Learning How to Surf: Top 9 Tips

January 26, 2022

Learning how to surf is one of the most rewarding things you can do. But there’s no doubt it takes hard work, persistence, and a strong mindset to get up (and stay up) on that board.

In this article, we cover our top 9 tips for learning how to surf. By following these tips and putting in the necessary sweat (and, perhaps, swallowing your fair share of saltwater) – you’ll be riding the waves in no time.

Tip #1: Find a Great Instructor

A surfing class in action.

When learning how to surf, there is perhaps nothing more important than having a great teacher. 

A good surf instructor can cut your learning time in half, helping you develop the knowledge and mindset you’ll need to succeed on the waves. It also makes your learning process more fun, as you have someone cheering you on and helping you overcome fear and frustrations.

If you think all surf instructors are the same, think again. We have guests who return to Beach Break Surf Camp every year, specifically to work with our instructors. 

5 surfers standing on the beach chatting.

These people have closer, more convenient options for surf training, and yet they return to Playa Venao, Panama every year. Why? Because they know they can progress faster in one week with our instructors than they can over a full summer with someone else.

A surfer swimming on his board with his instructor behind him.

We won’t share all our secrets for what makes our surf instructors so great– but their blending of physical training, oceanic knowledge, and mindset development have a lot to do with it. Surfing is a full body-and-mind experience. Find yourself an instructor with a holistic approach to surfing and you’ll have a much better time. 

Tip #2: Select a Surf Spot Suitable for Beginners 

A girl smiling while surfing the waves.

Not all surf spots are appropriate for beginners. This can come as an unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) surprise to a new surfer, who paddles out into an active break only to find it’s too advanced for them. 

Not choosing a surf spot that’s conducive to learning is not only dangerous– it can greatly harm your progress and mindset. After a rough session of getting thrown around by waves that are much too big or fast for you, you may feel discouraged enough to give up on surfing for good.

A woman standing on her board, while riding a small wave.

When learning how to surf, it’s important to find a surf spot that’s suitable for beginners. Look for surf breaks with:

  • Smaller, slower waves
  • A soft, sandy ocean floor
  • Uncrowded line-ups 
  • A variety of waves suitable for different skill types

Wouldn’t you know it, our location in Playa Venao, Panama offers all of these benefits. In fact, we’re considered one of the best beaches for learning how to surf in Central America. With our unique variety of waves for all skill levels, you can progress from a beginner, to intermediate, even to expert, all in one location. 

Read: Best Beginner Surf Spots in Central America

Tip #3: Practice at Beach Breaks and Point Breaks

Two surfers heading out to the sea holding their surfboards

When learning how to surf, it’s helpful to get experience surfing both beach breaks and point breaks. 

  • A beach break is a surfable wave that is breaking onto a beach. 
  • A point break is a surf break where the shoreline extends out to sea 

There’s a lot of ocean science in surfing, but to simplify things– a beach break typically has a more mellow wave than a point break, making it better for learning how to surf. 

A man surfing in front of a big wave

More advanced surfers often prefer point breaks, as these are better able to create a longer, faster wave for surfing. 

A look of the Beach Break Surf camp fornt area with hammocks and surfboards laying on the grass.

Ideally, you’ll be able to practice in both when you’re learning how to surf. While you’ll definitely want to start with a beach break, you can move into the point break as you begin to progress.

A beach with some sunbeds and a cobblestone path.

Our location in Playa Venao offers both a beach break that’s perfect for learning how to surf, as well as a more advanced point break. The beach break is located directly in front of our (aptly named) hotel, Beach Break Surf Camp. You can start learning how to surf in front of Beach Break, then paddle out to the point break when you’re ready for a greater challenge.

Tip #4: Maintain a Positive Attitude

A yoga class outside on the grass.

Your mindset matters as much as anything when it comes to learning how to surf.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating– surfing is difficult. It requires not only physical strength, but surfing technique and the ability to read the waves. Even the best future surfers will encounter challenges, and may even be tempted to give up.

For this reason, you need to have a strong mindset and positive attitude when learning how to surf. Your mindset will be the #1 thing pushing you to continue when you get discouraged. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how expensive your gear is– you need to have your head on right. 

A women doing a yoga pose on the beach with the sun setting behind her.

You may find it helpful to practice mindfulness meditation– both before and after surfing, and as part of your everyday routine. This will improve the way you ride waves, deepen your connection with the ocean, and help you build and maintain a positive mindset on and off the board.

Read: Meditation and Surfing: The Mind-Body Connection

Tip #5: Keep Your Body Strong and Flexible

A workout class in action with people doing planks.

Surfing will work just about every muscle in your body– from your arms, back, and core strength to your overall balance and flexibility. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to succeed in surfing (in fact, all that bulk may make it harder to adapt!) You do need to have a decent baseline of physical ability, and will likely need to increase your strength and balance. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of surf training exercises you can do on land to build a surfer’s physique. Most of these are exercises you already know, such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and burpees. 

