Surfing is a surface water sport. It’s arguably the most common extreme sport and one you’re most familiar with, being seen in movies like Blue Crush and Point Break. Like snowboarding, surfing is a board sport, in which the surfer stands up and rides a surfboard propelled by the forward motion of a wave.
In laymen’s terms, surfing is when you ride waves on a surfboard. You already knew that, but hey, my job is to clarify :).
Surfing is a popular extreme sport. The sport was integral to ancient Polynesian culture and was likely first seen by western eyes when British explorers visited Tahiti in 1767. Surfing was also common in Hawaii when Captain James Cook visited the island (and was killed there) in the late 18th century.
The sport gradually spread to the west coast of North America over the next hundred years, first in California and later to the rest of North America.
Fast forward to now and surfing is widely enjoyed and practiced throughout the United States and Australia, among other places. But let’s not exclude Canada from that list. Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a popular surfing town here in the Great White North. Way back in 2010, when I sucked at blogging, the little community was even called ‘The Best Surfing Town in North America’.
OK, so I’m reaching a little, but hey, I live in Canada. You can surf here. That’s all I’m sayin’.
If we want to get technical, surfing is the act of riding waves. You don’t technically have to ride a board to be ‘surfing’, nor even do you need to be human (OMG, it’s a surfing dolphin! Double Like!). Going by that definition, body boarding, knee boarding, and even forms or stand-up paddling all fall under the umbrella of this versatile activity.
I was really searching for a ‘surfing otter’ video cause that would be totally cute, but alas, I could not find one.
But I digress. More importantly, say the word ‘surfing’ and you likely think of stand-up surfing. That’s typically done on the ocean. Not always though; surfing needs white water. That can be on the ocean, on a lake (wanna go surfing in TORONTO?) or even river surfing.
Surfing in Calgary. Who’da thunk?
Still, you’re reading this because you saw the Point Break remake and want to learn about Life of Water from the Ozaki 8. Am I right? Then let’s stick to traditional stand-up oceanic surfing for the remainder of this post. Going by that logic, we can break surfing down in several styles:
Long-Boarding – This is done on a long surfboard (natch), typically 9-12 feet long. While it sounds intimidating, long boards are actually better for beginners because they offer more stability than shorter surf boards. They’re easier for paddling out into the action. Plus, if you’re a surf ninja like Kelly Slater, you can actually walk to the nose and hang your toes off the edge. Hence the term, ‘Hang Ten’.
Short-Boarding – A short board is a short surfboard. They’re generally between 6’10′”-ish to eight feet long – a feature that makes them more aerodynamic that long surfboards. They’re more difficult to master than their longer bretheren, but they tend to go faster too. Shortboards are ideal for stunts and nifty tricks. While not for beginners, they have advantages that longboards do not.
Paddle-in Surfing – Unless you’re Garrett McNamara, you’ll likely ‘paddle out’ into the surf to wait for your waves. That’s ‘paddle in surfing’. No PhD in Physics required to get how that works.
Tow-In Surfing – Why did I just mention Garrett McNamara? Because he’s a big wave surfer. Think 30+ feet – the kind of waves you can’t just paddle in to and require a ‘tow-in’, most likely with a jet ski.
That’s decades of experience though – and a bit of a death wish. The vast majority of beginner surfers start with a long-board and advance to something a little shorter as they get better. Most surfers paddle in.
Surfing does not have to be an expensive sport. You could even make the argument that it’s cheaper than snowboarding – your prerequisite surf gear includes a surf board and a few other pieces so Mother Nature doesn’t get her smack down on your noob surf resume. Essential surf gear includes:
A Surf Board – You’ll probably want to start on a long-board.
Fins – These attach to the bottom end of a surf board for stability.
A Leash – This attaches your leg to your board, so you’re quickly reunited on your inevitable spills.
Sex Wax/Traction Pad – Rub this on your board for better grip (and you thought surfers stayed up on their own!).
A Wetsuit – You’ll likely need a wetsuit to go surfing in North America. They’re made of neoprene and allow you to stay longer in cold water.
You’ll also want to think about a rash guard, ear plugs, board shorts, gloves, boots and hoods as you spend more time on your surf board, along with a good travel bag to tote it along on your journeys.
Also, don’t forget about sunscreen, along with a surf poncho (which easily slips on when you climb out of your wetsuit), a dry/wet bag for your gear, a waterproof watch and – of course – your GoPro camera to keep things epic.
Surf Tips For Beginners
Surfing ain’t all beer and skittles when you’re starting out. Speaking from experience, it’s nothing short of a cluster**k just standing up on a surfboard for the first time. Also speaking from experience, it’s well worth the spills you’ll take. There is nothing on Earth like the feeling of connecting with a wave as it takes you to shore. Granted, it takes time and elbow grease to get there, so think about these surf tips for beginners as you embark on this journey:
Don’t Learn By Yourself – A surf camp is a good way to learn the basics of this demanding sport.
