Is Surfing Hard?

Many consider surfing the hardest sport to learn, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t do it!

I learned to surf recently, (very recently actually, three months ago), at the start of my internship here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga.

Did I find it very hard at the beginning? Absolutely!

And three months on, I still find it challenging. But it’s so rewarding to look back at my surfing journey and see how far I’ve already come, and how I’ve overcome so many of these challenges so early on.

A huge part of surfing is just being honest with yourself. Acknowledging that there are things that are difficult and that you need to work on. In this vein, it’s like many other sports.

So what makes surfing different? No wave is the same.

An analogy that we like to use here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga is that a basketball player can stand there and shoot three-pointers from the same spot all day long, and eventually perfect it.

With surfing, you will never find the same wave again. Ever.

You can learn to pop up perfectly on one wave, and completely wipe out on the very next. We’re talking a mouthful of water. There’s a pretty steep learning curve with surfing — whether it’s your first wave or you’ve been learning to surf for years.

Let’s discuss some of the things that most of our surf students find hard when learning to surf with us, why they’re hard, and how to overcome these difficulties.

Beginner surfer falling off wave

What are the hardest things about surfing?

From all our years of giving over 1,000 surfing lessons, the Bodhi Surf + Yoga team has a pretty good idea of what it is that our students find hard about surfing.

What’s even better is that we’ve been able to watch how our students overcome these challenges — and how you can too!

So let’s get into it. What makes surfing hard?

Understanding the ocean

The more you surf and make it a hobby, the more types of conditions you’ll see.

Mother Ocean is a beautiful yet extremely complex being. It’s almost as if she has her own thoughts and feelings. Some days, she is calm, others rough. Some days she welcomes us and gives us prime surfing conditions, and others she doesn’t seem to want us to be there at all.

Because of this, we need to try our best to understand the varying surf conditions and be able to decide whether or not they are conducive to surfing.

One way that we teach our students at Bodhi Surf + Yoga to do this is by completing a surf report. This allows you to analyze factors that influence the surfing conditions, and is a fairly basic and easy-to-learn way of reading the conditions for beginner surfers.

Knowing the location

This is another foolproof way of predicting the surf conditions before you go surfing. Even in the same conditions, different beaches and other surf spots have different kinds of waves and wave breaks.

For example, here in Bahia Ballena-Uvita, we know our local surf spots very well.

We know:

  • How often the tides change
  • Which tides are better in each beach
  • The typical wave conditions and their breaks
  • That the optimal waves for learning are from December-May
  • How the weather conditions will likely affect the surf

Having this insight allows us to plan our lessons and their times accordingly. Essentially, we can tailor our lessons and when we have them to suit the best wave conditions and the individual abilities of our students.

Better yet, having this knowledge of our local surf spots allows us to use each one for its strengths, rather than having to rely on just one beach to be perfect.

Check out our favorite surf spot for our surfing retreats here in Uvita!

Is surfing hard or fun

Selecting the right equipment

We really wish surfing was as easy as grabbing a board and heading out into the waves; unfortunately, it’s not.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, these are the pieces of equipment that we ensure match the abilities and meet the needs of each of our individual students:


Picking the right or wrong surfboard can be the difference between you absolutely crushing it out there, and coming back extremely frustrated after not catching any waves at all.

The type of surfboard you use depends on your ability level.

For beginners, we recommend using:

  • Longboards
  • Funboards
  • Softboards

These surfboards are generally longer in length, wide and round, and have thick rails, giving them more volume. These characteristics make the surfboard more buoyant and stable. Perfect if you’re a beginner surfer trying to catch your first wave.

As you become a more advanced surfer and want to learn more skills, you’ll be able to move on to thinner and smaller surfboards that allow for tighter, more agile turns as well as speed.


Just like the different types of surfboards, different fin configurations have different purposes for surfing. Using the wrong fins for your level or surfboard will make surfing feel harder than it needs to.

Our surf instructors usually give our students who are just learning to surf boards with the thruster set up (three fins). But other set ups for beginners include:

  • Single fins
  • Twin fins
  • Quad fins

These configurations tend to be better for beginners as they allow your surfboard to have ample stability, control, and are usually better for catching smaller waves.

These are the perfect characteristics for when you’re just learning the ropes and perfecting popping up and catching white water waves!

Again, like with surfboards, as you become a better surfer you’ll be able to try out different fin configurations on different boards. Another big part of surfing is experimenting!

