Is Surfing Hard? (The Hardest Parts & How To Make It Easier)

The surf scene is often portrayed as a barefoot, relaxed, long hair, beach, and bonfire type of lifestyle. The surfers seem to ride the waves and play with the elements effortlessly. Surf schools often make promises of being able to make you ride a wave during your first lesson. But still, it’s generally seen as an extreme sport. This makes many people wonder, is surfing difficult?

Surfing is hard because you have to deal with many aspects you have no control over. The learning process never stops and doesn’t get easier. No matter how good you are, you will always have wipeouts. Staying motivated is the key to success.

Knowing how difficult a sport is before learning it is a great way to give yourself realistic expectations. This way, you won’t get discouraged when it doesn’t go as you had hoped for. Keep on reading to find out how hard surfing is and how to make it easier.

Is Surfing a Hard Sport?

The difficulty of surfing is around an 8 on a scale from 1 - 10. Although every individual will experience surfing differently, most people find it a hard sport.

Before we get into any detail, it’s important to realize that the level of difficulty differs per person.

Therefore you might struggle to learn the basics, while others have the basics down in no time. Or the other way around, of course.

However, generally speaking, surfing is a hard sport to learn! Surfing is not the most dangerous sport out there, but it does take many hours and lots of determination to master the sport truly.

Many variables make surfing a hard sport, and many of these variables are out of our control.

Therefore no matter how good you are at surfing, you’ll still experience many wipeouts and won’t be able to improve your surfing each and every day.

That said, as soon as you understand the basics and get to surf unbroken waves, you’ll most likely get the surf fever.

Because long story short, surfing can be quite addictive due to the thrill, the location, and the nature of the sport.

This surf fever is what helps people to become great surfers. Because being motivated to learn, makes learning a lot easier.

So, how hard is surfing?

On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the most difficult), surfing is between 7 and 8. But don’t let this stop you because learning the basics can be as rewarding as learning an advanced maneuver. Therefore surfing is fun, no matter your abilities.

Why is Surfing so Hard?

The short answer:

The location is which makes surfing so difficult. You never get to try the same wave twice, and there are many aspects that you can’t control. Physically you need to be strong, have good balance, and have great timing. These things combined with lots of competition are what makes surfing so difficult.

The extended answer:

While there are many different aspects of surfing, which take time and practice to master, understanding the ocean is definitely the hardest part.

The reason, therefore, is that the ocean is ever-changing. In addition, many different variables impact the conditions of the ocean.

Learning and understanding these is already hard on its own, but using that knowledge while being in a competitive lineup, is even more challenging.

A few of the main variables which influence the ocean (surf conditions) are the swellwind, and ocean floor. 

These variables can be divided into a swell direction, swell height & swell period, wind direction & wind force, and sand bars, rocks, or reef. 

Each of these has an impact on the surf conditions. However, each spot works with different conditions.

So understanding the above only helps figure out when and where to surf.

Once you’re on the beach, you’ll need to be able to locate the hazards (rocks, other beachgoers in the water, currents, etc.), the best way to paddle out, and where to position yourself (the lineup).

While you can often ask the locals or the lifeguards about the hazards, you might be lucky enough to be by yourself on a beach one day.

Therefore it’s important to be able to rely on your own experience.

The same goes for the currents (riptides) and the lineup. Riptides are often used as an easy way to get behind the waves but can also be very dangerous when they’re not understood.

When you can’t figure out where to position yourself to catch a wave, you won’t catch (m)any!

Suppose you know when and where to surf, how to surf safely, and where it’s best suited to paddle out to reach the lineup.

In that case, the last ocean-related obstacle will present itself, namely, which wave to surf.

Although there are many waves in the ocean, not all of them are suitable to surf, and the ones which are might have some requirements.

