Surfing is a very popular activity in those areas where the waves are high enough to make it possible. While most people think of California and Hawaii as great places to engage in surfer, there are other places as well including the beaches of Tahiti. However, before you start surfing, you want to make sure you have enough experience to handle yourself on the waves. It is not difficult to learn how to surf, but you do need to choose the surfboard that is right for your skill level before moving up to a board that is intended for more skillful surfers.
Surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture. Surfing was first observed by Europeans at Tahiti in 1767, by the crew members of the Dolphin. When Mark Twain visited Hawaii in 1866 he wrote,
"In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing."
References to surf riding on planks and single canoe hulls are also verified for pre-contact Samoa, where surfing was called fa'ase'e or se'egalu and Tonga.
Hawaii, once part of the Polynesian Islands before becoming part of the United States, is one of the most popular places for surfing. Captain James Cook made the first European visit to Hawaii in 1778 when he and his crew aboard the HMS Discovery and Resolution stopped at the western end of the island as they returned from Tahiti and the northwest coast of North America. He spent a year looking for a route from the North Pacific into the Atlantic before returning to the islands and on this trip stopping on the Big Island. Lieutenant James King, commander of the Discovery, penned the first written account of Hawaiian surfing by a European in 1779.
The sport had become an essential part of Hawaiian culture by 1779. Surfboard riding was as much a part of the islands as baseball the modern sport of baseball is to the United States. Chiefs were able to demonstrate their mastery while commoners became famous (or not) based upon the way they handled themselves while riding the waves of the ocean. Commoners tended to surf the waves in an upright position on boards up to twelve feet compared to chiefs who tended to ride the waves lying down on boards as long as 24 feet.
Anthropologists are uncertain about the origin and evolution of surfing because of the uncertainty of the timeline and movements of the Polynesians. They do know that humans began to migrate from Asia and into the eastern Pacific around 2000 B.C. when Polynesians established themselves within a large triangle that included New Zealand (then known as Aotearoa), Tonga and Samoa, and Tahiti and the Marquesas. However, the first Polynesians arrived in the Hawaiian Islands during the fourth century A.D.
When the Polynesians arrived in Hawaii they also brought their customs with them, one of which included using belly boards. Although Tahitians may occasionally stand on their boards, using long boards to surf while in an upright position was perfected (and possibly invented) in Hawaii. Even before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, surfing had become a legend and culture that were centuries old. His arrival also helped undo some taboos including prior separation on the beaches of the chiefs and commoners.
Surfing incidents that became part of Hawaiian legends played roles in the naming of places. The experts (called kahuna) spoke special chants for different reasons including the christening of new surfboards, bringing the surf off and to provide courage to those who challenged the big waves. Since Hawaiians had no written language until the arrival of white-skinned people, their history and genealogy prior to that time are recorded in songs and chants.
Surfing begins when the surfer finds a ridable wave on the horizon and then attempts to match its speed (by paddling or sometimes, by tow-in). Once the wave starts to carry the surfer forward, the surfer stands up and proceeds to ride down the face of the wave, generally staying just ahead of the breaking part (white water) of the wave (in a place often referred to as the pocket or the curl).
Once a surfer learns the basic maneuvers and is able to keep his board upright when riding the waves, he is then ready to move onto more complex maneuvers. Even these more complex maneuvers are based on skill levels, so you don’t want to begin with something that extends beyond your level of expertise on the waves or you will discover you are recovering from immersion into the waves more often than riding them.
Some of these advanced maneuvers rely on the surfer’s ability to maintain speed and balance. Until you can master those basic skills you do not want to try anything more complex, especially those maneuvers that require you to change positions on the board or ride the higher waves.
Typical surfing instruction is best performed one-on-one, but can also be done in a group setting. Popular surf locations such as Hawaii and Costa Rica offer perfect surfing conditions for beginners, as well as challenging breaks for advanced students.
Surfing can be broken into several skills: drop in positioning to catch the wave, the pop-up, and positioning on the wave. Paddling out requires strength but also the mastery of techniques to break through oncoming waves (duck diving, eskimo roll).
Those who live in regions where surfing is popular are in a better position to learn the various surfing techniques. It is also important to know the best kinds of waves for surfing. While many places that are off the ocean may have waves, those waves may not be conducive to surfing. For example, most beaches off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean have waves that are too “tame” for surfing though they may be perfect for water skiing and body surfing.
You will also find many online courses on surfing, many that include videos. These courses are good places to start if you are planning to travel to an area where surfing is popular, but you have to remember watching surfing on a video is different than actually doing it. Never rely on reading books or watching videos but rather remember you must practice in order to learn how to surf well enough to handle the more complex maneuvers and build the speed and agility you need to surf in the big waves.
While the Pacific Ocean has the waves that are more conducive to surfing, you can certainly learn to surf in the Atlantic where the waves are less likely to be raging at break neck speed and velocity. These smaller and less ferocious waves allow you to learn how to surf without the greater fear you will experience when trying to learn to surf in waves that may be above your head.
Surfing can be done on various equipment, including surfboards, longboards, Stand Up Paddle boards (SUP's) , bodyboards, wave skis, skimboards, kneeboards and surf mats.
