International Surfing Day - Stokesy's guide to surfing
June 20th is International Surfing Day, and to celebrate this beautiful sport we thought we'd get Animal team rider, and the most experienced British surfer we know, Alan Stokes, to put together for your convenience the handy beginner's guide to surfing.
Before you venture out into the surf, make sure to have a good understanding of the beach that you are surfing at. There are lots of hidden dangers, especially if you're just learning.
It's very easy to think that everything is a dream when the sun is shining and the perfect waves are breaking, but a good knowledge of tide times, rips and surf etiquette will not only keep you safe but will also speed up your learning curve. Using rips to take you beyond breaking waves for example, or picking the best tide time for the best waves, are all part of surfing's inside tricks.
Water currents (or rips) are bodies of water that have been pushed in by breaking waves and/or the tides, and are now looking to escape back out to sea. Usually found near rocky outcrops or headlands, you can normally spot them if see areas where the water looks a little darker and the waves aren't breaking as much.
If you're a learner surfer always stay well away from these areas. Instead, practice at a life-guarded beach and always between the black and white flags. This area is dedicated to the practice of surfing, and is designed to avoid injuries and collision with other water users.
For more information regarding RNLI guidelines, visit their website here.
The different types of surf crafts
There are so many different types of surfboards that choosing the one for you can seem quite daunting at first. Especially when the key to learning and improving quickly is to make sure you have the right board for your level of ability. The most important thing to remember is that you're doing this for fun, so always go with ease of use and plenty of volume to catch lots of waves.
Although I like to experiment with a variety of different boards, I most often find myself riding 'shortboards'. These boards are designed for high performance and look like tiny little tooth picks. So unless you're very experienced I'd recommend to stay away from these for the time being. Worry not though, you'll be ripping on one of those soon enough!
We then move on to 'fish surfboards' or 'twin fins'. Made popular in the late 70's by four-time world champion Mark Richards, these boards are often found in the shape of small wave stubby boards, and belong to the kind of retro/vintage side of surfing.
Although these boards are super fast and allow the rider to relax and enjoy the ride, they are also probably some of the hardest boards to master. As a beginner I'd again recommend to stay away from them for the time being. You may catch a lot of waves with the excessive volume involved, but you'll struggle to control their speed and "zippiness".
'Bodyboards' are the small stubby foam boards you lay on. Due to their ease of use, they are a great alternative to stand-up boards if you just want to get out there and catch a bunch of waves straight away. Often deemed as a great starting point that will allow you to learn about how waves work and how to catch them quickly, with the added bonus of being able to take these into the swimming area for extra safety.
'Longboards' are surfboards over 9ft long. You can ride even the smallest of waves on these great big boards, but once you're up and riding there is a lot of surfboard to deal with. With these it really is all about reading the wave well and being in connection with its rhythm.
Often found on slower-paced waves, like peeling point breaks or the smaller days on your mellow beach break. Traditionally longboarders enjoy cross stepping up and down the board with elegance, the coolest trick being to hang all ten toes on the nose.
'Mini-malibu', now this is the board you want! They are around 7ft long and look quite similar to a long board. If this is your first go at surfing try to find a foamy Mini-mal, just like bodyboards they are the safest and easiest way to learn to surf.
My tip would always be to head to the nearest surf school and book yourself in for a lesson. They will have foam boards and wetsuits for you to use. It's a great way to get into the sport and will teach you all the safety aspects before you enter the water.
Now that you have caught your first wave you can officially call yourself a surfer, nice one! But this is just the beginning. You're going to need countless hours of practice, motivation and the always pleasant task of putting on wet sandy wetsuits if your going to improve and start ripping on those short boards, so here's a few must-haves.
Get yourself a decent top-end wetsuit. It gets real cold here in the UK and there's nothing more off-putting than a bad-suit-induced freezing cold experience, where you will only last about 30 or 40 min tops. Get yourself a good quality suit and you can stay in the surf for up to 3 hours no problemo. Now that'll be a massive boost to your learning curve!
A wetsuit bucket is a great piece of kit to carry in the back of your car. Chuck in your wet wetsuit after your surf, and stop your car from getting ruined from all that salt water. You can even use it to wash out your wetsuits when at home. Wetsuit after-care is a must if you want to maximise the longevity of your suit.
Here's another little tip, remember to never dry your suit in direct sun light, as the UV rays and heat will quickly deteriorate the quality of the neoprene and seams. Pick a shaded spot outdoors, in the wind, and you'll save yourself from having to buy a new wetsuit every season.
Once you've had a few lessons it'll be time to purchase your very own surfboard. A great way to protect your board and improve performance is to stick a tailpad on. These pads are made from EVA foam and are super grippy. A couple of advantages from having a tailpad are:
1) They help you figure out where you back foot is (and having your back foot above the fins will provide you with more control).
2) The tailpads are super grippy which means you'll be able to apply more pressure on the back of your board without slipping all over the place.
3) Due to the softness of the material, tailpads will save you from filling your boards with pressure dings, therefore increasing your board's lifespan.
Surfboard fins come in all shapes and sizes and just the smallest change in fin shape can make your board feel completely different. A good place to start is with the FCS Performer fins. This is a basic template and works well in all conditions. As your surfing progresses it's really fun to experiment with different fins. Add more base to your fin for drive, add more rake to the tip of your fin for big arching turns!
The last piece of advice from me is to get yourself a good board bag to protect your board from knocks, it will also save your car seats from all that wax on a hot summer's day. And remember if you do knock your board and there's a visible crack or ding make sure you take it to your local surfboard shaper and get it fixed asap. Don't take it back in the water straight away or you'll end up with lots of salt water in there, and this will likely eat away at the foam. If you're into your DIY, you can also fix the board yourself with surfboard repair kits.
That's it you're ready to rock! Now get out there and a have a blast, I'll see you in the line up!