Surfer's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing

Surfer's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing

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by Doug Werner

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Recommended by the U.S. Surfing Federation as a book that every beginning surfer should read, this instructional guide details the basics of surfing gear, conditions, safety, etiquette, and history. Topics are covered with just enough detail to get the reader riding the waves quickly and safely. It teaches the beginner surfer the fundamentals of the sport; what to


Recommended by the U.S. Surfing Federation as a book that every beginning surfer should read, this instructional guide details the basics of surfing gear, conditions, safety, etiquette, and history. Topics are covered with just enough detail to get the reader riding the waves quickly and safely. It teaches the beginner surfer the fundamentals of the sport; what to expect in the first days of learning: and how to cope with waves, learning frustrations and crowds. This replaces 0-934793-47-6.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This basic text provides a handy reference for those who need to learn about proper surfing technique and other fundamental information. Werner, an avid surfer from San Diego, manages to cover all the main points of the sport in its most elementary form. Chapters entitled ``Surfing Gear,'' ``The Right Waves,'' ``Before You Paddle Out,'' and ``Angling'' all get to the meat of the matter. The author then fills in the big picture by including a brief history of surfing after the lessons. A glossary of surfing terms, list of resources (magazines, organizations, etc.), and some thoughtful, useful illustrations complete the package. Werner generally eschews the cutesy surfin' safari lingo that often plagues books such as this. An inexpensive and possibly useful purchase for those libraries that discern a need in their collections.-- David M. Turkalo, Social Law Lib., Boston
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-This second edition of a standard instructional guide features new photographs, updated text, and a new and very extensive list of resources, including Web sites. Using a relaxed, casual approach that is entirely appropriate to the subject matter, Werner covers basic instruction, surfing gear, safety, etiquette, and history. In addition, there is a fairly detailed discussion of different types of waves and of localism, the tendency of regulars at a particular surfing spot to band together to drive away outsiders. Minimizing neither the inherent difficulty in learning the sport nor the potential dangers involved, the author provides a solid and at times inspirational guide. More of a "how to" book than for reports, the title's usefulness may be limited to those areas where the sport is actually practiced.-Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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Tracks Publishing
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Start-Up Sports series
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Read an Excerpt

Surfer's Start-Up

A Beginner's Guide to Surfing

By Doug Werner

Tracks Publishing

Copyright © 1999 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-884654-12-1



The Right Surfboard

The right surfboard to learn on is big enough for you to paddle easily and to sit on comfortably without sinking. This is crucial! Get a board at least as tall as your hand raised above your head, about three inches thick and 22 inches wide in the middle. Think big, fat and ugly. Avoid the small, thin models (which are prevalent) because you'll spend all your time fighting them. A board taller than your reach is fine. Just remember a much bigger board is more difficult to transport and manage in the surf. Make sure it fits under your arm and that you can carry it.

Sponge is Good!

In the first edition I said this about soft, beginner boards:

Avoid those spongy, beginner boards. Although softer and safer, the feel of a sponge boat is just too weird. Get a real surfboard made of foam and fiberglass. You'll be safe enough if you use your head. (Image 1.2)

Now I say:

There are soft novice boards available that surfing instructors and their students swear by. These sponge boards hurt less when they hit and have rounded fins that will not cut. Because they don't bash or slice, the beginner may venture into his or her lesson with more confidence. They're designed to surf pretty good for newcomers and the more modern shapes are recommended. Early sponge board models really sucked.

However, it's still true that all beginners graduate to foam and fiberglass, just like you went from a bike with training wheels to without. Soft boards are training devices and it's not necessary that you learn on one. You can learn successfully on a real foam and fiberglass surfboard if it's the right size and shape for you. (Image 1.3-Image 1.5)

Finding This Board

Find a surf shop in your area that rents. For a few bucks you can try a board before buying one and get a feel for the size and shape you'll ultimately need. Check out the selection. Notice how beat up they look. This is their last stop before the dumpster. Bow your head in silence and appreciation for the lives they've led and find one that's big, fat and ugly enough for you. Don't be swayed by looks.

If you can't find anything on the racks that's the right size and shape, try another shop. It will do no good to settle for anything less. Try asking around. The surfers at the shop or perhaps the surfers at the beach may know of something. You should be able to locate one that's right for you. Surfboards are plentiful and finding one that will work at this stage in your budding surfing career should be easy.