A wave can do the following things, which the surfer should consider before riding it:

  • Close-out: 

    Close-out means that the whole wave breaks simultaneously. Therefore you won’t be able to surf the wave.
  • Freak-set:

    When the waves in this set are bigger than the other waves that day, this means that the lineup will move further onto the ocean. You’ll have to paddle out onto the ocean to position yourself so that you can catch these waves.
  • Double-up:

    This means that two waves turn into one wave. As a result, the wave will be stronger, bigger, and possibly not rideable.
  • A-frame:

    You can surf an A-frame in both directions. However, to catch an A-frame, you’ll need to be close to the peak since these waves are often not that wide.
  • Left-hander:

    A left-hander breaks to the left (seen from the surfer’s perspective when paddling towards the beach). The surf direction is not optional, and trying to go to the right will result in a wipeout.
  • Right-hander:

    A Right-hander breaks to the right, and in this case, again, the surf direction is not optional. Trying to surf a right-hander to the left will not work.

These are just a few basic things that a surfer has to learn to get good at surfing.

Besides the above, there are also the wave’s shape, speed, different sections of a wave, power, and many more wave-related variables.

And, of course, there is the possibility of no waves. Not having any waves means you can’t practice surfing in the water.

Therefore learning to surf can sometimes be stalled for an undetermined time.

The continuously changing ocean, and the fact that not one wave is the same, are the hardest parts of surfing to understand.

There are a few other aspects that make surfing a hard sport:

Balance:

Surfing requires lots of balance. Just laying on the board and paddling around already requires a certain amount of balance.

Once standing on the board and performing maneuvers, the necessary amount of balance will increase.

Strength:

Surfing also requires strength. You’ll need strength to paddle through the waves, to perform a push-up (popup), and to surf the wave.

However, both strength and balance are things which you gradually improve as you learn to surf. No special knowledge is required.

Basics:

The basics of surfing also tend to be very difficult. This is due to the difficulties above and since the sport is fairly unique.

Being a capable snowboarder or skateboarder does help a bit for surfing. However, it still requires commitment, time, and practice to get the basics down truly.

Crowds:

Crowds are also becoming a more significant obstacle nowadays. You’ll need to understand surf etiquettes not to endanger yourself or others.

Furthermore, you’ll need to understand how to navigate yourself through the lineup and how to catch a wave and avoid crashing into others.

This can be pretty difficult due to the sometimes very competitive vibes in the lineup.

Timing:

Knowing when to start paddling, duck-dive, popup, speed up, turn, perform a cutback, or any other maneuver or trick for that matter, takes lots of time to practice.

The wrong timing can mean that you lose your wave or speed but can also result in a wipeout.

Wipeouts:

Wipeouts will always occur when surfing. In fact, they will probably occur several times per session.

While a wipeout just happens and doesn’t require any skill, besides protecting your head and holding your breath, they do tend to be demotivating.

Therefore, staying motivated can be challenging at times.

Especially beginners have difficulty with this since more experienced surfers sometimes make the sport seem so easy.

However, once you’ve accepted the wipeouts, they won’t be an obstacle anymore.

So, why is surfing so difficult?

Well, basically because you have to deal with many variables that are out of your control. The sport is very diverse and most definitely unique.

Is Surfing Hard to Learn?

The short answer:

Learning to surf is very hard and can take a lot of time. Mastering the basics, such as popup, paddling, keeping balance, reading the ocean, and navigating the lineup, can be challenging. Even if you master the basics, it will be difficult to become good at surfing.

The extended answer:

As I pointed out earlier in this article, becoming a capable surfer means learning many different things. These things are what make surfing a difficult sport.

However, the level of difficulty to learn surfing differs per person.

I firmly believe that as long as the person likes surfing and is motivated to learn, they’ll be able to become a capable surfer.

Becoming a capable surfer takes time. The more you surf, the quicker you’ll learn. This has to do with building strength and muscle memory.

Therefore learning to surf becomes drastically more difficult when people only surf once every so often.

As a rule of thumb, it takes between one and two years to become a good surfer when surfing once or twice per week

However, age and physical conditions do influence the learning process.

While anyone can learn to surf, regardless of age or size, older or less fit people often need more time to become skilled surfers.

