Learn to surf – The complete beginner’s guide

Learn to surf - The complete beginner's guide

Do you dream of someday surfing on a perfectly shaped wave at sunset? Paddling out towards the horizon and enjoying total harmony spiked with excitement and adrenaline? Yes, surfing definitely awakens something special in us, and most people are completely enchanted already when they catch their first waves. To experience such euphoria during your surf trip, you can use some simple tricks. Here is the guide that will make your surf dreams come true.

Isabelle, Magnus & friends
A surfer at the beach during sunset

Can you surf as a beginner?

Portugal is the most wave-consistent country in Europe, according to some, in the whole world. The likelihood of finding perfect beginner waves here is therefore high all year round. However, most people choose to make their surf trip to Portugal during the summer. But the fact is that there are several advantages to learning to surf during the autumn, winter, or spring.

Firstly, the warmth lingers during the winter months thanks to the proximity to the Equator and the warming effect of the Atlantic. Secondly, there is plenty of space in the lineup, and you can fully focus on catching your waves. Thirdly, there are surf spots protected from the big winter swells, providing perfect conditions for beginners.

Baleal is a shining star on the surfing horizon. A small Portuguese coastal community that attracts surfers from all corners of the earth. Here, there are sheltered beaches where waves constantly roll in, offering long amazing rides that captivate one beginner surfer after another. In Baleal, you’ll find the highly praised Swedish surf school Magnus & friends, where you are welcome young or old, beginner or experienced, whether you travel alone, with friends, or with family.

Paradoxically, from Baleal, you can almost see all the way up to the world’s biggest wave breaking in towards the fishing town of Nazaré. The world championships in big wave surfing are held there every year. And close to your surf camp in Baleal, you’ll find Peniche and the beach of Supertubos, world-famous for its powerful waves forming astonishingly long “barrels”. The world championships in regular surfing are held there every year. After Pipeline and Sunset in Hawaii, the world’s elite flies into our little village.

As a beginner there, you’re best off staying on land and letting yourself be inspired as a spectator. Then, surf gentle beginner waves at the shallow sandy beaches in the protected coves of the Baleal Peninsula.


Between surfsessions

The beaches in Portugal, especially around Baleal, are surrounded by breathtaking mountain formations with irresistible views. With such stunning natural scenery framing your surf trip, there are plenty of opportunities for memorable moments even when you’re not surfing.

Additionally, the local bars and restaurants offer a variety of culinary delights, especially if you enjoy seafood. The nightlife is also not to be complained about, as there is always something happening here that attracts all the party-loving surfers.


Which waves are suitable for beginners?

For total beginners, small to medium-sized waves are best suited. It’s a big advantage if there’s a long shallow sand beach so you have plenty of time to stand up. It’s also great if you can find a sheltered bay where the currents aren’t too strong and the waves aren’t too big. When learning to surf, you should practice on small to medium-sized unbroken waves, commonly known as green waves, with your surf coach pushing you into them so you can focus solely on standing up, finding balance, and eventually starting to turn left and right.

It takes time to get used to the board, find the right balance, and optimize your pop-up, the movement that takes you from lying down to standing. Usually, most first-time surfers can stand up on the board by day one or two. Some may need more days. Patience is important, and it’s essential to practice enjoying the moment in this exciting and fun sport.

Once you’ve mastered the technique of standing up, it’s time to go out and catch those unbroken green waves entirely on your own. To catch these waves, you need to be in the right place at the right time. If you’re too late, the risk is that the wave breaks over you and washes you into the water. This comical maneuver is called a wipe out and is a constant presence for surfers at all levels. Another important difference is that you must steer the board in the direction the wave is “open,” meaning it hasn’t broken yet. This means you’re either surfing right or left, while the wave carries you toward the shore.


How do you catch a green wave?

  1. Find the right position in the water, a few meters further out than where the wave you want to catch will break.
  2. As the wave approaches, you must time it correctly while paddling towards the shore.
  3. When the wave is almost upon you, take a few strong paddle strokes to create enough speed. This way, you’ll get into the wave, which simultaneously pulls you backward and upward.
  4. Once you feel the board gaining momentum in the direction you want, you can stand up and surf away on the wave.


Which surfboard is suitable for beginners?

Preferably as large and wide as possible! The more volume the board has, the better it floats, making it easier to catch waves. And the wider it is, the better balance you’ll have while surfing. Once you’re completely comfortable paddling and catching waves on a large board, you can choose to try a smaller one. But if you feel comfortable with your large board, then of course you can stick with it.