Everybody wears wetsuits most of the time these days. They're colorful, fashionable and cover wayward flesh. Unless you've swallowed a beach ball, they make most of us look like wave argonauts.

They also keep you toasty. With them you can stay in the water longer. Wetsuits work by allowing some water in the suit. That's why they're called "wet" suits. Once inside a snug suit, water is warmed by your body and acts as a hot water bottle.

In case you're wondering, wearing one is not a problem. There was a time when wearing rubber was cumbersome, but today's wetsuits are miracles of modern science — they're light, flexible and comfortable. Obviously, if the air temperature is 75, the water temperature 75 and the wind calm, you won't need or want a wetsuit. You may want to wear a T-shirt or a nylon slipover if your skin is sensitive to the waxed surface of your board.

If a suit is desirable, look to rent. If you cannot rent one, buy a used one. Again, don't go for looks. Just make sure there aren't holes in it and that it fits snugly. Not so tight you turn red, but that it j-u-s-t stretches across limbs and torso. Baggy suits won't work.


Wax is rubbed on the deck or topside of the board to prevent slipping. Your board may have traction patches slapped on the deck. Don't wax those. Buy surf wax at the surf shop or at convenience stores near the beach. There are numerous brands. For now, anything will do.


Get a leash. It's an elastic cord that attaches to your ankle and connects you to the surfboard. It keeps the board around when you wipe out (fall off) and prevents "killer board." This is a leash-less board thundering toward a hapless surfer or swimmer in a wall of white water. The adjective "killer" here isn't to be confused with the adjective "killer" in, say, "killer chick" or "killer flick." Rental boards will probably come with one. Buy an inexpensive one if you have to.

Racks (Maybe)

If you have to drive with your surfboard, and it won't fit in your car without sticking too far out, you'll need racks. Hopefully you can rent some, but if not, buy a cheap set that can go on and off easily. Don't leave them on the car when you go surfing.

The Generous Hawaiian

Believe me, I know surf shops can be intimidating. When I was 12 everyone in the shop was older, had cool hair and wore the perfect T-shirt. I couldn't understand much of anything they said and, in general, felt like a real suburbanite in the land of adolescent nirvana.

When I was 22, I had the look and the hair. Even the talk. But no money.

Now I've got the money and a lot less hair. Yet, once again, I can't understand what the guys behind the counter are saying. And worse — I know they're better surfers than I am.

But no matter. You see, at my advanced age, I've discovered that even those who work in surf shops are people. And capable of remarkable things. Case in point. I was in Maui, December of 1987, without my board. Don't ask why. Somehow I thought I'd do other things or something. Until I saw the surf.

I remember looking at these huge peaks and feeling the hairs at the nape of my neck stand up like my dog's when he sees a cat or a vacuum cleaner. It was time to visit the local shop.

I headed straight for the rental racks but there was nothing there except an old ironing board. So I decided to buy. Now you've got to understand that I'm cheap by nature, and for me to spend anything over $25 is serious stuff. However, "there are times" and this definitely was one.

By and by, the fellow watching the store came around to help. He was a local boy and probably ate 30-foot waves and California white boys like me for breakfast. But I didn't care. I had my gold card and was deep in a modest frenzy.

He listened to my babble with a smile and said (this is absolutely true),"You look like a nice guy and know what's what. Take this board here for five dollars a day. Try not to ding it and bring it back in a week." The surfboard was a perfect 6'8" Linden, immaculate, with a price tag of $375. This is the kind of surfboard that people openly admire when you paddle out. And this guy, this local who was supposed to hate me for infesting his surfing area, is renting it to me for five dollars a day. All I could figure was the fellow saw my burning desire and responded like a very friendly fellow surfer. And an extraordinarily generous one.

You probably shouldn't expect such miracles from your local shop. But understand that underneath the thin shells of arrogance lurk real folks who may help you if you show off your desire and courtly manners.


The RIGHT Waves

Whatcha Gotta Have

There are two things you'll absolutely need in order to learn how to surf. One, the right surfboard. Two, the right waves. Chapter One described what you need to surf on — a big, fat, ugly surfboard. In this section, I'll describe what conditions you need to surf in.

Finding a Spot

Let's make it as easy as possible. Visit the surf spots in your area. Go where the surfers go and take a good look. Avoid spots that are difficult to get to. You don't need to deal with cliffs, rocks or long hikes to the beach. Look for a sandy beach next to a parking lot.