The type of board an individual uses for surfing the waves depends on many different factors which may include any of the following:
• Personal preference
• Surfing skill and level of expertise
• Type of weather
• Time of day (high tide will cause higher velocity waves than low or mid-tide)
• Age and reaction time of the surfer
Each surfer must take the time to learn his own body chemistry and reaction time in addition to working with his or her level of expertise. All of these factors play a part in the type of surf board that will meet the needs of a specific surfer. While you want to derive pleasure from the sport, you don’t want to put your life or that of anyone else in danger.
Before you venture into the water on your own, it’s essential to have all of the equipment you need. While you may not need everything that is listed here, you will certainly need a properly designed surfboard and the proper surfing clothing depending on the region where you are surfing. While most people think of surfing as a sport for warm weather, many surfers do actually wear a wetsuit and surf regardless of the temperature outdoors or of the water.
Simply put, you can surf anywhere there are waves. You can surf anywhere that has waves high enough and with enough velocity to make it worthwhile. You do not have to travel to California, Hawaii or Tahiti unless you choose to do so. You do want to remember, however, that the best waves for surfing are on the Pacific Ocean.
Some surfers may prefer to surf the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, not just because the waves do not have the same velocity as those on the Pacific Ocean but also because they feel they are in more control and can choose body surfing instead of using a board. These smaller waves also accommodate the use of a “boogey board” instead of the longer board most surfers use to capture the larger waves.
While we have indicated here that the Pacific shore is more conducive to surfing compared to the Atlantic that does not necessarily pertain to all areas. In some parts of the southern United States you will find waves that are at least equal to those you find in the Pacific. The key is locating the regions that will allow you to surf in the waters of your dreams.
Surfing, like all water sports, carries the inherent danger of drowning. Although the board assists a surfer in staying buoyant, it cannot be relied on for floation, as it can be separated from the user. The leash, which is attached at the ankle or knee, keeps the surfer connected to the board for convenience but does not prevent drowning. The established rule is that if the surfer cannot handle the water conditions without his or her board then he or she should not go in.
Some drownings have occurred as a result of leashes tangling with reefs, holding the surfer underwater. In very large waves such as Waimea or Mavericks, a leash may be undesirable, because the water can drag the board for long distances, holding the surfer underneath the wave.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that even if you feel you are a strong swimmer, there is a tremendous difference between swimming the length of a pool and being in the ocean. The potential for drowning increases for those who lose balance on a surfboard and do not have the strength or agility to recover themselves quickly enough in the ocean waves. Before you venture into the ocean’s waves make sure you can recover your surfboard and balance quickly when a large wave overcomes you.
You can also reduce your chances of drowning if you surf with at least one other person. Even if you are an experienced surfer and have spent many hours on the big waves, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions especially if you are surfing in unfamiliar waters. You also want to make sure you are in top health when you venture into the ocean; if you are not feeling well you should stay out of the water. While this should be common sense, sometimes people are so anxious to surf they don’t stop to think about the risk they are taking. Even something as simple as coughing or sneezing could cause you to lose your balance on the board.
Eye damage is one of the most frightening injuries a surfer can sustain. Eye injuries usually occur when a surfer’s eye comes into contact with an out of control surfboard tip. Damage to the eye can permanently damage it and cause a loss of vision.
The best way to avoid damage to your eye or any area of your face is to equip the tip of your surfboard with a soft nose guard. It doesn’t cost very much to install these nose guards on your surf board, and they will reduce the amount of damage the tip might cause to your eye or face.
One of the most traumatic injuries a surfer can suffer from the rails, fins and nose of a surf board is head trauma. In addition head injuries have the potential to cause acute and ongoing injuries as well according to information published in the Conservative Management of Sports Injuries. Some of the other causes of surfing-related injuries include coral reefs, hard sand on the floor of the ocean and submerged rocks. In addition, the Conservative Management of Sports Injuries also states the most common head and neck injuries related to surfing include but may not be limited to the following:
• Fractures of the cervical spine
• Fractures of the face, jaw, skull and teeth
In order to prevent head injuries while surfing, you might want to invest in a soft top surfboard. Another preventive measure that is becoming more popular, especially for those surfers who choose to ride many of the treacherous waves is the use of a helmet. While there are some people who may think wearing a helmet to surf is childish, there are many who think the same thing about wearing a helmet to ride a bicycle or motorcycle. You look at the odds and make the decision for yourself.
The feet and hands are common areas of the body subject to surfboard injuries. The skin is too soft to handle the trauma that results from contact with the sharp edges of a surfboard fin or a sharp coral reef that is hidden beneath a wave. A laceration incurred while surfing can create the need for stitches and lead to infection if it is not treated promptly. Choosing a surfboard with softer fins and wearing booties on your feet can reduce the potential for injuries to your hands and feet. You may not look like the world’s most adept surfer in this get up, but you will save yourself time out of the water and in the doctor’s office or emergency room.
While it isn’t common for surfers to adapt to the habit of stretching, it is actually one of the best things they can do in order to prevent overuse, a condition that can lead to problems with the Rotator-cuff and tendinitis. These conditions are usually more prominent among beginning surfers because of poor paddling techniques and older surfers who have spent years paddling. If you get into the habit of performing stretching exercises for just ten minutes a day you will avoid potential shoulder injuries.