How to Catch Your First Wave on Day One!

With the increasing global popularity of surfing, more and more people want to learn to surf. Many people just want to catch a few waves and experience the fun of surfing.

According to, surfing is one of the top listed activities of things to do before you die. Catching a wave is an amazing feeling and it’s understandable if you want to give it a try.

When I am talking to people interested in learning to surf, the two most popular questions are “How long does it take to learn surfing?” and “How long will it take me to catch my first wave?”

Most often it will take people 1-2 years of dedicated effort to learn to surf and develop the fundamental skills necessary to become a competent surfer. That being said, many beginner surfers catch and ride waves on a big, stable surfboard on their first day surfing.

Surfing can be an intimidating sport to try for the first time but keep reading to review the 10 Tips to Learn to Surf & Catch Your First Wave on Day 1!

1. Take Surfing Lessons

If you want to catch a wave on your first day, you will increase your chances of success by taking a surfing lesson.

Most surf schools offer a great introduction to surfing, which usually takes place at a beginner friendly surf spot and provides all the tools for early success.

Surf instructors are usually in the water with beginner surfers and help reduce some of the stress by making it a safe experience and getting beginners in the optimal position to catch a wave.

Most beginner surf lessons are between 2-4 hours, which is plenty of time because most people will be tired after a few hours. Learning to surf with people at a similar skill level is a great way to be exposed to the sport in a comfortable, positive environment.

Although one day is enough time to catch your first wave and learn the surfing basics, most people will need to put in a lot more time and effort to learn to catch waves without assistance from an instructor and advance past the beginner stage.

2. Learn to Surf on a Big, Stable Surfboard

It is easier to catch a wave on a long, wide surfboard because it is more stable in the water. With a bigger surfboard there is more surface area that will help you catch waves more easily and give you a larger surface to stand up on.

Most surf schools will recommend foam surfboards that are at least 8-9 feet long for adult surfers. Surfboards made out of foam are softer so they reduce the chance of bumps and minor injuries.

If you are attending a surf school or renting a surfboard, go with the size recommended by the surf shop. Don’t pick a smaller surfboard because it looks cool, trust the professionals and remember that they want you to have fun and catch the most waves possible!

3. Improve Your Swimming Skills

Being a competent swimmer is the most important skill that will help you learn to surf. Swimming is a necessary safety skill for any water sport and will also increase your chances of success at catching waves.

Since you will be paddling more than you will actually be surfing, practicing swimming should be a focus.

Because many pro surfers spend time in the pool doing swimming drills, practicing holding their breath and simulating hold downs (unexpected time under water), there is no reason the rest of us can’t do the same thing.

Find a local community centre, start with some easy lengths of the pool and build from there. Join a swimming group or meet friends and make it fun. More swimming will help your surfing.

But don’t go surfing if you can’t swim. Consider clicking on the link to read my article titled, “11 Must-Knows if You Want to Learn to Surf But You Can’t Swim”

4. Paddling Out

Paddling out to the line up, is the first task a surfer faces when entering the ocean. The “line up” is the spot where the waves break and where the surfers usually sit together and wait.

For beginner surfers, the best spot to catch waves will be closer to shore where waves are already broken, which is called whitewash. Experienced surfers will venture farther out in an effort to catch unbroken waves.

Paddling out can be challenging because surfers have to navigate under and over already broken or breaking waves.

I remember a particularly humbling paddle out at a new surf spot where I found myself back on the beach after 5-10 minutes of hard paddling and duck diving. I had underestimated the effort required to get out to the line up.

After several more tries and some tips from a friendly local, I was able to make it out to the line up.

Check out this video on Paddling Out

5. Proper Positioning

Once in the line up, surfers have to get themselves into the correct position before they can catch a wave.

A surfer must position their board facing the beach with their back to the waves and paddle to match the wave speed.

It sounds relatively simple, but there are a number of things that can happen, including:

  • Not being ready – after all that waiting, sometimes you just aren’t ready to catch a wave
  • Not in the correct spot – The area where surfers take off on waves is called the take off zone. Currents can pull surfers away from the take off zone and constant adjustments are often required to maintain the correct positioning.
  • Another surfer has priority – the surfer that is taking off closest to the peak, right before the wave breaks, has priority.

6. Taking Off

Taking off is when the surfer paddles for a wave and pops up to a standing position and starts riding. Popping up is one of the most important movements in surfing.

It seems very simple but it requires a short burst of controlled energy to commit to catching the wave.

Timing is crucial to the surfer’s success coupled with several minor adjustments to adapt to changing ocean conditions.

The most important thing to remember when taking off is to fully commit. Success is directly related to the effort put forth. It’s why the most common word shouted by other surfers when someone is taking off is, “GO!”

Check out a Video tutorial below of How to Pop up on a Surfboard

7. Riding Waves

The first wave riding experience for beginner surfers is to catch already broken waves and riding them straight back to shore. This is easiest way to learn because it is predictable and there is more time to pop up and get your balance.

As surfers progress, the goal will be to ride unbroken waves and making a decision to go left or right.

Once a surfer is up and riding, whatever movements or tricks are executed is up to them. Generating speed and surfing near the power source of the wave will allow surfers to speed up or slow down when required.

But at the end of the day, every wave is a blank canvas and it is the surfer’s choice what they want to paint.

Check out a Video tutorial below of How to Catch and Ride Waves

8. Surf a Lot

If you want to learn to surf – Go surfing! The more often you go surfing, the faster you will learn.

Stick to user friendly surf spots in the beginning. If there are a lot of surf schools at the beach, then you are probably at the right spot. It is always wise to never surf alone, so call your friends and convince someone else to go along with you.

Learning to surf is hard but it isn’t rocket science. Trial and error is the only way to learn.

For related information about learning to surf, check out my article by clicking the link to read 9 Reasons Why Surfing is Hardest Sport to Learn.

9. Watch Surfing A Lot (at the Beach or Online)

When you are learning to write, teachers will tell you to read a lot and write a lot. When you are learning to surf, you should surf a lot and watch a lot of surfing.

You can learn so much from watching other surfers and it can be fun and inspiring. You can learn the most efficient way to paddle out at a surf spot and where the best surfers are catching waves.

Watching surfing online can be an efficient way to learn all the basic skills related to surfing. You can mimic the movements at home, visualize your self doing them and then practice at the beach. Just Google Learning to Surf and you will find countless videos and articles to help with the basics.

For inspiration, here are a couple of video recommendations of two of the most stylish surfers on the planet: Joel Tudor & Kassia Meador.

10. Learn to Surf on a FlowRider

If you want to ride a wave or learn to surf and you aren’t comfortable in the ocean, there is another option that doesn’t involve going to the beach. You can catch a wave on a FlowRider.

A FlowRider is a machine that creates an artificial wave by spraying a sheet of water 3 inches deep over a curved riding surface. Riders can surf the wave by standing up on a board or lying down on a body board.

With 220 locations worldwide, FlowRiders can be found at a wide range of venues including; community centres, malls, water parks, hotels, resorts and even cruise ships.

Click here to be redirected to the FlowRider website to look for a location near you.

Check out the FlowRider video below.

In Conclusion

Catching your first wave is one of the best experiences. Many people can catch a wave on their first day surfing but don’t be discouraged if it takes you a bit more time.

Learning to surf is a labour of love and most of the knowledge, skills and experience related to surfing are developed through hours of research, practice and repetition.


I am the person behind Surfers Footprint. Thank you for taking the time to read through the post! If you want to know more about our story, scroll down and click on ABOUT SURFERS FOOTPRINT at the bottom of the HomePage.

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