9 Reasons Surfing is the Hardest Sport to Learn

When people find out that I surf, they are often quick to share any surfing related stories because it is so much fun.

If they haven’t surfed before, they usually ask, “Is Surfing hard to Learn?”

I spent some time thinking about it because I wanted to provide a detailed answer.

Surfing is one of the hardest sports to learn because it takes a lot of effort, perseverance, dedication and patience to become a competent surfer. Developing the skills necessary to catch waves, generate speed, carve turns and ride the unbroken face of a wave is very challenging.

That being said, surfing is worth the effort!

To find out about Why Surfing is the Hardest Sport to Learn, continue reading!

1. Surfing Requires a Lot of Commitment

Learning to surf takes a lot of time, dedication and commitment.

Experienced surfers spend thousands of hours in the ocean in pursuit of waves over their lifetime.

The sport of surfing consists of lying on a surfboard, paddling, duck diving, getting in position to catch a wave, standing and riding with some falling and holding your breath mixed in.

A surfer will repeat that process thousands and thousands of times in order to improve and that isn’t even counting all the extra organizational time related to surfing, including, working on surfboards, packing gear, traveling to and from the beach etc.

There will even be times when you don’t really want to go surfing because the conditions aren’t the greatest, but you will go anyway because commitment is the most important skill needed to get better.

2. Surfers Practice Patience in the Ocean

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

It’s sometimes hard to stay relaxed when you are waiting for waves to arrive. Surfing is all about waiting and being patient.

Surfers spend roughly 25% of the time in the water sitting on their boards, waiting…..

When the waves arrive, they may come in small sets (1-3 waves) and there may be a large group of surfers, which means most of the surfers won’t have the opportunity to catch a wave and they will have to wait some more.

3. Surfing Can be a Frustrating Sport

Surfing progression can sometimes feel like two steps forward and one step back. Even though surfing is a sport that is often experienced with friends, it is largely a solitary experience.

When mistakes are made there is only one person to blame.

In team sports, everyone shares in the wins and losses and works together to improve. In individual sports like surfing, the mistakes and errors are more glaring and you can’t hide from yourself.

It can be a very frustrating process and there is always the thought that “everyone is watching”. In reality, the ocean is huge and nobody really notices the minor mistakes of one individual surfer, so carry on.

4. Surfing is sometimes Scary

Surfing can be scary. But that’s ok. Facing your fears can be a rewarding experience.

Whether it’s a fear of sharks, fear of the ocean or fear of drowning, there are many valid reasons to have surfing related fears.

If I am being 100% honest, I think about sharks a lot when I am travelling and surfing in tropical locations. But there are a number of tips you can follow that may help reduce the likelihood of a shark encounter. Read How to Avoid Getting Attacked by A Shark

Overcoming ocean and drowning related fears can happen with a focus on improving swimming and safety related skills. As well, gaining experience being in, near or around the ocean will help calm fears and develop a comfort level over time.

5. What Does Getting Skunked Mean?

Arriving at the beach and having no waves to surf is called getting skunked. As a long time surfer, getting skunked happens from time to time.

Watching the weather is an obsession for surfers, and over time, surfers become experts in weather forecasting.

Some of the different variables that may impact the waves, include, tides, wave height, wave period, wave direction, wind speed, wind direction, rain, ocean bottom changes (sand bar) and snow melt (northern latitudes).

Even with numerous websites and apps that will tell you the expected conditions for your chosen surf spot, there is still a possibility that there won’t be any ride-able waves when you get to the beach. Getting skunked is usually followed by a long unsatisfying trip home.

6. Why Excuses Don’t Work in the Sport of Surfing

If you really want to learn to surf, don’t let any excuses get in your way because they don’t work. If you don’t know anyone that surfs, or live in a land locked State or Province, no problem – find a way!

Excuse 1: You don’t know anyone that surfs. It can be challenging to learn a new sport when you don’t know anyone involved but as you progress from a beginner to an intermediate, you’ll will meet other surfers.

Take a lesson, meet some people and make some surfing friends. Be friendly and happy – it’s contagious!

Excuse 2: You live in a land locked State or Province. If you live over 1-2 days travel from the beach, it can be difficult to maintain the consistency required to learn surfing.

That being said, there are several ways you can make it happen. Cross train at home, get in shape and go an extended surf trip and spend a dedicated period of time surfing – your skills will progress quickly!

7. Why Surfers are Sometimes Lonely

Surfing can be a bit lonely at times. But if there ever was a sport that celebrated it’s loners, it’s surfing!

I remember surfing by myself in New Zealand. I was on the South Island and I went to Dunedin to go surfing.

I showed up to the camp site and there was nobody there. I showed up at the beach on a wind swept day and there was nobody there. I went surfing and nobody was out. I stayed for two days and didn’t really see or talk to anyone.

It was super lonely but I ordered pizza to my tent and wrote a letter to my sister (yes, I said “wrote a letter”) at home in Canada and it was OK.

You will meet lots of surfers over time and realize that a large percentage of them enjoy their own company.

8. Surfers Need to Get Comfortable Surfing in Crowds

Surfing is becoming more and more popular because it is a lot of fun. With more people in the water, there are often large crowds of surfers at the popular surf spots.

Surfing in a crowd requires more focus, effort and and an ability to follow the rules. How a crowd operates together, taking turns to catch waves may take some time to figure out but be patient.

Another option is to go to a different break or area of the beach with fewer people.

9. Surfing Is a Humbling Sport

In surfing, you sometimes need to check your ego.

Surfing is very humbling. Let it happen. The sooner you become humbled, the quicker you will learn. Being humble will make you more open to the other surfers around you that you can learn from.

I remember my first trip to Mexico when I was learning the proper way to duck dive bigger waves. I knew I had work to do but I was too nervous to ask for help.

After several days, a local surfer paddled over and offered some suggestions (rather bluntly), showed me what to do and paddled away. I was a little embarrassed and humbled, but I learned a lot from that 30 second encounter.

Another added benefit, humility is a very becoming characteristic. It works in the surfing world as well and will help you make friends. Every group of people has room for humble people!

In conclusion:

Even though surfing is one of the hardest sports to learn it is worth the effort. If you want to learn to learn to surf don’t be discouraged by the amount of effort required to become a competent surfer.

A few things to remember:

  • Learning the basics is fairly easy
  • Don’t be discouraged
  • Bit by bit, your surfing will progress

Best of Luck and don’t forget to have fun!


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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