The location where you learn surfing also significantly impacts the difficulty of learning surfing.

While some spots are more suitable for beginners, others might be only surfable for more competent surfers.

Some spots are doable for beginners under certain conditions, but they become expert-level surfers only under other conditions.

As I mentioned before, being able to surf more often makes the learning process easier.

Therefore, having a variety of spots with multiple difficulty levels will make learning easier, compared to having just one location or no place nearby.

Having competent surfers (friends, random people in the lineup, or an instructor) help you, can save you from making many mistakes that could have been avoided. Especially in the beginning phase of surfing!

I think that it’s safe to say that surfing is hard to learn.

The learning process doesn’t get easier as you get better, and you’ll keep having wipeouts no matter how good you are.

Since you never get to surf the same wave twice, and not one wave is the same, you’ll have to keep adapting to your surroundings.

That said, once you have the basics down and experience the true beauty of surfing, you’ll most likely be continuously longing for the next surf session.

This drive and the amount of fun that comes with surfing make it pleasant to learn how to surf.

I find that, therefore, although surfing, in general, is difficult, learning to surf is easy. It just takes time, motivation, and practice.

​​How to Make Surfing Easier (12 Great Tips)

The short answer:

You will make significantly more progress with the right equipment, a location suitable for your skill level, and an experienced instructor. Make sure to take it step by step, and keep it fun! Time, practice, and motivation will eventually make you a great surfer.

The extended answer:

While learning to surf is a fun activity, there is no shame in trying to speed things up a bit - making the same mistake as often as before seems like a waste of time.

Although there is no magic recipe to master the art of surfing, the following list might help make surfing a bit easier.

1. Choose the right board

Having a big board, preferably a soft top, makes learning the basics a lot easier. Choosing the right board depends on your size, weight, and skill level.

A too big board will easily nose dive, but a small board becomes too unstable and technical. As you improve your surfing, you’ll change the types of boards you surf.

2. Choose the right location

When learning the basics, having a not-so-crowded beach with small beginner waves will help you improve fast and in a safe way.

As your learning progresses, you’ll have to find new and more challenging waves to keep improving.

While some waves will be perfect to learn how to do a popup, others might be perfect to learn a cutback, aerial, or other trick or maneuver.

Therefore it’s good to surf at different locations.

3. Take surf lessons

Learning to surf is already a difficult task on its own.

Learning the wrong technique, having to unlearn it and then relearn it the right way, that’s just a lot of unnecessary struggling and a waste of time.

Taking lessons is especially beneficial during the beginning. Doing the basics the correct way is a good foundation for continuing to improve your skills.

(Click here to find out if surf lessons are worth it)

4. Surf within your abilities

You can’t surf when you’re lying in a hospital.

Of course, most people dream of surfing the pipeline. Most surfers strive for bigger, faster, and gnarlier waves.

However, take your time reaching that level.

When you keep surfing within your abilities, you’ll eventually get those bigger, faster, and gnarlier waves. And you won’t be a danger to yourself or others.

5. Watch the more experienced surfers

By watching more experienced surfers online or on the beach, you’ll get motivated to improve, and you’ll see the correct way of performing a maneuver or trick.

6. Ask for advice

Don’t hesitate to ask other (more experienced) surfers on the beach or in the lineup for advice when you are stuck on a trick or maneuver.

Everyone has been a beginner, and they know the struggle.

Therefore most people will happily give you some helpful advice when you ask for it respectfully.

7. Get in good physical shape

Surfing requires a lot of energy, muscle power, and stamina. While you’ll improve on these when practicing surfing, you could give yourself a boost by doing some exercises at home.

This will help you with surfing.

8. Find people to surf with

Besides the fact that it’s a lot safer to surf with someone else, it can also help you stay motivated. Having a rival will push you to keep up with them.

It’s also more fun to surf together.

9. Always do a warmup

Most athletes do a warmup before exercising their sport. The main reason they do this is safety.

Once you’ve done a warmup, the body can better handle a wipeout or wrong movement.

Therefore you can continue surfing when otherwise you might have gotten injured.

