Surfing has always been as much of a spectator sport as it is a form of recreation. People watch, they judge, they applaud, and they laugh. Surfers love to show off and prove that they’re the best, and there’s always a group of people standing in the sand watching. That’s why one of surfing history’s most iconic sites, the Windansea Hut, was built. The greats wanted a shady spot for their families to stand and look on.
People do strange things to prove themselves. They’ll go shirtless in 60-degree water. They’ll paddle out in double overhead waves, fully unprepared, and they’ll ride breaks that would hold them down long enough to drown them–all because they want people to see.
Anyone who’s not good enough or doesn’t conform is labeled a “kook,” chased off the beach, herded into the rocks, and subjected to dangerous drop-ins; their tires are slashed. They’re subjected to fist fights and laughter, told that the water isn’t for them; it’s for experts and locals who can skim the waves and put on a show–mostly the imbeciles rich enough to be able to afford a house right off the sand.
Those who don’t hold up to scrutiny are considered part of an invading force of outsiders and beginners, crowding their lineup, trashing the beach, and making it dangerous for “real” surfers to get their morning and afternoon sessions in. But those “real” surfers put themselves in danger and laugh at anyone who refuses to do the same.
It’s been said that man is smart enough to invent a helmet, but not smart enough to wear one. You might get laughed at if you did the right thing–just like the “cool kids” would laugh at anyone wearing wrist pads or kneepads on a bike. But the cool kids were the ones falling off and breaking their bones, and it’s no different with surfing–except the stakes are a thousand times higher.
Let them laugh. Let them say that you’re an idiot for protecting yourself. The best surf schools in the USA teach their students to just paddle on by. Surfers the world over get hurt all the time–professionals included–because they’d rather look good than stay safe. They’ll watch lifelong friends bash their heads into rocks and coral, end up with serious concussions and worse, and they will still put themselves at risk.
Know the right gear. Wear it, and know that if you do, you’re the smart one.
Chris Hunkeler / Flickr
The best surf schools in the USA will immediately stress the importance of a wetsuit. In general, the Pacific can get pretty cold, around 68 degrees during the warm months, and during the winter it can get down to 57 or lower. That’s not exactly comfortable. Any time the water is between about 50-74-degrees, you’re going to want to suit up. If it’s any colder than 50, it’s not safe for immersion. Don’t chance it. Even a few minutes can be enough to cause hypothermia. If it’s above 74, go without. Wetsuits can cause you to heat up unnecessarily in warmer temperatures. After a while, you’ll learn to test the water to see if it’s safe.
Wetsuits also offer a level of protection against things like rocks and coral, giving surfers the padding they need to avoid potentially infectious lacerations–a welcome addition when you consider the hazards you might face when you paddle out.
The best surf schools in the USA will talk a lot about the dangers of reefs and rock formations. They’re to be avoided at all costs, and much of what you learn will be centered around protecting yourself from them. Surf shoes are a necessity. Foot lacerations are an every day problem out on the water, so you’ll need an added layer of protection.
There are many different types available. There’s lace-up sneakers, slip-ons, and even form-fitting designs that wrap around your individuals toes. Try out different ones. Find what works for you, and never paddle out without them.
Pedro Gómez Fdez. / Flickr
For decades, board leashes were a source of contention. People didn’t like them because they could get caught up and hold you down underwater. They’d make fun of anyone who was seen wearing them. But over the years they’ve grown to be one of the most common pieces of protective equipment–more of a courtesy, to be honest. When your board drifts around, it can hit other surfers causing nasty cuts.
Some leashes come with a release mechanism. It attaches to your ankle using magnets. If you ever find yourself caught or held down, you can pull on it and it will detach, allowing you to get yourself free. It’s quite convenient.
The best surf schools in the USA will put a lot of emphasis on board leashes. They’ll show you the dangers, how to avoid them, and how to make use of them safely.
One of the things you might not learn–even if you’re taking lessons from the best surf schools in the USA–is how easily you can damage your brain from surfing. Every bump, every wipeout, every wave crashing into your head builds up, creating more and more trauma that can eventually lead to both physical and mental illness, and the reason this is just starting to come out is because of new imaging technology. But surfers don’t wear helmets, just like kids don’t wear helmets when they ride bikes. They’ve seen people they care deeply about emerge from the water covered in blood, incapacitated, paralyzed, even dead, and they still won’t do what’s right by themselves.
People might laugh if they see you wearing a helmet. They might point, even try to drop in on you or cause trouble. But they’re the ones putting themselves at risk, not you.
Find a Good Instructor
Protective gear has come a long way, but even if you have the best of the best, you need to know about the common dangers you’ll face out on the water. The best surf schools in the USA work hard to prepare their students. Find an experienced instructor, someone who knows how to teach, and take your time. There’s a lot to learn.