How to Improve Your Surfing: 12 Proven Ways

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So, you really want to get better at surfing, but you don’t know where to start? I know from long experience that surfing is awesome, but there’s nothing worse than getting out on the board and feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing. Like anything, surfing takes a heck of a lot of practice, so here are some great tips on how to get better:

1. Practice Like a Skater

Skating and surfing have quite a few things in common, but one thing that all beginning surfers can learn from skaters is their approach and mindset. You have to build your muscle memory when it comes to handling your board and improving your moves out there on the waves.

If you’ve ever watched skaters, you’ll see them doing the same move over and over again. It’s the absolute best way to build muscle memory and improve. I’m here to tell you that practice makes perfect, and the same is true for surfers of all levels! You want to get better on the waves? You want to get some good air out there? You want to get better at your turns? Think like a skater and practice!

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2. Feeling it

One of the joys of surfing is feeling every wave as you ride it. Where lots of people get caught up in over-analyzing things too much. I’ve seen too many people apply their intellect instead of their feelings to surfing and wonder why they’re losing it out there.

Here’s what you really need to know: surfing is so much about feeling. You have to feel the waves and feel all of the different kinds of waves and their movements. Good surfing is built on thousands and thousands of small details and experiences that are felt and not thought too hard about. Once you open up your emotions and start feeling the waves, you’ll get used to how they move and how you can harmonize with them.

3. Find Someone Better Than You

The fact is that there’s always someone who knows all the tricks and is going to be a better surfer. Rather than avoid them, you should go and seek them out to hang with them! You’ll learn a lot more when you surf with people who are better. I know this from my own experiences with pro level surfers.

If it seems weird to you to hang out with people who are better surfers, you definitely need to check your ego at the door. Life is about learning and unless you’re some kind of seriously gifted freak of nature, the chances are that there are people right on your beach who are going to be better than you at surfing. Instead of being afraid, give into the impulse and just hang with them to see how they do it.

4. Make Sure You Fail a Lot

You know what makes us better surfers? Failure. Yes, you read that right. The best way to learn anything is to fail a lot at doing it. In fact, failure is never a bad thing if you learn from it and make yourself better. All of those great artists and musicians out there that you love have lots more failures than successes. They just don’t show their failures! Just ask me – I’ve failed more times than I care to count!

If it seems counter-intuitive to fail a lot, you probably need to reprogram your brain a bit. There's no room for perfectionism when it comes to improving your surfing. Sure, you want to hit the perfect wave and make the perfect air, but you can’t allow failure to stop your progress.

main wiping out on a surfboard

5. Watching Yourself

Have you ever watched yourself surf on video? Okay, so most people probably don’t watch any videos of themselves surfing, but it can actually be really helpful when it comes to learning and improving.

Just like there’s room for failing, there’s also room for personal humiliation in surfing. It really all depends on how you approach it though. Watching yourself surfing on a video doesn’t have to be embarrassing at all. In fact, you can see how you compare to the best surfers around.

6. Surf Clubs Can Be Awesome

So, being competitive is definitely not for everyone. If you really enjoy free surfing, the thought of joining a club where there’s pressure to perform and compete will seem like a complete “no no.” That’s all good and you don’t have to join a club if you don’t want to.

But, if you have any competitive instincts and want to take a risk, joining a surf club could be the best thing you ever do. Apart from the fact that you’ll meet some amazing people and be able to hang with surfers who are better and more experienced than you, the pressure to compete might also result in you fast tracking your learning in a big way.

7. Check Your Pride

The one thing you have to come to grips with is the fact that you don’t know everything about surfing.  Some people love to boast about how much they know (or don’t know), but the fact is that if you have an open attitude to learning, you'll improve faster. I still don’t know all there is to know about it and I’m okay with that.

The one thing you can’t be is too proud. If you let your pride get in the way of your learning, you’ll struggle to get better. If someone clearly knows more than you do, go and ask them about it. Don’t be shy about approaching other surfers.

2 surfers on the beach

8. Relax and Enjoy it

It might seem obvious that surfing is all about having fun, but so many people take it too seriously! Here’s the thing you really need to know: surfing is about feelings and joy. It’s about being open to the experience and taking each moment as it comes.

You’re kind of at the mercy of the elements out there on your board and you never quite know how a wave is going to feel. If you go out every time and expect to be able to do something, and then get mad at yourself when you screw it up, you’ve got the wrong attitude.

The best way to approach surfing is to be completely open to the experience. Don’t cultivate any expectations and don’t place pressure on yourself. You’re out there to learn, but you’re also out there to have fun. The best learning happens when you’re having fun and not when you’re going too hard on yourself. I find that this is the best way to approach my own surfing.

​Related: 21 Great Gifts for Surfers

9. Go to Competitions and Events

Even if you’re not really competitive by nature, you can still learn a whole lot when you attend events and competitions. Watching real professionals surf and do their thing is an awesome learning experience, even for experienced surfers.

You’ll also learn that even the professionals make mistakes and wipe out. For any young surfer who’s wanting to up their game, knowing that professionals still fail is a valuable lesson in both surfing and life in general. It’s taught me a whole lot about how I can be better at other things, too.

10. Be Aware of Your Own Moods

One big thing that will always influence how well you surf is​ your mood. Sometimes, you’ll just be so amped up that you’re eager to try just about anything out there. Other times, you might feel like you just want to trim and cruise. The thing is this: you can’t force anything in surfing, so just go with your feelings.

group of surfers

11. Take Those Baby Steps

It’s essential to understand where your skill level is at and just take those baby steps. You might be the impatient type, but the waves have a life of their own that you can work and synergize with.

Sure, you might want to get out there and hit the biggest wave and do the biggest air possible, but you have to know where your skill is at and what you need to learn. Every professional got to where they are by understanding that it takes baby steps to get there. I had to learn the hard way, so I know how this goes.

12. Be Positive

All my talk of baby steps and checking your ego might be a bit disconcerting to some people. It might even sound a big negative. It’s not supposed to be, but it makes sense that some surfers are so amped that checking themselves is a foreign concept.

So, the final learning here is that you need to believe that you can achieve anything in surfing. You need to believe that every trick can be done on the right wave and with the right board and mood. It’s a big reason why it’s so important to relax when you're a surfer. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, and that’s cool. In fact, that’s nature!

Despite everything, you still need to believe that you can achieve and do anything. If you don’t, then maybe it’s time to take up something other than surfing.

Let the Waves Teach You

It seems like there’s a lot to take in, and there is. You’re never going to know everything, but no one really knows everything! I definitely don’t know it all!

The waves can always teach us something about ourselves and about the world, so just go with it and let it all happen. Relax, be open, use your feelings, and stay positive. Trust me on this.

Related: The Best Wetsuit for Cold Water Surfing: Buyers Guide