A yoga class on the grass with the sun setting behind them.

At Beach Break Surf Camp, we’re proud to offer a modern fitness facility right on the beach where you can train for better surfing. Whether you’re joining one of our weekly group fitness or yoga classes or picking up some martial arts moves, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to increase your fitness in and out of the water. 

Tip #6: Learn How to Fall

A surfer riding the wave while maintaining his balance.

Falling is an important and inevitable part of learning how to surf. Even professional surfers will fall off their boards unexpectedly! Learning how to do fall safely will reduce your chances of getting hurt and help get you back on your board (and the waves) quickly.

First, make sure you’re learning to surf in an area that’s suitable for beginners, as described above. That includes having a soft, sandy ocean bottom that’s friendlier to falls than a rocky ocean floor or bed of corals (ouch) would be. 

A few tips for failing safely:

  • Avoid jumping in front of the surfboard, falling instead to the side or back
  • Avoid falling headfirst into the water– try to jump butt- or feet-first
  • Cover your head with your arms to protect yourself from your board
  • Use your feet to push your surfboard away from you once underwater
  • Take a deep breath, in case you get held under
  • Don’t panic when you’re underwater– it always feels like more time than it actually is!

Learning to fall is important for not only learning how to surf, but for when you eventually progress to more advanced breaks and boards. Master the fall on the “easy” waves and you’ll be much better off when it’s time to paddle out. 

Tip #7: Don’t Expect to Become an Expert in a Single Day

A surf instructor showing how to correctly stand on a surfboard to his student.

When learning any new skill, many beginners have unrealistic expectations. The great surfers you see on TV didn’t learn how to surf like that in a single session. 

Even with the best surf instructor, you’re going to need at least a few sessions to really get the hang of surfing. This includes being able to paddle out efficiently, being able to read and catch waves, and being able to pop-up on your board smoothly and ride the wave out. 

To get comfortable with all that, a single surf session probably isn’t going to cut it. You’ll be much better off if you commit at least a full week to learning how to surf, and doing so every day. 

A surf teacher swimming behind his student while catching an incoming wave.

At Beach Break Surf Camp, you can practice surfing everyday– whether you’re taking surf lessons with our excellent instructors, paddling out on your own, or doing a little bit of both.

Our customizable surf camp packages can include daily surf lessons and gear rentals, as well as accommodations at our beachfront hotel, daily meals at our restaurant, and other activities. 

You’ll also have access to Beach Break’s video analysis service, which allows you to review footage of your surfing lessons alongside your instructor. This feedback is invaluable, as it enables you to see yourself from an outsider’s perspective and pick up on any issues that may be holding you back from becoming a better surfer.

Tip #8: Choose a Location and Time with Fewer People on the Beach

Two kids surfing while holding both of their hands.

When learning how to surf, it helps to choose an uncrowded location where you can learn and practice with some degree of privacy.

Beginners need to have space to make mistakes without running into other people or feeling embarrassed. When you’re just learning how to surf, you won’t always have total control of your board– or feel super confident. Being in a crowded environment can be intimidating, and even dangerous if you happen to get in someone’s way (or vice versa). 

You’ll have a much better time if you learn to surf somewhere that is uncrowded and low-key. That excludes pretty much any major surfing beach. If it’s on a “most popular surfing beaches” list– that’s not the place to go! 

A view of a Panama beach.

For an uncrowded, laid-back surfing experience, come to our location in Playa Venao, Panama. Venao has managed to avoid the overtourism that plagues a lot of surfing beaches in Central America, but has just as much to offer. 

From Venao’s exquisite natural beauty to its array of high-quality hotels (like Beach Break!) and restaurants, it’s perhaps the best place for learning how to surf in Central America. 

Tip #9: Enjoy Yourself!

A woman surfing while raising their hands to show a peace sign.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the goal that we forget to enjoy the journey. 

Learning how to surf is one of the most rewarding experiences that life offers. Surfing is a gateway to incredible travel, meaningful relationships, enviable physical fitness, and an invaluable mindset. 

But above all else, surfing is fun! If you’re not enjoying your time learning how to surf, you’re doing it wrong.

As you’re learning and progressing in your surfing ability, remember to enjoy yourself. You are embarking on a difficult journey, but it’s worth every fall, bump, and bruise you sustain along the way.


A man surfing with two birds in front of the camera

Whether you’re just learning how to surf or are looking to accelerate your progress, Beach Break Surf Camp in Playa Venao, Panama is an excellent choice for your next surf vacation.

With our ideal beachfront location, incredible surf instructors, and year-round supply of waves suitable for all skill levels, you can arrive a complete newbie and leave a bonafide surfer when you stay at Beach Break.

Browse our affordable surf vacation packages, or contact us to create your custom package. We can’t wait to see you on the beach!

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Undecided or need a helping hand?
We’re always available to help you make your stay amazing.