Surfing for the First Time

“There’s a first time for everything.” – Somebody


Time: Afternoon on a weekend in early Fall

Place: Second Spot, Dohoeny State Beach, Dana Point, California.

Equipment: Brand Spankin New Wetsuit from the Ripcurl Outlet Store – $150, 9′ Foamie rented from Killer Dana – $30 for the day.


This was the day all my pre-conceived notions of what surfing is/was were destroyed.  Poof. Blasted.  Trashed.  Never again will I wonder what could be so hard about paddling out into the ocean and casually letting the waves bring you back to shore on a stylish longboard.  Simultaneously, and more instantaneously, I was caught by a drive to learn how to surf so well that I too could make it look easy.

First, let’s be clear about one thing.  I am a good swimmer, and comfortable in the water.  I swam for my High School, and have been known to swim laps at a local pool.  I am not horribly out of shape, but I’m not in great shape either.  I could survive running a 5k without notice.

Surfing in Dana Point, California at Doheny State Beach
I know this was taken before we went out because I was smiling and standing up.

Nguyen, and David were with me.  David was also a newb surfing on a foamie borrowed from Nguyen – his colleague and our coach for the day.  “Everyone wants to be able to stand up their first time out,” Nguyen said.  “It just doesn’t happen that fast.”

Here was our challenge: Learn to paddle, and learn to sit.  “Any waves you catch are bonus”  Really?  How hard can it be to paddle?  It’s like sitting in a boat, right?  Wrong.

The first challenge was learning how to balance on the board.  The second was trying to paddle with any speed.  When swimming, you can rotate your torso to get more depth out of your strokes.  Try rotating that much on a surfboard, and you’ll be swimming alright.  In order to stay on the surfboard while you paddle, you have to keep your core centered and balanced.  Do you see the size of my shoulders?  I bet that they will get bigger as I surf more.  Paddling, in fact, was so hard for me that I only caught a wave or two.  I was able to learn a few important concepts while trying though.

  • Position your body – not so far forward that the nose is submerged, not so far back that the nose sticks way up either.
  • Arms mobile, Core stable – when swimming in a pool, you can rotate your torso.  If you do that while paddling on a board, you turn and create drag.
  • Don’t dangle – your feet should be out of the water to reduce drag

Once we got out past where the waves were breaking, it was time for our next challenge.  Sit.  Well, for me [6’1″, 165lbs] on a 9′ foam board, it wasn’t that hard.  What a blessing that was!  After all of that paddling, I needed a break…

By the time about 90 minutes had passed, I had ridden a wave or two on my knees and completely exhausted myself.  While paddling out, I tipped over off the board, and had a hard time getting back up.  Honestly, that’s when I felt any danger at all.  After struggling to get back on the board, I knew that I didn’t have enough in me to paddle back out, AND get back in.  It was a good reminder not to push myself too far in unfamiliar territory.

After the next week of being sore in muscles I didn’t know existed, I can tell you which muscles you’ll use.  If you want to cross-train on land, I highly recommend the TRX suspension trainer.  Here’s what I think might up your paddling game.

Recommended Exercises:

  • TRX “W” Deltoid Fly
  • TRX Split Fly
  • TRX Plank

Note: I am catching up with all of my surfing adventures.  I hope to finish posting the rest of 2016’s lessons this month.  Please excuse any timeline discrepancies, thanks!


Surf’s Up,