Check out the size of the surf. Try to learn on small days — hip high or less. All you really need at this stage is something that breaks and has a little push. Look at the waves. What you want are waves that spill or crumble down their faces. Not waves that break top to bottom, all at once. Obviously, the waves should break some distance from shore at a decent depth. (Image 2.1)

Now look at the surfers in the water. Find the best ones and note where they sit. You will not paddle out there. Look up or down the beach from the experts and try to find a less crowded spot, hopefully with beginners like you. Watch them. Is the paddle out easy? When they try to stand, do they make it or does the wave demolish them? Remember that easy does it for now. Easy paddle out into easy, gentle surf. If the waves are too big and powerful — wait! The swell will die down eventually. Try again another day. It's no bueno to paddle out in strong surf the first day. You'll only get discouraged and battered.

First Encounters

Talk to surfers in the surf shops and on the beach. Don't be afraid to ask where the best novice break is. (Image 2.2-Image 2.3)

They'll be happy you're not going to thrash about near them. This, by the way, may be your first contact with surfers whom you'll eventually share the better waves after you're a bit more experienced. So put on a good face! Exude desire, enthusiasm and courtesy. You're paying your dues starting now. Show respect and humility. As you improve, your chances of breaking into the lineup will be greater if they remember you as the beginner who once asked humbly where you could best learn. You may be a kook (beginner), but you are one who shows respect.

Anything for the Ladies

Learning to surf in small waves is also a good idea for the instructor. Twice I've taught people in surf conditions a tad too powerful for a comfortable learning experience. Paddling out was just too much for the students who had all they could handle just pointing the board in the right direction.

Being the he-man that I think I am, I towed the students outside the breaking waves. It should be noted that the instructees were nubile young ladies and the same service would not be accorded to the guys. Sex discrimination? You bet.

When I say tow, that's not with a rope and a boat. But a rope and a dope: me. By the time I had dragged the ladies out twice, I was ready for the paramedics. It's all a little hazy, but I do believe they both stood up and went away totally jazzed. (Image 2.4)



Learn How to Swim

Most waves break in large bodies of water. You should feel confident and comfortable in your ability to go from point A to point B in the surf and open ocean.

Watch Out!

You're just learning. Keep things safe and simple. Surfboards can bash and slice. Stay away from other surfers in the beginning. If you can't avoid them entirely, put as much distance as possible between yourself and others. Don't paddle behind anybody. Don't take off (catch a wave) with anybody. Don't take off on top of anybody. Be aware of where you are, where they are and where the waves are — all the time!

Board Control

Wear a leash. Your board should have one, but if it doesn't, get one. Besides keeping your board if you wipe out, a leash prevents it from making a death swoop into the beach. This does not mean you can let the board go at will. Hold onto your Board! The leash allows destruction in a ten-foot radius and may snap back with ugly results. (Image 3.2)

When you wipe out, always feel for the tug on your leash or lack thereof. If it tugs, cover yourself in that direction and wait for the strain to subside. That means the board won't snap back. But also be aware of the tug-less leash. Your board may be just above you on the surface. Resurface with hands over your head to prevent a collision.

Wiping Out

When you wipe out, the board will usually go its own way and you another. The leash will hold on to your wayward surfboard, tug at your ankle and nestle a few feet away. You'll plop yourself back onto the board and resume your graceless performance. However, until you really get into the know, whenever you fall off, cover your head. Don't drop your hands until you've resurfaced and see your surfboard. Don't dive straight down, especially headfirst. The water may be shallow. Sand bar diving is unintelligent and quite painful. Sort of lean into your wipe out. You'll get good at wiping out a lot faster than riding. (Image 3.3-Image 3.4)

Caught Inside

If you're caught inside (inside the breaking waves) and someone's board is going to hit you ... dive. The board may be bashed, but better it than you. Again, as you resurface keep your hands over your head. Remember, this time you have two boards and a thrashing body to contend with.

Lobster Traps

Watch out for lobster traps and their lines. Every year, surfers get their leashes caught in them and drown.

Surfing Alone

Not that it will happen a lot, but it's one of the best things in the world to do by yourself. However, it's not a particularly safe practice, since no one will be around to help you uncork your head from the reef. Don't surf alone for now.


