Why you should learn to surf this year

Coastal, Activity, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ruth King on 12th July 2023

Why you should learn to surfPhoto credit: Surfing England

Once a fringe sport with its own counterculture, surfing is now firmly in the mainstream. In fact, participation in surfing and other related water sports increased by 69% between 2020/21 and 2021/22 according to Sport England.

There are many reasons people get in the sea, such as to improve fitness, boost mental health and, perhaps, even prevent dementia.

But, despite the increasing participation in the sport, surfing still has a pervasive image – that of a young, white, able-bodied athlete – that could deter people from picking up a board and wetsuit and giving it a go. Can you be too unfit, too inexperienced or too old to surf?

Melissa Reid doesn’t think so. The 30-year-old from Porthtowan is a two-time World Para Surfing champion, as well as being a bronze-medal winning para triathlete, and thinks anyone should give surfing a go.

“Surfing is just about going out and doing it. Being in the water is going to make anyone happy,” she says.

Melissa Reid

Photo credit: Sean Evans

Melissa quote

Melissa learnt to surf in Porthtowan aged 8 after her dad wanted a lesson and persuaded her to come along too. They didn’t tell the instructor that she had a visual impairment.

She fell in love with the sport there and then, and eventually went on to compete at a junior level against able-bodied surfers, before getting into triathlon in her teens.

A back injury in 2017 meant she couldn’t run or cycle, but surfing was still an option. She got back in the sea and within months was competing for England in the World Para Surfing Championships.

But, despite, being top of her game, Melissa’s main focus is just enjoying being in the sea.


She says: “Going in the sea is never about competing. It’s just about being in the water. It really relaxes me, and it takes me away from the real world.

“It gives you peace depending on the conditions or it can give you that adrenaline boost. It depends on what mood you go into the water in, and what the sea is doing. Sometimes I just want to sit in the water on my own; there are not many places you can do that.”

Surfing FAQs

You absolutely can. You will need a certain amount of stamina and arm and length strength, and if you have any transferable skills from similar sports, that’ll make it easier. However, we recommend learning with others, whether that’s at a surf school, with a one-to-one teacher or just with friends.

Surfing is not a particularly equipment-heavy sport. To start with, you’ll need a board with its accompanying fins and leash, surfboard wax and a suitable wetsuit. All that’s left after that is a fitting wave and a can-do attitude.

It depends. It hinges on how good you want to be and how much time and effort you are willing to put in. Surfing is a sport that looks easy. But it’s only made to look easy by those who have spent a long time mastering it. 

It can take time, but if you’re merely looking to stand up on a board and feel the exhilaration of harnessing the power of Mother Nature, this can be done in a matter of days or weeks. From there, it’s all about how much you want to progress. It can take a lifetime to perfect, but boy, that will be a life lived well.

Our guide to Great British surfing is a good place to start, which features the best surfing beaches in the UK. The South West is widely regarded as the best region to surf in the UK with North Devon even being given World Surfing Reserve status. 

However, don’t overlook other lesser-known surfing spots in the UK such as Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire. Head to the coast and you’re more than likely to find a decent surf spot anywhere in the UK.

There are many elements when learning to surf, as you’ll see in our How to Start Surfing section. From correctly lying on your board to paddling out and popping up, these things can take time. 

But if you’re committed, have good fitness and have an aptitude for water sports, you can learn in as little as 5-20 hours of lessons. The more waves you catch and the more you observe the other surfers around you, the better you’ll become.

As surfing is a non-impact sport (so long as you avoid rocks and don’t count falling into the water as an impact), there is no upper or lower age limit when it comes to getting into the water on your board. ‘Baby’ Steve Roberson was surfing Honolua Bay in Maui aged 4 and even tackled the infamous Jaws at 10 years old, so suffice to say, you can start surfing at any age. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Japan’s Seiichi Sano was awarded the Guinness World Record for the oldest person (male) to surf. He was a spritely 89 years old. And to top it off, he only started surfing when he was 80, so get waxing and hit those waves!

Another Cornwall surfer who finds peace in the sea is Noor Hamad, a GP from St Agnes, who relishes her time in the water.

“It definitely improves my mental health,” she says. “I’m not sure if that’s to do with having time out or it’s to do with being in the sea, but if I’m not surfing, I’m sea swimming or kite surfing. It’s good to do something normal with friends, where no one’s at risk.”

Noor Hamad

Noor Hamad quote

Noor’s family come from the Middle East where getting in the sea is “not on their radar”. She tried surfing while in Australia, but only really developed what she calls an “unhealthy obsession” after she moved to Cornwall - home of some of the UK's best surfing beaches - and had her two children.

She now surfs with a group of other local mums and takes part in a surfing group, and thinks that anyone who is willing to should give surfing a go.

“Anybody who can swim and be safe in the water – anybody, do a lesson first,” she advises. “And don’t take it too seriously!”

Great British Coast

Surfing England, the National Governing Body for Surfing in England, agrees.

