Practice makes perfect apparently. It’s annoying but unfortunately true. No matter how naturally good anyone looks at a skill, the reality is that they’ve put in hours and hours of training. It’s reckoned to take around 10,000 hours of practice to go from complete novice to expert in any skill so when you’re taking beginner surf lessons and standing on the wrong side of that lifetime’s work, it can be a little daunting.
Luckily, surfing is a sport that’s more or less instantly rewarding. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert to appreciate how much fun it can be (although getting better is obviously the aim). Within a few minutes you can be having fun, and unlike a lot of other sports, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to practice.
So, facing 10,000 hours of practice square in the face is where I found myself when I decided to head down to Lagos in southern Portugal to try surfing for the first time. Learning to surf had always been one of those things I wanted to do but had just never got round to it. But time waits for no man, and I decided that enough procrastination was enough, and the sooner I started getting hours under my belt, the sooner I would be an expert (no harm in being optimistic).
I had chosen to go with The Surf Experience, a really well-established and renowned surf school in the Lagos area. They set up way back in 1992 and know a thing or two about surfing lessons, so I was in good hands.
First things first, I was measured up for a board and wetsuit. Depending on how tall you are, the length of the board can vary. To begin with, the bigger it is, the easier it is to balance (although it’s also more difficult to carry too).
We loaded up all the gear onto the Land Rover and set off from Lagos for the west coast of the Algarve and a beach called Cordoama. Conditions vary in all surf spots, so your daily destinations will also change according to the most suitable conditions for your level.
Once there, gear was unloaded and I got ready to hit the water. However, you need to remember (and you certainly will that evening) that surfing is very physically demanding and involves using muscles you’d long forgotten you had. So, a thorough warm up is essential. Your surf instructor will take you through a routine that stretches out a few of the key muscle groups you’re going to need.
Then it’s time to learn a little bit about catching waves. This is a pretty essential skill for surfing. You could be built like an Olympic gymnast and have all the most expensive gear but if you can’t catch a wave then you may as well pack it in and go home. It’s all about timing really, and learning to ride a wave sans board on your belly is a key starting point. Once you’ve done it on your own, it’s time to try a few with your board.
My instructor talked me through the position you need to adopt, how to hold the board and look over your shoulders waiting for the wave. Then you need to push and mount the board, positioning yourself in the middle so as not to over- or under-balance. After a few times being dumped into the drink face first, you soon learn not to get too far forward or back on the board.
There’s no rush with any of this. Take your time to get it right and understand how the waves work – its fundamental to everything else you’ll do on the board.
I spent the first day morning getting to grips with the above, and when the instructor decided it was time to progress he called me back out of the water onto the beach. Now it was time to learn to pop up and stand. Watching the experienced surfers do this on the waves, it looks a doddle. But doing it in practice is not so easy, even when stationary on the beach.
Your instructor will break it down for you into simple movements, and the key is to watch and then practice. Get it right, because when you add a big wave into the equation it’s going to be ten times harder – so good technique now is essential. Once you’re ready it’s time to head out into the water and try it.
Don’t be disheartened at this stage – it is not an easy thing to do. You’re going to get thrown off, rolled over and generally battered around and dragging your big, foamy beginners board back out is incredibly tiring. But you’ll also have enough adrenaline flowing through you not to care. Besides, with each attempt you get a little closer until suddenly, without quite knowing how, and looking like Bambi taking its first few steps, you’re up. Not for long – it’s fleeting for sure – but you know what standing feels like and that was definitely standing.
It was about this point that I got totally hooked. All the previous hours of being sent through a heavy spin cycle were worth it. There was plenty more of that to come of course, but by God I could stand up on a board. And in my eyes, that pretty much meant I could surf. A thumbs up for approval from The Surf Experience instructor was a proud moment.
Learning to surf is hard work, like learning any new skill, but it’s sure worth it. If you’ve been thinking about it for a while but never seem to find the time, then trust me, it’s well worth the effort. Beginner surf lessons are essential, and the valuable insights, tips and experience of your instructors will definitely help you along the way.
I suddenly had visions of growing my hair long, bleaching it blond, buying a van and dedicating my life to surfing. And why not, at this point I only had another 9,995 hours until I became an expert.
If you want to take on some beginner surf lessons then it is great to do it on a holiday. There are 100os of options for this around the world but I went with The Surf Experience in Lagos, Portugal. After my holiday I penned a review of the Surf Experience which is well worth a read.