10. Practice on land with a skateboard

There are many similarities between surfing and skateboarding. However, you can skateboard all the time, but you can only surf when there are waves.

Therefore, skateboarding is a great way to improve your surfing whenever the surf conditions are not good.

11. Protect yourself during a wipeout

One of the first things any surf instructor will tell the students is to protect their heads when having a wipeout.

Doing this lowers the chance of a head injury (by hitting your board or the ocean floor) or getting unconscious.

Getting hit in the head is one of the most dangerous things with surfing and should be avoided at all costs.

12. Keep it fun

While this might sound obvious, some people get a little too competitive and forget to enjoy the whole learning process and the surf sessions.

You’re most likely not going to be the next world champion, so your primary focus should be to have fun.

As long as you have fun, you’ll be motivated to surf as much as possible and therefore become good at some point.

How Hard is Surfing Compared to Other Sports?

The short answer:

Each sport has its difficulties, and each person their talents. Therefore it’s hard to compare surfing to other sports. However, the fact that you have to deal with the continuously changing ocean presents an obstacle that most other sports don’t have to deal with.

The extended answer:

To be really honest, I don’t think you can actually compare the difficulty of sports with each other.

Surfing has many different aspects, making it a very hard sport to learn.

However, some people might find it easier than, for example, basketball or rugby. Each sport has its own difficulties!

Therefore each person has their own sports preferences. 

That being said, not one wave is the same. In addition, the conditions constantly change, and many aspects of surfing are out of your control.

Due to these things, surfing is often seen as one of the most difficult sports in the world.

When comparing surfing with other sports, I’d say it’s somewhat comparable with other board sports. But even then, each board sport has its own difficulties.

Learning to skateboard can result in many cuts and bruises from falling on the concrete and stones whenever it goes wrong.

The board flips under your feet, and skateboarders grind (slide) on handrails next to stairs.

These things are difficult and dangerous and completely different compared to the dangers and difficulties of surfing.

The same goes for snowboarding, windsurfing, kite surfing, or other board sport.

However, a skateboarder or snowboarder can try the same jump repeatedly. The area where they perform their sport doesn’t change, and the handrail or obstacle will always be the same.

This is a huge advantage compared to the ever-changing ocean.

Again, since the surf conditions are constantly different, many board sports athletes find surfing to be one of the hardest.

Is Surfing Worth it?

The short answer:

If you ask me, or most of my previous students, the answer is yes! However, I think that this is something everybody should figure out for themselves. That said, the surf locations are often beautiful, the weather mostly sunny, and the vibes almost always good.

The extended answer:

Surfing has brought me to some of the most beautiful places in the world, introduced me to amazing people, got me in a good physical and mental state, and has always been a great challenge.

Therefore I’d say that surfing is worth it! 

Any physical activity is beneficial for your body. Besides the physical aspect of surfing, there are also many mental benefits.

Surfing is often seen as a form of meditation.

While you’re waiting for the next set to come in, and as you paddle through the waves or surf a wave, your thoughts are in the moment, and you get to forget your daily struggles for a while.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, go to your nearest surf beach, take a few lessons, experience surfing an unbroken wave and then figure out for yourself if you think it’s worth it.

Conclusion

To become a good surfer, many skills, knowledge, and a good understanding of the ocean are required.

Your surroundings are constantly changing, and you’re riding a force of nature.

Many aspects are out of your control, but you still have to deal with them. These are the reasons why surfing is hard to learn!

However, each person is different. Therefore, each person will have a different perspective on how difficult it is to learn to surf.

I believe that surfing is easy to learn because it’s such a fun thing to do! And like most things in this world, if you like doing it, you’ll try to do it as often as possible. And with time and practice come skills.

Marcus Campbell

Surfing is the biggest passion in my life. Transferring my knowledge about surfing to others is what I love doing most! I do this through my own surf school and through my articles on this website. This is how I hope to get everyone excited about this amazing sport!
Published: 
February 14, 2022

Share

Published: February 14, 2022