They say: “Surfing is one of the most fun sports you can ever try and the best bit about surfing is it can be adapted for everyone to take part! It doesn’t matter if you lie down, sit, kneel, or stand up; it’s all about being in the water, having a good time and feeling ‘stoked’ – surfer’s language for being excited!

“The best way to try surfing is to take a surf lesson with a Surfing England Accredited Surf School, you can be sure you’ll be safe and have a good time – you can find a network of schools across the whole of England online here."

Melissa ReidPhoto credit: Surfing England

Melissa quote

Noor also knows the importance of feeling stoked. She adds: “People get frustrated because they are not choosing the best conditions for progressing. But we all get these ups and downs – that’s normal. Just think: ‘Well, it’s lovely I got in anyway. It’s lovely to bob around with friends and maybe see a seal, or a rainbow, and get the mental health benefits.’

“You can pick it up at any age. There are lots of people surfing in their fifties, sixties and seventies; even after half an hour, they come out with a massive grin on their face!”

Melissa agrees: “It does not matter what age, ability, or disability. The only thing I would say is: give it a go.”

Learning to surf on the beach before entering the water

How to start surfing

Thinking about starting a new sport or hobby can be intimidating at the best of times. Yet it really needn’t be. Lots of people will tell you that they’ve been ‘meaning to take up surfing’ or that they ‘really should have tried surfing by now’ – you can be the one who actually does it!

Don’t misunderstand us, the skills required won’t come immediately. You need to be prepared to put in some work, put the fear of failure behind you and be prepared to fall off your board… a lot. But guess what? There’s never been a surfer who hasn’t fallen off their board, so you’re in good company.

Follow these 10 simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to learning how to surf. Trust us, it’s going to be a decision you won’t regret.

  1. Learn with friends – Not only will learning with someone with more experience help you on your training arc, but it will also help your self-esteem and positivity by having someone there to pick you up mentally if you’re feeling like it’s not quite clicking. Even having someone at the same ability level as you is great as you can go on your journey together and build a real sense of camaraderie.
  2. If in doubt, get a legitimate teacher – A good teacher will teach you the skills required but will also instil a love of the sport and the sea. Check reviews and find a surf school near you.
  3. Start with a big board – If you’ve watched any professional surfing or half-decent surfer at your local beach, it’s likely they were using a short board to carve up the waves, and well… it looks cool. But trust us, you’re going to get way more stability and you’re going to catch more waves if you begin your journey with a larger board. A foamie is your best bet: buoyancy, paddling and standing up will all be easier with this soft-top board.
  4. Find a suitable wave – There’s no point heading to Mavericks with your foamie. Begin at a beach that’s suitable for your ability. Find a wave that’s consistent and steady, and start on smaller waves closer to the shore before moving further out. You can always move up or down the coast to bigger and better waves as your confidence grows.

Pushing through the waves and mastering balance

  1. Don’t rush to get into the water – Spend some time on the beach before you start your paddle. Check the fins on the board, check your leash and ensure you have stretched (surfing is a strenuous sport). Look at the waves and if your beach is RNLI patrolled, ensure you stay between the black and white chequered flags whilst you’re learning.
  2. Retain some energy and pace yourself – It’s exciting; you’re finally in the water and you can’t wait to get out back. But paddling out can be tiring, especially if a) you have a thick wetsuit on and b) you don’t find a paddling rhythm early on. Pace yourself and save some energy for catching the waves. There’s no rush, this is the beginning of a life-long adventure.
  3. Push through the waves – Pushing through or punching through the waves is a technique that will save you a lot of time and energy when you start your paddle out. You’ll see surfers with smaller boards duck-diving the waves (going completely beneath the white water), but this is much harder/impossible with a bigger board. As the wave approaches, stay perpendicular to the water, grab the rails of your board and push your chest up so that you’re in a press-up position but with your head up. The white water and its energy will pass through you and your board.
  4. Steer clear of clearly competent surfers  This is for your safety as much as theirs. You are likely to make mistakes in the early days and you don’t want to find yourself dropping in on a wave in front of a local. Luckily, the more proficient surfers will avoid surfing within the black and white flags, so stay in this zone and you should be fine.

An older man surfing and a total wipeout

  1. Learn how to sit on your board – It’s not as easy as it looksStill, you are likely to be spending a fair amount of time sitting on your board waiting for a set to come in. It’s more sociable for chatting with friends and you’ll be able to see further when trying to spot the next line of waves.
  2. Don’t worry about wiping out – As previously mentioned, you’re going to fall off. Everyone does. The important thing is to not panic and to ensure that you don’t let it get the better of you. You’ll tumble and get knocked about from time to time but this is all part of the process and ultimately, falling over in the sea is better than falling over on land!

Most importantly, just have fun. There are a million ways to surf, and as long as you’re smiling, you’re doing it right.

Surfing in Great Britain

If you can't wait to give surfing a go this year, take a look at our range of coastal cottages to make sure you're closest to the beach. With outdoor showers, board storage and sea views, you can find the perfect destination for your surfing holiday within our collection of cottages. 

Coastal cottages

The Great British Outdoors

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.