It doesn't prevent cancer put it does prevent burn. Monitor your time in the sun.

Currents, Riptides

Big surf brings in this kind of moving water. If it's small, it shouldn't be a concern. Strong swells may sweep you up or down the beach, depending on their direction. This isn't dangerous unless you fall asleep and crash into a jetty or pier piling. Usually it just makes for a lot of paddling. (Image 3.5)

When lots of water is thrust upon the shore by breaking waves, it often finds its way back by forming rivers headed out to sea. These are rips. If you get caught in one, paddle parallel to the beach until you pop out. Don't paddle straight in against it.

Be Smart

Remember safety is more a common sense thing than a collection of valuable tips. Since you're beginning you'll want to avoid:

Big surf — Ideal surf for you is hip high or smaller, with all the force of a large puppy's swipe.

Rocky shorelines, reefs, or anything jagged or hard in or under the water — Nice sandy beaches, please.

Crowded lineups — Stay off to the side.

Oh God I'm gonna die!

It makes sense not to paddle against a rip alone at night in the fog. Here's a story about a fellow who did and lived to tell about it.

It was just past sunset one foggy winter's evening. The swell was running about three to five feet and I thought I was the last one out. As usual, I was waiting for one last wave, but it was getting difficult to see. Then I heard ... "Oh God! I'm gonna die!" I couldn't see him at first, so I paddled in the direction of the voice. Through the advancing fog, I saw a surfer paddling hard in the direction of shore but going ... out to sea.

This was a classic case of someone getting caught in a rip and attempting to paddle against it. Because he was trying so hard, yet finding himself being swept to sea, panic had set in. Panic means being frightened, of course, but more importantly it means mindlessness. People forget to think just when they really should. Anyway, I got his attention and told him to paddle toward me. That is, sideways or parallel to shore. The rip was no more than 20 feet wide. He popped right out!

I told him to catch the next wave and just ride in on his belly. He lost his board (what, no leash?) on the first wave he tried to ride, so I gave him mine. He finally shot in, I swam in and all was well. Yes, he was very lucky.


Rules of the Road

At least remember these two things:

1) Treat others as you would have them treat you.


Paddling Out

Make sure you paddle out to either side of the lineup (where surfers sit, waiting for waves). Do not paddle straight out into the crowd. When surfers take off, they want to see peaking walls, not some kook in the impact zone (where waves break). If you have no choice, or get caught inside, be aware of surfers taking off. Notice his or her direction and get out of the way. If you must, paddle behind the surfer and take the brunt of the broken wave. It's dead wrong to paddle over the swell in front of a surfer's path just to avoid the soup. This is a courtesy that will be well remembered. (Image 4.1)

In the Lineup

The lineup is often a moving thing. Especially at beach breaks. Waves don't approach the shore at exactly the same place every time. At reefs or point breaks, the lineup shifts according to the size of the waves, although take-off points are considerably more predictable than at beach breaks. At any rate, once you're in the lineup, a certain amount of moving around is going to happen. At beach breaks, you'll paddle hundreds of yards along the shore on some days.


Excerpted from Surfer's Start-Up by Doug Werner. Copyright © 1999 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Doug Werner has been a surfer for over 25 years. He is the author of all nine books in the Start-Up series. He lives in San Diego, California.

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Surfer's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really easy to read and gives the basics on how to start. I'd recommend giving it as a gift for someone who wants to start surfing on their own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book opens up the world of surfing to those that are trying to get their feet wet in the sport. I have been surfing for ten years now. Whenever someone mentions to me that they would like to learn how to surf, i always highly recommend this book as a prelude to heading out into the water. You simply will not find an easier to read and understand book about all the basics of surfing. It's also not a dry or boring book, there are references to all sorts of surfing culture, that you just don't find in other titles. This book also features plenty of real life photos that show you exactly how certain manuevers are supposed to be pulled off, so that you can better understand and picture what you're doing when you're actually in the water. this is a great book at a great price and i would whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone that wants to succesfully learn how to surf.
Guest More than 1 year ago
there book does not teach you how to surf, it will just make you want to spend money to try
Guest More than 1 year ago
While looking for resources for learning to surf, I came across this book. It is very helpful and gives straightforward instruction. I recommend it for beginners.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hi Im Ashlee. I love to surf. The only thing was i didnt know how to... until i got this book. It tells you evberything you need to know. Enjoy!