtles, sting rays, dolphin, and jelly fish. Here are a few tips to keep you safer in the ocean.
Before you go into the surf, check the flags by the lifeguards or entrance to the beach. A purple flag indicates “dangerous marine life”. If the purple flag is flying, consult the nearest lifeguard to see what marine life is present and whether it’s safe to surf and swim.
1) Cannonball Jelly Fish are common in Florida. These jellyfish are frequent and typically not a bother as long as you don’t poke their tentacles, which can release their slimy toxins. If you touch their sliminess, do NOT touch your eyes, this will sting!
2) Portugese Man O’ War are a rare site, but occasionally wash up on north florida beaches.
Man O’ Wars look like a floating blue bubble, but their tentacles extend far out across and underneath the water. If you spot a man o war in the water, stay far away. They can deliver a very painful sting, even on land. Lifeguards carry ointment to help relieve pain.
Portugese Man O’ War
3) Stingrays like to hang out in shallow water, sometimes buried underneath the sand where they are hard to see.
Shuffle your feet while in the water. This may warn the stingray that something is coming and they may swim away. If you are stepping in the water, this increases your chances of landing on a stingray and their stinger, which is very painful. Keep your eyes on the bottom while your walking out in shallow water. Pouring hot water over the sting helps kill toxins and reduce pain.
4) Sharks are a rare site but are present all along Florida’s coast.. Its easy to mistake dolphin for a shark, but here are a few characteristics to help tell them apart. Sharks are usually only seen cruising close to the surface for an extended period of time, and usually you will see two fins, their Primary Dorsal and Caudal Fin or tail fin. Dolphin come up to surface to breathe, but only for a second. You will see one vertical fin and possibly their horizontal tail fin. Dolphin travel in pods and are usually spotted outside the breaking surf, but can even be seen jumping waves.
Shark ( vertical dorsal & tail fin) Dolphin (surfacing to breathe)
While there are proven benefits of moderate sun exposure, if you plan on surfing or spending a day at the beach in Florida, you need to be protected! While you’re surfing, we recommend wearing a Long Sleeve Rash Guard with a UPF rating of 50. We recommend a Zink type of sunscreen for your face, so its not runny and stays on. For ultimate protection you can wear a surf hat, which often come with ear flaps and a strap so it doesn’t fall off. Its important to cover any exposed areas with sunblock, but keep in mind that greasy products on the backside of your legs or on your stomach will cause your surfboard to become very slippery.
Sunscreen is a common topic for new surfers and even avid surfers in search for the best product to avoid getting scorched. A few years ago I got introduced to an organic sunscreen company called Avasol. You can order it directly from their website and in my experience 1 stick lasts a month to several months, so worth the price.
Choosing the right Surfboard (beginners)
Having the right size and shape surfboard is very important when learning how to surf. This can make all the difference. A surfboard that is sinking and is too small can leave you frustrated and ready to give up.
For safety, while you’re learning, we use and also recommend soft surfboards. Soft boards are designed for beginners and have a lot of volume which creates more stability when popping up. They also perform like a traditional hard (fiber glass) board but do not hurt nearly as much if you were to get bumped in the head or come in contact with the fins. The fins on a soft surfboard are flimsy and flexible, and not nearly as sharp as the fins you’ll find on a hard board.
If you’re an adult learning how to surf, we recommend a Longboard soft board. Longboards are longer than 8’0, and have a round nose. We generally use 9’0 and 10’0 longboards when teaching adults or anyone weighing more than 100 lbs, but height, weight, and fitness play a big role when deciding how big to go. Like we mentioned before, Soft boards are designed with beginners in mind and are wide, thick, and stable which makes it easier to stand up on, and requires less paddling to catch waves.
For kids, we usually begin on soft surfboard between 7’0-9’0, however it all depends on the childs height, weight, and athleticism. Young athletic kids may very well be able to learn on a narrow thin short board around 6’0. But for safety its always best to use a soft board until the child masters board control.
To summarize the different types of surfboards, we can break it into two main material categories, being soft or hard (fiberglass), and the three main shapes; Longboard, Fun Shape, and Shortboard. These are the main terms you hear when shopping for a surfboard.
- Longboards are typically 8’0-11’0 and have a rounded nose or tip. Soft longboards are designed specifically for beginners and are going to have a lot of width and thickness for more stability. Fiber glass or hard longboards can vary greatly in volume and design, so its not as simple as grabbing any 9’0 fiberglass board off the rack. You must ask about the dimensions and volume to make sure it’s right for your size and skill level. Most long board riders enjoy the ease of paddling into waves and like to casually cruise on the wave face.
- Fun-shape boards are usually in the 6’6-8’0 range and have a rounded but slightly more pulled in nose. Fun shapes may have similar width and thickness to a longboard but are meant to bridge the gab between longboard and shortboard. Fun shapes can be hard or soft. A soft fun shape may be a good starter board for a child weighing less than a 100 lbs.
- Shortboards can vary in length but are usually in the 5’0-7’0 range. The easiest way to identify a shortboard is the nose. Most shortboards have a narrow pointed nose. This board requires experience to ride. Things like wave knowledge, paddle strength, and balance will likely be required to catch and ride waves on a shortboard. If you’re new to surfing it is not recommended to begin on a shortboard.