So, how long does it take to learn to surf? It's a bit like asking how long a piece of string is. There are so many variables that affect it, and it's highly subjective. If we were pressed to give a short answer, we might take anywhere between 5 days and several weeks.
However, learning to surf properly can take several months for some people. It depends on your ability, the equipment you use, your instructor (if you select one), and the conditions in the water.
You will also learn to surf at a different pace depending on the equipment you use. The surfboard, but also the wetsuit. Ideally, you should start out with a long, high-volume board. It will make paddling into waves much easier. On top of that, it will be more stable standing up.
Foam surfboards are much easier to handle in the water than traditional PU surfboards, so we recommend beginning with one. They also float on top of the water more than a PU board, so beginners are less likely to nose dive when taking off on a wave.
Make sure you hire a wetsuit that fits you properly if you are learning to surf in water requiring a wetsuit. A wetsuit that is too large will weigh you down in the water. Wetsuits that are too small will restrict movement, making paddling very difficult. It is ideal to buy a wetsuit yourself if you want it to fit properly. A surf changing mat will make getting in and out of your wetsuit super easy.
The person who has good balance and who has participated in sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, etc will naturally be more inclined to surf than someone who has never participated in such sports.
All newcomers have one thing in common when learning: paddling into a wave is challenging. The paddling part of surfing is crucial to advancing beyond the learning stage no matter how good one may be at another board sport. Fitness and technique both play a huge role in being proficient at paddling, and they are not mutually exclusive. Good paddling technique requires a good base level of fitness.
The majority of people will take a surf lesson to learn how to surf. Instructors sometimes teach surfing in a cookie-cutter manner. In essence, this means that every student is taught the same way.
This is not logical, considering we are all different and process information differently. The style of teaching an instructor uses should be adapted to the type of student. A teenager will be taught very differently than someone in their 50s. Younger people tend to learn more by watching and feeling. Often, older people need to learn the exact technique.
The surf instructor has a tremendous impact on the experience of learning to surf. If your instructor imparts their knowledge correctly, you will learn how to surf in the shortest time possible and in the safest possible way. Additionally, a good surf instructor will be able to instil enough confidence in a student that they will believe they can learn to surf in the shortest amount of time.
These are often overlooked, but they are very important when learning to surf. Choosing the right location to surf is the first step. You can't go to a reef or a point break and expect to return with a string in your bow after three hours.
Choose a beach break with waves that are conducive to learning. Having a beach break is ideal for learning because it often allows you to stand in the water comfortably while you are learning. Paddling can be very tiring, so this is essential.
Beach breaks also mean you won't have to worry about your surfboard getting dinged or scratched on rocks that are often prevalent on reef breaks, and sometimes point breaks as well. If you are unsure of the difference between a beach, reef, and point break, then check out our blog post on the different types of waves.
Beach breaks with slow, flattish waves are ideal. You will have time to stand up on the wave. Furthermore, because the waves won't be particularly powerful, duck diving under them will be less intimidating and more straightforward.
Finally, make sure you pick the right beach break based on the conditions. Waves of 1-2 feet and a light offshore breeze would be ideal conditions. As long as you can start your first surf in such conditions, then you will learn to surf in the shortest amount of time.
It becomes apparent, given all of the above factors, that determining the exact amount of time required to learn to surf may not be as simple as initially thought. Fast learners who have a flair for board sports can easily pop up and ride an unbroken wave in a matter of hours.
Others may need to practice for weeks or even months before they can ride an unbroken wave. We're sure that once you ride your first real wave at a surf camp like Los Clavos in Nicaragua, you'll be hooked on surfing for the rest of your life.