Learning to surf has given me a peek behind the proverbial curtain into the reality that is the surf scene. Before, when I thought about surfing, as many of you might, it was filled with laidback people, beautiful waves, longboards, and chill vibes. But what you don’t see is the true culture — the rules and the technical knowledge that go into, not just that lifestyle, but the sport itself.
For example, it behooves you to research and learn about the swell, wind, and tides to understand which beach is surfable on any given day for safety and for having the best time. And even though a spot is surfable, that doesn’t mean you can surf it. You also need to learn your local beginner spots that are “new surfer-friendly.” And this is just scratching the surface.
Right now, I’m going to share with you everything I wish I knew before I first started surfing, including how to pick out the right gear.
And while this list will get you started, you’ll find that when you get out in the water, there’s a new list of tools you’ll need that you can’t buy, like balance, strength (paddling), endurance, and above all – persistence. But for now, use this basic surf gear to get youreslf out there, have fun, and embrace the stoke.
Surf Etiquette 101: Surfing Rules for Beginners
Before we dive into surf gear, we need to talk about surf etiquette. The fastest way to get excommunicated from any surf line-up is to violate this unspoken oath. And while it might seem like surfers have a laidback reputation (from the outside perspective), your experience on the water may vary greatly — mine definitely has. Routed deep in the surf community is localism, territorialism, and tribalism.
The rules of the line-up are simple and somewhat instinctual:
- Surf Your Level – know your limitations and stick to them. Find your local beginner break and start there. Don’t try to learn at intermediate or advanced breaks until you understand how to control the basic waves.
- Wait Your Turn – don’t be a wave hog. Respect the principle of sharing the ocean.
- Follow Priority (Right of Way) – The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has priority over you. This should go without saying, but do not drop in on a surfer who is already riding a wave.
- Don’t Snake – Snaking is when you paddle around the surfer with priority to assert yourself in the priority position.
- Paddling Out – Don’t paddle out directly into the lineup. Find an empty channel and paddle out there, then make your way over to the lineup.
- Respect – respect both your fellow surfers and the beach. Don’t insult, litter, or vandalize.
- Apologize – if you accidentally happen to break any of these rules, make sure to apologize.
I wish I had known these basic seven principles before I started surfing, but if you want to start surfing, you’ll find out one way or another. And while understanding these is fundamental, you’re not going anywhere without the proper surf gear. Here’s what first-time surfers need to know when picking out their gear.
How to Choose a Surfboard
If you’re wondering how to choose a surfboard, my experience has shown it requires time and patience. However, when first learning how to surf, the goal is to catch as many waves as possible so you can understand and practice the mechanics.
I recommend starting on a longboard surfboard. Longboards, which are between 8 and 10 feet long, have more volume and will allow you to catch more waves and ride them longer (through the slow sections).
When I made the switch from an 8-foot longboard surfboard to my current 7-footer, I had a lot of trouble adjusting. The increased difficulty of cutting down even 12 inches on my board was overwhelming. I caught half as many waves and had to start focusing harder on my placement and timing to catch anything at all.
In my opinion, the best beginner surfboard is the 8-foot Wavestorm foam soft-top longboard.
- Foam top which is much more forgiving when you fall
- Catches most wave types
- Can take a beating
- Easy to depend on this board — hinders improvement
- Looks like a beginner board
How To Pick a Men’s Wetsuit
Because each guy is built differently, finding the right men’s wetsuit can be a challenge. You need to understand the technical specs and also consider your surf climate as well as your personal comfort preference. In Southern California, I use something called a “3/2” year-round.
The numbers describe the thickness of neoprene (material used to make wetsuits) with the higher number denoting the torso and the lower number indicating the thickness of the legs and arms. If you’re surfing in a colder climate, you may need a 4/3 or even a 5/4/3.
If you’re in the market for your first men’s wetsuit for surfing, I recommend the Quicksilver
- 3/2 mm for water down to 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 4/3 mm for water between 52 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Easy entrance rear zip
- Comfortable (as far as wetsuits go)
- You’ll want a higher-tech wetsuit eventually
- Movement may be restrictive
Surf Wax: The Holy Grail
One of the most important items that’s often overlooked by beginners is surf wax. The best surf wax glues you to your board. To highlight its importance, allow me to share an anecdote.
When I first started, I was surfing my home break in Santa Monica. I was having trouble staying on my board while paddling out, while sitting in the lineup, and also while trying to paddle into waves. My board felt like an ice rink. Finally, somebody decided to spare me and bestowed this tip upon me:
“Yo — you need to wax your board.”
I was going full kook, which is basically surf slang for “being a poser.” Someone on the beach was nice enough to lend me theirs, so I didn’t have to interrupt my sessions to hit the surf shop. The difference was night and day. My board was like an extension of my body. And when it comes to wax, there’s only one brand surfers will recommend — Mr. Zogs Sex Wax.
- Smells awesome
- Industry-recognized brand that works
- Not for those who don’t like coconut
You’re Going to Need a Surf Poncho
I’ve spent a fair amount of time changing out of my wetsuit in different beach parking lots. I quickly learned that wrapping a towel around your waist won’t cut it. I even tried changing in the back seat of my car but getting out of the wetsuit in a confined space proved challenging. I took notice that some of the other surfers were wearing these surf changing ponchos — genius. I decided to try out a few different surf ponchos and found a couple that rose above the rest.
- Makes changing so much easier
- Creates privacy without taking up extra space
- Can get stinky if you forget to wash it
Optional: Universal Surfboard Car Rack
It’s no secret that an 8-foot longboard won’t fit in every vehicle cabin. Luckily, where there’s a problem, there’s someone itching to solve it. While my board does fit inside my car, I see the Heytrip universal soft roof racks in the parking lot frequently. The soft tops utilize a strap and latch system that is easy to install and remove as needed. I got a chance to see them in action while I was having a post-session discussion with a fellow surfer.
Heytrip Universal Soft Roof Rack
This came recommended by a surfer friend whose car is too small to stow his surfboard. He says the Heytrip surfboard car rack was very simple to put on the roof of his car and hasn’t left any scratches to date, which was one thing he had been wary of.
- Saves space in small cars
- Easy to set up
- Won’t damage the roof of your car
- Can be time-consuming to secure surfboard
- Can be noisy when en route