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By Jo Finzi
Surfing can be a demanding sport and you should be reasonably fit and able to swim at least 50 metres in open water. Ideally before planning a surfing trip it is advisable to carry out a programme of exercises spread over the course of a couple of weeks.
Running, cycling and especially swimming will help improve your stamina and will help tone up the all important paddling muscles. Experience in bathing at surf beaches is advantageous as it will help you develop an awareness of the behaviour of waves. Always remember to carry out a warm up before going surfing and before carrying out any type of training.
Surfboards For an intermediate level surfer of average size and physique, a “standard” surfboard is around 6’4” to 6’10” (1.9m - 2.05m) long and 18” to 20” (45 cm - 50 cm) wide. The board will weigh around 8lbs. (3.5 Kgs) and be about 2.5” (6.5 cm) thick. The upper surface (deck) of the board should be waxed (this repels water and gives a better foothold to avoid slipping). Alternatively a special stick-on deck grip may be used in place of wax.
Beginners need larger than average boards (at least 12"- 300 mm longer than they are tall) and all boards need a suitable surf leash. Soft skinned surfboards are ideal for learning to surf. Wetsuits A one piece wetsuit, either a full suit or “shorty” (short arms and short legs), is a must for surfing in colder waters. A 3/2 mm double lined suit is adequate for summer use however a 4/3 mm is best if you intend to surf in the Spring and Autumn.
Before paddling out always watch other surfers to see where best to enter the water. Ask the advice of lifeguards or experienced surfers to find out if there are any dangers you should be aware of. To paddle the board, lie prone on it - length wise, with the nose of the board just above the surface of the water. Use your arms as paddles either side of the board (using the crawl swimming stroke) and practice paddling to find the technique best suited to your needs.
Study the pattern of the waves before deciding how far out to paddle. Make sure you are not directly lined up with another surfer or swimmer and then get into position facing the beach. When a suitable wave is about 5 metres from you check there are no other surfers on it and start paddling. As the wave reaches you it lifts the board and, if you are paddling fast enough, the wave propels you forward. Take hold of the rails and jump straight to your feet.
Your front foot should be about half way up the board with your rear foot about 24” (600 mm) behind it. Your back foot should be at approximately right angles to the centre of the board, your front foot at 45 degrees. Make sure all the time that the nose of the board is above the water, not too far up or you will fall back into the wave, and not too far down or the board will nose dive. The best place to learn how to catch waves and to stand up is in the white water whilst being instructed by a qualified coach.
Riding a Wave
Once you have mastered standing up in one movement the next step is to keep ahead of the breaking part of the wave by manoeuvring (turning) away from the white water. This is done by putting more of your weight on your back foot whilst leaning in the direction you wish to go whilst making sure that the nose of the board remains above water level.
Turning the surfboard is a key skill as it is an essential requirement for avoiding collisions with other surfers and swimmers. Always watch out for other surfers and swimmers etc and do not keep your eyes fixed on the board (or on your feet) - keep your head up and look ahead.
Leaving the Wave
You may surf all the way to the shore or stop the ride intentionally because you are running out of wave, or for other reasons such as to avoid a collision. The technique is the same as for turning and you can stop quickly by turning sharply back into the wave, or over it. This is done by moving your weight back as far as possible on the board to enable you to achieve a strong swivel movement. In slow shore-break surf, the board can be stopped by stepping to the rear of the board and allowing the wave to overtake.
Controlling your Board
It is vital that you are in control of your board at all times and that you do not let the surfboard control you. Full control is essential for proper surfing and to achieve this you should practice in stages. Do not go out too far to start with and select the smaller inside waves on which to perfect your technique. All learners should start in white water, but all should get outside and catch unbroken waves as soon as possible.
After the basic techniques of paddling, catching, riding and leaving a wave have been mastered improvements and refinements can be made. Help and advice from more experienced surfers or from an accredited surf coach will be very useful as will joining a surf club is an advantage and reading books and surfing magazines.
Leashes and Insurance
A surf leash (approx. 6’ (1.8m) long) securing the surfboard to your ankle should be used at all times. Leashes prevent loose boards from getting out of control and possibly injuring people, they also mean that your board (a safety aid) remains with you at all times. You should never surf without Third Party Insurance Cover, which in any case is mandatory in some areas. Some clubs like the British Surfing Association offer Public Liability Insurance included in their membership of the and covers you for claims of up to Dhs15,000,000 anywhere in the World.
If you’re in the UK, the British Surfing Association runs surfing courses for individuals and groups of all ages and abilities at the National Surfing centre in Newquay, Cornwall. Whatever you current standard of surfing there are improvements you could make which will help you to get more from the sport. There are also a number of approved surf schools worldwide, where you can learn the sport from qualified coaches using the correct equipment and techniques. Here in Dubai check out the website http://www.surfersofdubai.com which has plenty of information about local surfing both in the UAE and Oman and where you can sign up for lessons with Surf Dubai Surf School or arrange to hire surf boards.