17 September 2019

Getting started – surfing

May 14, 2008

Blue skies, warmer temperatures, what better time to head to the beach and try surfing? Sportsister points you in the right direction.

surfer-1.pngThere has never been a better time to have a go at surfing, there are surf schools dotted around the country at popular beaches, numerous hire centres and surf holidays galore. But as a woman wanting to have a go – it can still be intimidating. Fear not, we have all the tips to get you started and, perhaps more importantly, coming back for more.


Surfing is one of a new breed of sports that promotes its lifestyle as heavily as the sport itself, this means that it is perfect as a fun and sociable activity. The big brands host events to encourage women into surfing that include free try-out sessions and mini beach festivals and there is also a plethora of magazines and videos to spend your money on, not to mention a whole new wardrobe of casual clothing and jewellery. Don’t be put off if that’s not your scene though, it really is not necessary to spend a fortune trying to look the part – spend your money on some good lessons and some sunblock first.

The basics

Surfing involves a board, a leash (attaches the board to you) and you – plus some waves. As a learner you will never need to go out of your depth in this country and you don’t need big waves, so its not as scary or hard core as many think. Until you become competent, you will walk your board out turn it round to face inshore, climb on, paddle like mad when a wave approaches and try to catch the wave. If you do manage to catch it you can try to stand up or alternatively just enjoy the ride lying down. Sounds simple enough. But in reality it takes quite a while to get the feel of it, so don’t be put off if you are not standing by the end of your first session.

The sea

Contrary to many people’s perceptions you don’t need big waves to enjoy surfing. If you have a longboard (exactly as it sounds – a longer, therefore floatier board 9ft +) you can surf in waves as small as 30cm high. Surf schools use longboards, often with a foam surface to help avoid injury. In the UK you will surf a beach break which means the waves break as they approach the beach as opposed to a reef break (like in Hawaii) where the waves break where they hit the reef. A beach break is generally a less intimidating option as you don’t have to paddle your board out far.

However even small waves can be powerful and knock you over and certain beaches have strong currents even in calm conditions. Always read the signs at the entrance to the beach – they are there for a reason and often have valuable information on the best and safest places to surf – take notice. And if in doubt – if there is one, ask the lifeguard to point out the safest places.

Surf Schools

The best way to start is to sign-up to a day course, many schools now offer women only courses if that suits you better and they are a relatively cheap way of getting a taste of surfing. They will also give you good pointers on safety (a big issue in our crowded seas) and often surf schools have a designated area, so you don’t have to worry about getting in anyone’s way or crashing into a group of children. In general schools will have up to 12 learners with two instructors which is fine as in introduction.

If you want to take up surfing on your own, a surf school is perfect, there will be many others in the same situation and there is nothing like a bit of crashing about in the surf for instant bonding. Equally if you fancy taking up the sport with a group of friends, the surf school can arrange an exclusive group for you if you book in advance.

Most schools also offer one to one tuition and whilst this is a more expensive option, it can be more effective. Our advice would be to try a group class first – see if you like it and then invest in a couple of one to one lessons, it really does make a big difference.

There are also many schools abroad. If you want to team a holiday with learning to surf then do your research before you go, you may want to sign up for a weeks course or go on an all-inclusive surf holiday that includes massage, gourmet food and accommodation.

Look out for our follow-up feature on this.



If you have never surfed and are not with people that are competent surfers, then hiring a board is really not recommended – not only could you hurt yourself, but you could hurt others too. Once you have had a couple of lessons and know the basics then it’s a good option to tide you over before you consider buying a board of your own. Also once you have a bit of knowledge then you can ask the hire people for the length of board you want – rather than just get fobbed off with the ‘pink one with flowers’.

What to wear

In the UK, it is very rare not to need a wetsuit. You will also need a swimsuit – ideally a sensible one piece (you will know why, when you try to take your wetsuit off). Wetsuits can be hired, but if you want to buy one and it is probably worth it if you are surfing everyday for a week or more, then you will need to spend £80+. Boots are a good idea too, not just to stop your feet going numb but also to protect your feet from sharp stones and pebbles, expect to pay £10+.

A rash vest is a good investment too, basically it is a long sleeved lycra top that you wear underneath your wetsuit to stop it rubbing (this can be a problem around your neck so make sure you pull the collar or your rash vest up.) Rash vests come in a variety of sleeve lengths – the best bet is long, it will keep you warmer and the sleeves won’t ruck up inside your suit. On hot days you can wear a rash vest with swimsuit or shorts for surfing and it will help prevent sunburn.

Sunscreen is essential too, even if its hazy the sun reflects off the sea and you can burn very quickly.

When and where to go

Unless you are pretty hardy, the best time to surf is May-October, before May the sea is still very cold from the winter, after October the sea is quite warm still but colder air temperatures mean you would really need to consider a thicker wetsuit or accept less time in the water.

In the UK, Cornwall and Devon are perhaps the best known destinations, but there is also great surf in Wales, the east coast of Northumbria and Scotland. If you want to go further afield the possibilities are endless; South West France, Portugal and Ireland are all easily accessible and if you really get the bug then there are endless exotic locations to head for.

So now all you have to do is give it a go. Persevere, it’s great fun when you start to get the hang of it and it’s invigorating, healthy and great exercise.

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Surf schools.
www.hibiscussurfschool.co.uk Womens only in Newquay
www.walkingonwaves.co.uk Set up by Sarah Whitely, former champion surfer, in Devon
www.surfsouthwest.co.uk Well established. Devon and abroad
www.gowersurfing.com South Wales

Look out for our next recommended retailer feature – Longboard specialist Loose-fit, with stores in Bristol and Braunton and online at www.loose-fit.com.

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