Pick A Good Teacher – Make sure your teacher is experienced and has good reviews.
Start on a Long-Board – These are much easier for learning the fundamentals of surfing. You’ll catch more waves this way too.
Surf a Beginner’s Wave – News flash: the monster waves of Nazare are out for a while. Learn surfing on a beginner’s beach – both for wave-riding and the etiquette you’ll learn.
Spend Some Time on Dry Land First – Stretch before you hit the water. Check your board and your leash, and watch the waves. Just as important, watch what the other surfers are doing. This is a good habit to keep, even as you progress as a surfer.
Pace Yourself – Relax friend. I know you’re keen to get going, but you’ll be doing a lot of paddling and risk injury if you take on too much at this stage.
Don’t Get In The Way – This ties into surfing a ‘Beginner’s Wave’. Surf etiquette is very important. Keep your distance from more experienced surfers. You might get a few stink eyes regardless, or even be called a ‘kook’ if you’re on a beach where localism can be an issue. It’s all part of the process. Let this roll off your back and learn from these guys.
Paddle, Paddle, Paddle – You be a VERY sore individual after your first few days on a board. But the ocean waits for no man or woman. If you want the wave, you’ll have to paddle for it.
Get Used to Wiping Out – Success is getting up one more time than you fall. You’ll have a lot of practice with both as you start out. Show me some bruises.
Bend Your Knees – Did you actually STAND UP? Congrats! Now bend your knees – and not your back.
Stay Perpendicular – You will quickly acquaint yourself with the ocean floor if you don’t.
Have Fun! – Above all, enjoy yourself! Phil Edwards once said, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun!” (Thanks for that, The Inertia).
Take a Surf Trip – Surfing takes commitment. There’s no better way to learn the sport than go on a road trip and get your butt surfing. I’ve blogged about several surf camps in Australia. In Canada, Long Beach, Vancouver Island is a great place to learn the craft because it’s so wide. A surf trip can help you progress as a surfer.
To surf is to collaborate with other surfers. This is a sport you do with others – those who recognize you on the waves with a friendly nod and look out for you when the waves start rolling. So meet them. Check out these surfing forums to meet others, learn tips, tricks and goals to set on your journey to surf mastery.
Surfing-Waves – If you’re new to the sport, stop by Surfing-Waves. It’s one of the best surf forums out there, with large following eager to chat about everything from surf gear to beaches and photography. Start here.
Surfer – I’m dating myself here, but back in the 80s, as a teenager I’d read up on the exploits of teen-phenom Kelly Slater in Surfer Magazine. I don’t know if they still publish it, but Surfer is still around, and its forum has a large following.
Magic Seaweed – Many surfers swear by Magic Seaweed. It’s the go-to spot for surf forecasts and is one of the best-organized surf forums on the internet in this dude’s humble opinion. Actually, it’s my favorite.
10 Surfers to Watch
So who’s the best surfer in the world at present? That changes quickly. It’s a bit of a changing of the guard right now, with Mick Fanning packing his board away and Kelly Slater pushing the business end of his forties. Still, he’s a voice among many in the surfing community, Here are 10 surfers to watch and get riled up about tubes and the dudes who ride them:
@Filipe Toledo – A lot of folks are betting on 23 year-old Brazilian surfer Filipe Toledo at present. Smaller in stature, the Brazilian tornado has epic aerial moves that leave many gasping and the competition wondering where the f**k this dude came from. Very fun to watch and a World Title contender.
@Kanao Igarashi – There’s plenty of youth among the best surfers on Earth at the moment. Among them is Californian Kanao Igarashi, who’s not old enough to drink, but has already had consecutive appearances in the semifinals of WSL’s Championship Tour. Rough translation? He’s among the best of the best, and a surfer you should watch in the next few years.
@Italo Ferreira – Here’s another Brazilian that can do some damage among surfers on the World Surf League Championship Tour. This guy goes airborne in ways that make you go ‘WTF?’. That’s led to a few injuries in the past several years, but he’s back now, and many think Ferreira can win a Champion Tour in the next several years.
@Mick Fanning – Even non-surfers know the name ‘Mick Fanning’. The newly retired Aussie surfer made international headlines in 2015 when he, uh, punched out a great white shark that was checking him out at the J-Bay Open finals that year. But don’t let that peculiar encounter or the fact he’s put his surfboard away stop you from following him on Instagram. He’s one of the most celebrated figures in the history of surfing.
@Kelly Slater – We can’t talk about the best surfers on Earth and not mention Kelly Slater. The youngest (age 20) and then oldest (at 39) WSL Champion in history. And he’s STILL going strong at 47 at the time of this writing. Plus, ask just about anyone and he’s one of the more congenial guys in the business and one of my personal heroes. The guy’s a stud.
