Since the inception of our surf school back in 2010, we’ve been hesitant about providing surfboard rentals. Though we did rent out surfboards on a case-by-case basis for the first two years, it’s never been something that we’ve felt completely comfortable doing for three primary reasons. First of all, from a safety standpoint, beginner surfers who have zero-to-little background or training of what to do in the surf can pose a serious threat to themselves, other surfers, and other beach-goers. Next, our objective as a surf school has always been to introduce new surfers into surfing in a safe and fun way rather than be a rental shop. Finally, the business cost of renting out the tools we use for lessons is simply too high. The majority of individuals who rent surfboards don’t know how to properly care for the equipment, so all too often, rental boards come back damaged and the opportunity cost of repairing a damaged rental surfboard is far too high when our focus was on teaching. With those reasons in mind, a few years back Bodhi Surf School adopted a strong “no surfboard rental” policy, which we’ve been enforcing ever since.
Surfing looks easy — get me a surfboard!
Surfing can be deceiving. You’re sitting on the beach watching surfers maneuver their surfboards: they paddle their surfboards over, through, and under waves until they’re past the breakers; they sit and wait, effortlessly balancing, and then as a wave approaches they turn and catch it with only a few arm strokes; they glide gracefully across the face of the wave and turn off the wave never losing contact with their board. As they repeat the process over and over again, you may think to yourself, “that doesn’t look very difficult at all, I can do that!” – and so you seek out the nearest surf shop in search of a surfboard that you can rent and call your very own for a few hours.
Learning to surf is like learning to drive
While it’s entirely possible for you to pick up a rental surfboard and start to figure out some of the basics of surfing the hard way, it’s neither a safe nor a wise decision. Think back to when you learned to drive — did you find yourself alone in the car driving down the main avenue? Probably not. More likely, you were accompanied by someone who knew how to drive in an empty lot or some low-traffic street. Take a minute to think about why.
Just as with other life skills, when learning to drive a car, you need to know the basic parts that make up your vehicle and how to utilize those parts, be able to control your car, and be aware of/follow the rules that provide structure and are meant to deter accidents from taking place. Learning to surf is no different from learning to drive in this respect; you need to develop the following set of knowledge and skills:
- Know what equipment you need to surf, what parts make up that equipment, and how to properly utilize that equipment – this may include, but is not limited to, a surfboard, leash, wetsuit
- Have the ability to manage the surfboard in the water – and not solely from a standing position on the surfboard
- Be aware that there are rules out in the water, and that those rules are meant to be followed to help prevent accidents from occurring
Now, this may not seem like much, and if you were to practice surfing for a few hours every day then you’d probably become quite proficient at some point. Again, if you reflect to your experience learning to drive, this was probably the case: you spent something like two or three full days in a classroom learning the “dos and don’ts” of driving as well as several hours with a driving instructor, got your learning permit, and were then required to complete some 50 hours of behind-the-wheel driving. And after all that, you were finally allowed to take the driving test to obtain your license.
But now, when was the first time you were allowed to rent a car? The average required age to rent a car in the United States is 25 years, which means that, depending on where you live, you must have around nine years of driving experience to be able to rent a car! Everyone seems to agree that driving a car is a serious task, and as a society we do as much as we can do ensure that no driver will pose a threat to themselves or others on the road.
I’m not saying you need to be surfing for nine years before being able to rent a surfboard, simply that if you’re going to rent a board, it’s important very important that you have enough knowledge and experience to:
- manage your surfboard
- follow the rules of surfing
- and most importantly, keep yourself and others safe out in the water
How obtain the necessary surfing knowledge and skill set
A few years back I wrote a post on whether it’s necessary to enroll in a surf school in order to learn, and while I still believe it’s possible to learn without any guidance (it’s possible to learn just about any skill with tireless determination and a trial and error approach, though it may be a steep learning curve and a painful process), I would highly recommend that beginners avoid taking single day surf lessons. A single day surf lesson is typically anywhere between one and three hours long, which is a very short amount of time for an instructor to assess a student’s skill level, cover necessary theory, work on skill development, allot practice time, and provide feedback. For a student, a single-day surf lesson is a like cram session, there’s too much information in a short period of time for the student to be able to retain anything. In addition, one of the obstacles that beginner surfers face is the physical stamina that is required in surfing. On average, new surfers do not have the physical fitness to withstand being active in the ocean for more than 30-45 minutes, which means that over the course of a two or three hour lesson there will not be that much effective practice time due to fatigue.
My recommendation for those who are really interested in learning to surf is to attend a one or two week surf camp. By attending a week-long surf camp, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to really learn the theory (and have it sink into your brain), as well as develop your skills by running through drills for five or more days. This is not to say that after five days in the water you’ll be proficient at every basic skill, but you will walk away with the knowledge necessary to keep yourself and others safe in the water and with drills you can continue practicing to hone your surfing fundamentals. Just as with learning to drive, you won’t be an expert driver once you pass your driving test, but you will have the basic knowledge and skills to drive independently and continue practicing to hone your abilities.