You may fall off a fair few times in the process, but if you ask us that’s the best way to learn!

Learning proper surfing technique

Believe it or not, you can be using the incorrect surfing technique before you’ve even reached the water!

Learning the proper surfing technique starts from when you’re on the sand on the beach, and ends there again after you’ve finished surfing.

We’ll walk you through each and every one of the proper forms of technique that we teach our surfing students at one of our retreats, from lesson one through five!

Learning to put on surf leash

Attaching the leash

Yes, even this can be done wrong!

You want to attach the leash tightly to the leash plug on the tail of your surfboard. Easy enough, right?

What we see a lot of people do wrong is what comes next. We encourage our students not to attach the other end of the leash to their ankles just yet. We suggest walking with the board down to just before the shoreline, holding the other end of the leash with your hand.

Why? You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve seen people trip over their leashes while walking their boards to the water.

Imagine you’re on your way down to the water, just raring to get out there. You’re picturing yourself in slow motion walking elegantly like one of those cool surfer dudes/dudettes that you’ve seen on TV, and the next thing you know you’re face down in the sand.

Trust us, even if it might be a little funny, we don’t want that for our students.

When you’ve reached the shoreline, put your board down and attach the leash to your dominant foot, with the swivel pointing behind your ankle. Embarrassment-free!

Beginner surfer catching a whitewater wave

Catching whitewater waves

One of the first things we teach our students in the first lesson of their retreat is how to catch white water waves.

You’ll probably hear your surf instructor refer to “the whitewater” area of the water, which is where the waves have already broken.

The whitewater is the perfect place to learn the techniques that will help you later on in the lineup when you’re catching blue-green waves — so essentially this is one of the most important parts of your lesson!

During your first surf lesson with us at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we’ll teach you the theory back on the sand. Travis (co-owner and surf instructor) is known to get pretty creative and artistic with it.

After watching Travis roll around in the sand for a bit, we’ll go into the white water and try to put some of this theory into practice:

  1. Line yourself up to be perpendicular to the oncoming wave
    If you’re at an angle the wave might push you over! Lining up the tail of your board with the wave will put you in the perfect position to catch it cleanly and you’ll be able to maintain your balance.
  2. Paddle away from the wave
    You don’t want to catch the wave too soon, it won’t be tall or strong enough and will just roll right under you. To catch the wave at the right stage, we teach our students to paddle for the wave (towards the beach), while continuously looking back to track the wave’s movement. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll be able to catch the wave at the correct stage.
  3. Smile while you paddle
    This has become a slogan here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. Smiling helps you subconsciously be happy, helping you keep a positive attitude while surfing. Interesting right? We’ll talk more about this later.
  4. Look ahead
    It’s really important that you don’t just stare down at your feet while surfing, look where you’re going! We tell our students that “you’ll go where you’re looking,” so if you’re staring down, that’s most likely where you’ll end up going!Another analogy that our surf instructors like to use here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga is that of riding a bicycle. When you’re doing this, you always look ahead at where you’re going, not down at the handle bars or the pedals.

Surfer paddling out into the lineup

Paddling out

Many people will tell you that this is the hardest part of surfing.

Depending on the conditions, paddling out can either be a walk in the park or it can feel like the most intense workout you’ve ever done.

How easy it is for you can also depend on your surfing experience level and ability. At our surf camps, we have people who manage to paddle out to the lineup after the first lesson, and others not until the last lesson of the week.

Either way, you can make paddling out easier for yourself by learning the correct technique.

Remember earlier when we talked about counting the waves in each set and how long the period lasts? This is where that comes in handy.

We encourage our students to sit for at least 10 minutes before they enter the water. Just watching the waves and looking out for the best time and place to enter the water to paddle out.

Think about it: would you rather paddle out during a calm period of no oncoming waves, or while Mother Ocean is throwing towards you absolutely everything she’s got? We know which we prefer…

You might be wondering, “how can I paddle quickly and efficiently, without burning myself out?”

We’re glad you asked. As you might have guessed, there’s a technique for that too.