Shortboards and longboards

These two different branches within surfing are vastly different and can essentially be considered as two different sports. To perform aggressive maneuvers and turns in big waves, you need a smaller board, namely a shortboard. Longboarding is the more classic style within surfing where, for example, you dance your way all the way to the nose of the board and perform a so-called “noseride.” Such dance moves and balancing acts are performed on large surfboards.

Do I really need an instructor?

It’s good to have confidence, but avoid paddling out completely alone the first few times you surf. With an instructor on hand, you’re much more likely to catch more waves than without. You’ll receive valuable tips and guidance in the right direction to catch the waves, quite literally. Moreover, as a completely inexperienced surfer, you may make mistakes that could potentially harm yourself or other surfers in the water. For these reasons, we highly recommend booking your first surf trip with lessons from a professional instructor.

Do I need to be in good shape to learn how to surf?

No, you don’t need to be in good shape to learn how to surf. A person who has never surfed before will get tired, regardless of how fit they are. Lying flat on a board and paddling out among waves and then standing up requires a unique coordination and balance. You simply need to acclimate your body to the situation. However, it’s definitely an advantage to be strong, enduring, and above all, flexible, especially if you’re going to surf for several days in a row.

You don’t need to train for your surf trip, but if you still want to, you can choose one or more of the following exercises or training methods: burpees (explained further below), push-ups, running, swimming, or yoga.

Which muscles are used when paddling?

Many believe that arm strength is most important when paddling. But the truth is that you should ideally use the much larger back muscles to pull your arms back through the water. By paddling correctly, you can avoid shoulder pain while increasing the likelihood of catching your first wave soon.

Firstly, you should not lie heavily with your legs and upper body on the board. This worsens balance and makes it harder to exert proper pressure in your paddle strokes. Instead, try to find your center of gravity centrally below the navel, at the level of the hip bones, with legs extended and the upper body slightly lifted over the board. Maintaining this position for an extended period requires a lot of core strength, making the muscles in the lower back and lower abdominal invaluable for surfers.

Tips on exercises for a stronger core

  • Plank: Lie face down on the floor and then lift your entire body so that only forearms and feet touch the ground. Maintain this position for as long as you can, making sure your hips do not sag toward the floor as this can strain your back. The plank is a static exercise that builds endurance and stabilizes the core.


  • Back lift: Lie flat on your stomach with your upper arms extended to the sides and forearms forward. Lift your upper body using the lower back muscles and try to hold this position for as long as possible. The next step is to simultaneously raise your legs slightly off the ground. This is a highly beneficial exercise similar to the position you have when paddling on the board.


En surfinstruktör visar en nybörjare hur man gör en pop-up
Tjejer övar surfövningar på varsin surfbräda på stranden
En man paddlar i vågorna under en surflektion

How do you do a pop-up?

Next is the moment that most people struggle with the most. It’s also the last step before you actually stand on the board and get the chance to experience the true joy of surfing. Pop-up, is exactly as it sounds—the movement that takes you from lying down to standing. It’s a dynamic movement that activates many muscles in the body, and the most important thing is to coordinate those muscles for that specific movement. If we were to emphasize something that helps you succeed with your pop-up, it’s flexibility in your core, hips, and back.

Tips on exercise to make the pop-up easier:

  • Burpees

Bend your knees and place your hands on the ground in front of you. Kick both legs back and extend your body into a push-up position. Then, jump forward with both legs while keeping your hands on the ground. Finish with an explosive jump up, then repeat the exercise as many times as you can.

Swim yourself into shape before the surfing trip

It’s important to feel comfortable in the water. Therefore, we recommend those who rarely visit the swimming pool to go there a few times before going surfing. Swimming provides good mobility and strength in both shoulders, back, and core, which will help you when learning to surf. Also, take the opportunity to dive down and practice holding your breath underwater. This will make you calm and confident when falling off the board and waves wash over your head.

Three good pieces of advice for your surfing trip

  1. Always keep your head up!
    When balancing on a line, you should always focus your gaze on a point far ahead of you. The same applies when surfing. Always keep your head up and look in the direction you want the board to take you. As soon as you look down, there’s a risk of losing control.
  1. Unwind with yoga and meditation
    Yoga and meditation are popular complements to surfing. In addition to stretching your strained muscles, you also gain a deeper awareness of your breath. This can be useful for finding the right focus and harmony when surfing.
  1. Let things take their time
    If you expect to catch green waves completely on your own on the first day, you’re likely to be disappointed. Therefore, it’s important to set the bar at a reasonable level and let things take their time. The cliché that “everyone has been a beginner at some point” is worth repeating and provides comfort when you feel disappointed.