I had the privilege of growing up about 3 blocks from the beach in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro which made the beach, well the waves, an outlet because I needed an escape valve from living in a big city. In my case, waves were a gold mine and Copacabana has a lot of gold in form of waves; first body surfing them as a young boy and eventually standing on a surfboard… surfing became my reason for living after school hours and homework. Nowadays, time for surfing is very limited — but the cool thing about surfing is — living on an island, first of all, and once you learn how to surf, it is like riding a bicycle… you just don’t forget.
My wife showing how it’s done at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philidelphia
Teaching my oldest son Ian at Cove Park back in 2006
Learning to Surf at Any Age
Now that’s my story. So now, you are in Hawaii and want to learn how to surf. It is possible, no matter what age you are. My kid’s grandfather moved to Maui in his mid-40s and became a surfer! He had never surfed before. I will tell you that he did not start charging Jaws at Maui’s North Shore right off the bat!! If you want to learn how to surf, take baby steps; first learn a break. By that I mean, pick a mellow spot, like Cove Beach Park in Kihei, and watch how the waves break; where they break, how fast they break, learn the shallow parts of the wave and etc. This will help you save a lot of energy in the water. If you have taken a lesson and learned the basics of catching a wave, you can apply the same mechanics on different waves, but you have to learn that wave first. Become very good at that spot before you attempt a new spot. Good ol’ stepping stones. I still use this approach every time that I surf a new spot.
Once you figure out your body mechanics, you can adjust to whatever the ocean delivers with limitations. Paddling and learning how to read waves are very important pieces of the puzzle. After the work out of paddling out, paddling for a wave, and finally catching one, it will teach you this: every wave is different, which is what fascinates me about the sport. The wave is constantly changing and you have to adjust before you catch it and while you are riding it, otherwise, the reward of gliding on top of the water is taken from you in a form of a wipeout. It happens to best of us. 🙂
Beginner Surfing Tips
Speaking of wipe out, the majority of the surfs spots in Hawaii are reef bottom surf breaks and some have strong currents so caution should be exercised. Here are a couple helpful tips about reef breaks and surfing in general:
- Avoid diving off your board head first after finishing a ride. You want to stay away from the bottom.
- If you feel that you are going to fall, throw the biggest belly flop or back flop you can do; this will avoid penetrating the water and going deep. Pancake style dismounts, will keep you off the reef and cut free.
- Surfing, well paddling, which is part of surfing is a WORKOUT; swimming laps will help you BIG TIME in the lineup.
- Small reef cuts will happen; keep them clean and disinfected after you leave the ocean, and you should be okay.
- Don’t give up if you feel like you are not improving. I have felt like that many times when I was learning. Watch other surfers. It will help you get unstuck.
- Have fun while you are out there! It’s okay to claim a good ride!
Having surfing as part of the culture, in my opinion, is one of the best things about living in Hawaii. It makes sharing waves with your family and friends very special. Also, nobody brings their cell phones to the lineup, nonetheless, I always run into someone that I know and have great conversations, face to face, until a wave comes, then you do it all over again and again until it is time to either go to work or call it a day at sunset time or if you had a day off and surfed all day. Get out there, be safe, and have fun!