When paddling, you want to remember to:

  • Use your whole arm. Uou should be paddling with your hand to your elbow under water, allowing you to push more water and propel yourself further
  • Position yourself correctly on the surfboard. Where on the board depends on which size you have and how tall you are, but having your weight too far up or down the board can make paddling harder. Generally, you want to have your toes near the tail of the surfboard
  • Keep your chest up and shoulders back, as opposed to lying flat on the surfboard. This gives you a better view of oncoming waves and other surfers around you

Surfers sitting in the lineup for bluegreen waves

Sitting out in the lineup

You’ve paddled out and made it to the lineup!

At this point in your lesson, you’re probably in need of a breather. You’ve earned it. We know it’s not easy paddling out and getting through the big wave sets.

All that’s on your mind now is probably a giant plate of food and an ice cold cerveza. But wait! This is the fun part.

Out in the lineup, you can take a seat on your board and catch your breath while watching the horizon for any potential bumps.

Now, although this is the part where you actually get to channel your inner iIstagram surfer dude and look super cool riding bluegreen waves, it’s also where technique is vital.

Imagine you’ve paddled out and fought through what feels like monstrous sets. You’ve waited your turn in the lineup. You’ve tracked a wave, started paddling for it, and tried to get to your feet. And the next thing you know you’re doing cartwheels underwater, because you’ve fallen off immediately, and the wave has broken on you.

All that hard work… for nothing!

This happens to everyone. However, by applying the right technique you can actually catch the wave rather than the scenario we just walked through.

Here’s what we teach our surf students to do out on line lineup:

  1. Sit on your board
    Sit towards the back of your surfboard and lean forward, to avoid falling backwards. This allows you to have a much better view of the waves popping up on the horizon than you would do if you were still laying on your board.
  2. Spin around
    When it’s your turn and you’ve tracked a wave from the horizon, while still in the sitting position, turn around on your board. Sitting towards the back of your board also helps you pivot and spin around quicker
  3. Lay down and paddle
    Once you’ve turned around, lay back down and start paddling away from the wave, while looking back over your shoulder to track the wave. You want to keep an eye on the wave’s speed and which direction it will break. Paddling too fast will cause the wave to break on you, and too slow will mean you miss the wave altogether.One final step — paddle a bit in the direction that the wave is breaking. While doing this, paddle faster as the wave gets closer to you. For example, if the wave is breaking to your right, paddle towards that direction. This will help you catch the bluegreen part of the wave, rather than the whitewater part which has already broken.
  4. Catch the wave!
    Finally, everyone’s favorite part!First step: relax. Don’t panic, you’ll lose focus and you may end up losing the wave! Once you’re on the wave (still paddling) and your board starts to angle down the sloped face of the wave, that’s when you want to get to your feet.Here, just stay calm and remember what you learned in the white water:
  • Place your hands on the board and pop yourself up
  • Remember not to grip the rails — place your hands on top of the surfboard, sort of like a pushup position
  • Look where you’re going — not down at your feet
  • SMILE!

Leaving the ocean

Here, you basically just want to do step one in reverse.

At the shoreline, unattach the leash from your ankle and carry it back up the beach.

Remember what we said about walking with the leash on! You don’t want to end an epic day of surfing by tripping over your leash in front of everyone!

No matter how many gnarly waves you caught that day, this will be what everyone remembers!

Surf students learning rules and etiquette on the beach

Learning the rules of the game

A less physical and more theoretical aspect of surfing that can be a challenge is learning the surfing rules and etiquette.

It’s all good knowing how to surf and being able to catch waves, but just like any other sport, you’re not playing correctly if you aren’t following the rules.

Think about it: you wouldn’t run out on a football pitch without having any idea how to play, right?

Learning these rules will make surfing much easier for you and give you a better experience! As a beginner surfer, you’ll gain so much respect from the other surfers around you if you make an effort to learn the surfing etiquette.

The last thing we want is for our students to get an earful from other surfers for not following the rules, so a huge part of our lessons at Bodhi Surf + Yoga involve rules and etiquette.

The most common rules that we teach our students involve:

  • Paddling out
  • Right of way
  • Dropping in
  • Snaking

In our Surf Etiquette blog, we go into a lot of detail about each of these things, what to do if you’re dropped in on or snaked, as well as what to do if you find yourself mistakenly doing it to someone else!

Once you understand these rules, following them is pretty easy.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we strongly believe in the power and benefits of taking surf lessons. To us, it’s the best way to learn all of these things that you might not have even known you should know!

We are extremely committed to producing knowledgeable surfers with a passion for the sport, and teaching these rules is a huge part of how we do that.