@Coco Ho – Hawaiian surfer Coco Ho can bring it. She’s a regular on the North Shore surfing circuit and a respected surfer in her own right on the World Tour. Now throw in some bikini shots and the fact that she’s with Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris and you’ve got a surfer to follow to get stoked about surfing. XO Coco.
@Stephanie Gilmour – Here’s another female surfer you’ll want to follow. The Aussie lady isn’t shy about weighing on on a variety of topics, from surfing to other sports you’d do Down-Under, like soccer and rugby. And she takes wicked pictures that, well, will make you want to take up surfing.
@Jamie O’Brien – Pipeline, pals and parties – all shot with a GoPro in one hand and a middle finger extend up on the other. That’s Jamie O’Brien, a North Shore surfer and one of the youngest ever to win a Pipeline Masters. He’s a little older now, but is more of a rebel than ever.
@Mark Healey – Few surfers ‘get’ the ocean quite like Mark Healey. You may not have heard of him, but he’s a regular on the WSL’s Big Wave Awards list. Think deep dives, big waves and big sharks – including this cageless shark dive with a great white shark back in 2011.
@Sage Erickson – One more female surfer you’ll want to follow. Sage Erickson brings the ‘surfer life’ in all of its bounty. That’s sun, sand, summer days, bikinis and – well – she’s a pretty awesome surfer on top of it.
Best Surfing Movies
Unlike other extreme sports, surfing has been covered extensively by Hollywood. There are plenty of films with kick-butt surf stunts to keep you occupied and stoked about surfboards and all that comes with them. Some of the best surfing movies include:
The Endless Summer – OK, so it came out while your Dad (or even Grandfather) was in high school. But The Endless Summer is arguably the best surfing movie of all time. In 1966, documentary film maker Bruce Brown set out to find the perfect wave. His adventures took him to California, South Africa and other spots around the glove. The fruit of his labour: a film made with love for surfing, and one that’s hallowed some 50 years later. #EndlessSummer
Riding Giants – Want to learn about big wave surfing? Watch Riding Giants. It’s a documentary made by famed surfer/skateboarder Stacy Peralta that goes big – real big – in to the history of surfing waves that can eclipse 70 feet. That’s why it’s called ‘Riding Giants’, and brings you closer than you’ll likely ever get to one of these monsters – unless your name is Rodrigo Koxa.
Blue Crush – There’s plenty of girl power in Blue Crush. The acting’s not all there, but who cares? Babes, bikinis and some of the best surfing visuals ever caught in a mainstream Hollywood film. I am so there.
Step Into Liquid – Remember that guy who made The Endless Summer? Well, he had a son named Dana Brown and his followed in Dad’s footsteps. His documentary, Step Into Liquid, captures the same surfer camaraderie as Bruce Brown’s legendary picture, but the surfing visuals are far superior here. Also, part of the film explores big wave surfing at Cortes Bank – the same place Bodhi died completing The Ozaki 8 in Point Break.
Point Break (1991) – Sorry millennials, but I’m pulling rank as a Gen Xer. Yup, I saw the original Point Break in the summer of 1991 (yes, that long ago), and while the remake is better from a technical standpoint, surfing played a larger role in the first movie. Plus, it’s got Keanu Reeves going “You mean to tell me the FBI’s going to pay me to learn to surf?”. And it’s got him chasing Patrick Swayze in a flood canal, screaming “AAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” in frustration (his ankle’s twisted, so we’ll cut him some slack). Utah…get me TWO!
OK, so you’re sold on surfing. So what’s the next step? Get the f*k out there and learn to surf, friend. Do it with others. Better yet, do it on a surfing tour, like those we’re about to talk about. You’ll have expert instruction and the camaraderie of others learning this addictive pastime. Now factor in exotic travel and these surfing tours are definitely the way to go. Please note these are affiliate links and I’ll get a small commission if you book a tour. But there’s a lot of fun here. Value too – you’ll get a discount if you book through these links.
In India, Australia and Oceania
7 Day Livin’ The Dream Surf Adventure – This is my favorite surf camp anywhere, and one of the top-selling on Tour Radar. As the name implies, it’s 7 days of surfing and the life that comes with it. You’ll get expert surfing instruction along with meals and transport from Sydney to Byron Bay as you surf your way along the east coast of Australia – and form some of the best memories of your life. And the folks who run it, MojoSurf, are just come of the coolest people anywhere. Much love.
Offered By: MojoSurf
San Sebastian Surf Camp – There’s plenty of sun and surf in Europe too. In fact, this neck of the world gets epic waves – the San Sebastian Surf Camp in Spain will help you catch them. You get expert surfing instruction with this tour, along with meals and accommodation in beautiful Zarautz. You’ll also squeeze in some hiking and yoga on this 6 night surf camp. And of course, there’s a little hedonism thrown in too for good measure.
Offered By: Stoke Travel