An Introduction To Surfing In Hawaii

For many travelers planning a beach vacation in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, it is a common curiosity to want to try the Hawaiian born sport of surfing for the first time.
So let’s take a look at the basics of what you will likely encounter on your first day of surfing class, or on your courageous solo mission into the abyss.

First, skip the solo mission unless you can find a really easy “beach break” where there are lots of tourist children learning in a surfing class, and even then do consider at least taking an introductory lesson. The “beach break” is generally preferably to start with as the bottom is sand and often waste deep or deeper, depending on the height of the participant. This is generally better than a reef a foot or so below the board, which is how many of the more advanced surfing locations sometimes are. It generally feels nice to know that sand is under you and it is certainly nicer to walk on with bare feet.

The general equipment you will likely be using is as follows:
1. Leash – Cord with a strap for your ankle which connects to the board.
2. Wax – Rubbed on the top of the board to make you stick to the top of the board.
3. Surfboard – Yes, this come in handy for surfing.
4. Wetsuit – Optional and certainly not essential for Hawaii in general.

So let’s get to the beach and have some fun on our little surfing safari. It is likely that you will be spending a lot of time on the beach practicing on your board before going out into the water. This is wise. You want to get a feel for lying on your belly on a large and potentially rather hard floatation device. While many introductory classes and rental shops may provide a padded board, surfboards are usually rather hard and may take some getting used to. Things to practice on the beach often include:

1. Paddling – If you think surfing is about standing up and riding a wave, you may be in for a surprise. Paddling is the actual primary activity involved in surfing. Surfing works a unique muscle group in the back and many surfers spend a lot of time paddling from place to place just to stay in good shape for when truly “epic” waves roll into their favorite spot.

2. Standing – This is where you essentially “pop up” from laying on your belly into a standing pose where you are riding the wave. You essentially thrust yourself up into a standing position with your hands, which are grasping the “rails” (side edges of the surfboard). This is actually kind of fun to practice on the beach and you may enjoy just posing on different areas of the board.

Once comfortable on the beach, perhaps a dip in the water is at hand. Something that many people may not realize is how important weight distribution is in the art of surfing. To stand, lay, or sit too far forward or back will send a surfer off either end of the board rather easily. Thankfully water is soft to fall into. The real issue is that it is less soft when it falls on something, like waves do when they crash. You should be on a beach with really small waves, so it shouldn’t be a real issue.

Once in the water and having found your balance laying and sitting on the board, then it’s time to paddle your way out past those small waves. You will likely want to face the nose of your board toward the beach after you get out past where the waves are breaking. The key to catching one of these waves is your speed. You want to paddle with alternating arms until you are at just about the speed of the wave and then give a couple of thrusting paddles with both arms simultaneously to get you onto the wave itself. Once you are on and feel that your board is being carried forward by it, then it is time to pop up into your standing posture. It’s likely you have seen this dozens of times in movies and on television. At the end of the ride, you either jump into the water or lie back on your board and paddle back out.

Hope this has clarified some of the basics of your first day of surfing. Remember to have fun!