The physical challenge

One of the most common questions we get here from potential guests and students is, “am I fit enough to surf?”

We’re glad to tell you, over the years we’ve taught all kinds of people to surf. Your age, height, and weight do not matter.

We’ve taught young children, adults, elderly people of all different heights and sizes.

If you want to learn to surf, you can. You just have to be dedicated and understand that irrespective of any of these things, there are some physical challenges.

In this aspect, the question of “Is surfing hard?” is best answered by Yvon Chouinard — Patagonia owner and environmentalist:

“It’s not like getting back on a bicycle… you spend thirty seconds on your feet a day as a beginner… try learning anything else at thirty-seconds-a-day intervals.”

Let’s take a look at some of the physical aspects that make surfing hard, and how we at Bodhi Surf + Yoga help our students overcome them.

Child learning to surf in the whitewater

Learning to surf in the whitewater

Like we said earlier, the whitewater is where the fundamentals of surfing are learned. We encourage our students not to paddle out until they are confident with their ability in the whitewater.

Surfing in the whitewater isn’t the most physically challenging part of surfing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If it’s your first time learning to pop up on your surfboard, it can be a very tiring and repetitive process. If you think about it, you’re using your muscles in a way that they’re not used to.

It takes time to work up that muscle memory.

Do we have our own Bodhi Surf + Yoga-way of helping our students out with this? Of course we do!

A lot of the time our surf instructors will draw surfboards on the sand and — yes, you guessed it, our students will practice “popping up” laying down on the sand.

As funny as this may sound, it works!

It’s then a lot easier to transfer this practice into the whitewater and perfect it there.

You don’t teach surfing lessons for as long as we have without picking up a few tricks!

Watching surfing videos on YouTube is another great way of learning and practicing without being on the beach to do it. At our surf camps, it’s very common for surf instructors Travis or Spencer to send links to helpful videos in the weekly WhatsApp group chats.

We know no one loves homework, but it could be worse, right?

Surfer learning to paddle out

Learning to paddle out

Now this — this is where your body gets upset with you.

Paddling out can be such a physically rewarding experience, but sometimes the ocean makes you WORK for it.

First of all, it can be a killer workout for the arms. It’s made a bit easier by following the right technique that we talked about earlier, but sometimes the waves are strong and there’s little time between them, so there’s no avoiding it. It’s a part of surfing!

Another challenging part of paddling out is stamina.

If you’re in a break between wave sets, you have to paddle as hard as you can before the waves start coming at you again. Depending on the day, you may only have less than a minute to paddle from the whitewater out to the lineup.

Why does this make surfing hard?

If you get tired after 30 seconds of intense paddling, you don’t really have the time to stop and take a break. If you do, the next set of waves will start pushing you back, and it only gets harder from here.

You can prepare for these physical challenges by watching our YouTube video on getting in shape for your tropical vacation.

After your first day of surfing, you’ll feel your body like you’ve never felt it before. Way to make you feel alive, right?

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we have a remedy for this for our guests that are staying with us:

  • A delicious dinner
  • Tropical cocktails (and lots of them)
  • Amazing company and laughs
  • Yoga and massages

Keeping in shape between sessions

The easiest way to get in shape is to keep in shape. Agreed?

At our surf retreats here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, our guests are constantly being active, with:

Because of this, our guests are able to stay in shape and keep their bodies engaged between surf classes. This is another huge benefit of surfing.

For others however, it may be difficult to maintain their shape between sessions.

One thing that we can’t recommend enough is yoga!

This doesn’t have to mean staying at a week-long yoga retreat, you can do yoga from the comfort of your own home or garden with our Bodhi Online Membership!

Yoga is extremely beneficial for beginner surfers for stretching your muscles out and awakening your body, and some of the poses will directly help you on the surfboard.

This will give you a little taste of what you can experience at one of our surf and yoga retreats!

How to breathe properly

This is one of the most important parts of surfing, especially while paddling out.

So therefore, it’s one of the things that makes surfing hard for beginners if they’re not doing it correctly.

You might be thinking, Breathing? How hard can that be?

It doesn’t sound very challenging. I mean, we do it all day everyday without even noticing it.

Well, let us tell you. When you’re paddling out, you notice it.

Breathing properly can be the difference between you making it out to the lineup and crushing it, or exhausting yourself and having a really hard time out there.

First thing we recommend? Taking long deep breaths. This is also referred to as Pranayama breathing.

Pilar has a blog on the benefits of Pranayama breathing that’s worth checking out!

Another thing to avoid — over-breathing.

Think about how you breathe when you’re having a panic attack — your inhales and exhales are very fast. There’s no way your lungs can get enough oxygen from this, so you’ll just end up completely exhausting yourself.

So remember, if you get to the point where you’re breathing quickly and you’re getting tired — just take some deep breaths and focus on breathing properly.

And to be honest, we tell a lot of our students that if you’re really that tired and short of breath, it’s probably best to turn around and come in for a rest.

The mental challenge

The mental side of surfing isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as the physical side — yet it is just as important.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, from our years of helping people surf, we understand that sometimes beginner surfers struggle even more with the mental side of surfing than the physical.

This is another reason we believe so strongly in surfing lessons rather than attempting to self-teach. If you’ve ever surfed before, you know for sure that it can be stressful, frustrating, and anxious… but it can also help with your anxiety.

By taking a lesson or two, you:

  • Are in a supportive learning environment
  • Are surrounded by others with the same experience level
  • Learn rules and etiquettes that you would not by self-teaching
  • Connect with other surfers
  • Are allowed to make mistakes

This takes a load of those mental challenges off your shoulders, and allows you to focus on your surfing and your enjoyment.

Surfer smiling while paddling

Smile through the mental and physical challenges

It’s not a complete surf camp with us here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga if you haven’t heard our favorite saying: “Smile while you paddle,” at least once a day.

What can we say, we love it!

But what does it mean and why do we say it? How does it make surfing easier?

Here’s how. Try this.

Wherever you’re reading this blog right now, whether it’s at home, work, the bus stop, wherever — smile. Just take five seconds to smile, even if it’s just to your phone.

How does that feel?

Don’t you automatically feel happier or more at ease, even if it’s just a little?

A simple smile can actually influence your mood — it triggers dopamine and serotonin, which boost your mood. This then helps you stay focused, positive, and lowers your blood pressure, helping you stay calm and relieve stress.

Did you know that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as 2,000 bars of chocolate?

So what’s the story behind this here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga?

It started when a past guest of ours (now return guest) was struggling to stand up on her surfboard. Understandably, she was getting frustrated.

Travis noticed this and told her she should smile while paddling for the wave, which she did, and then described that she felt the following…

“An overwhelming sense of calmness, felt collected, and happier in that stressful situation.”

Of course what happened next is that she was able to stand up on the wave!

Travis explains the following:

“Trying to catch a wave can be a challenging and stressful moment. If we don’t smile, we’re sending stress signals to the brain.

When you enter the water you want to be calm, cool and collected.

If you’re grinding your teeth and looking angry while paddling for the wave, you’re sending negative messages to your brain and body which will make you tighten up.”

Essentially, when surfing you want to be loose and at ease. You will find it much harder to surf if your body is tight and stiff.

About 70% of surfing is paddling — we might as well make it as enjoyable as we can.

We can also view smile while you paddle as a metaphor for life. When challenges arise, if you can learn to smile through them — even if you’re faking it, you can make a difficult situation a little more pleasant and easy to deal with.

Our guests and surf students have taken to this saying so much that we are in the process of patenting it, and are soon to be launching our Smile While You Paddle brand.

So be sure to keep your eyes peeled for that!

Smile While You Paddle

Learning to surf can be difficult, but it’s worth it

As you’ll already know if you’ve ever surfed and fought through these difficulties, it’s totally worth it.

Might you get a little beaten up? Yes.

Tired and sore? Even more of a yes.

But being out in the ocean catching waves is one of the most fulfilling and awakening experiences you can give yourself.

You’ll learn so much about your own strengths and abilities, you’ll develop a connection with yourself and nature that you’re probably never had before.

So, to answer the question of is surfing hard? Yes.

But is it worth it? Yes.

Can you learn it and get better at it? Absolutely!

You don’t have to just take it from us, take it from our guests:

“The surf instruction is excellent. During our first trip I went from never having surfed to riding green waves in the first week and have since spent all my time outside the white wash. That was very gratifying.”

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About the author

George Frost

George is a food, music, nature, and football-obsessed blog writer at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. He comes all the way from Bermuda and loves sharing his culture with everyone. He is passionate about traveling, as well as experiencing and learning from other cultures.