Here at Swell, we deal with this question on a weekly basis.
Of the many emails we receive each week, we find that several of our potential guests are unsure how to class the level of surf experience they have: Many people call themselves intermediate surfers, but in our experience, it’s such a generic term, this is not applicable. Far better to judge the term by what you can actually achieve on your surfboard in the water, so we’ve put together a simple guide for you to help you decide which level you are really at and if you can still benefit from taking surf lessons.
How much surfing have you actually done?
We start by asking this question. The answer is that if you have only visited one or two surf camps, you have less than 20 hours of surf lessons, or you have not surfed regularly, we, and most reputable surf camps, will consider you still to be a beginner surfer.
I’d give myself as a good example to compare and consider your own level; I have been surfing pretty regularly (several days in each month) for two years, and whilst I am no longer a beginner, I still consider myself a Novice, not yet an Intermediate. Why? The answer is that I am still not comfortable in larger waves and despite being generally paddle fit (which many of our guests are not, having just come out of an office) I am not completely confident in catching green waves larger than chest high. And, whilst I can trim, I can’t yet carve.
The next question is: Do you need surf lessons?
Again, using myself as an example, I don’t take regular surf lessons, but sometimes, I will take a couple of hours of lessons to improve a particular aspect of my surfing that I know i need help with.
If you are someone who has taken say 10 to 15 good lessons in recent months and are able to paddle independently, select your own waves and pop up consistently, we might say that you just need practise rather than lessons and can get by on tips from our coaching staff (who are ever-present) to improve certain aspects of your surfing.
To help you correctly judge your level, we’ve made a list below which we hope will indicate the steps you should have accomplished to reach the various surfing stages.
When you have no previous surf experience at all, or maybe have taken a single lesson at some stage. Before entering the water, you will taught the terminology of a surfboard (rail, tail, etc.) and be shown how to lie on the board + how to ‘pop-up’ correctly once the wave is carrying you.
In a complete beginner lesson, you will be taught in the shallow water, using the power of waves which have already broken. Once you are able to pop-up regularly, you’ll be taught the correct stance to take and how you can start to place certain pressures on the board, allowing you to ‘turn’ to ride in one direction or another. A complete beginner can enjoy the benefit of having a surf coach give them a push to get them started on a wave.
When you have only done a few hours of surf lessons or a couple of surf camps. Most importantly, you are still a Beginner if you cannot yet achieve the following steps independently 1. Enter the water and paddle out to unbroken waves. 2. Select a wave to ride. 3. Pop-up quickly. 4. Turn the surfboard easily and ride down the line.
Much like a complete beginner lesson, our team will go over the pop-up with you to see if you have the basics (bad habits in a pop-up are certain to cause you future issues). Once you are in the water, our team will assess where you are with your paddling and your pop-up, moving you quickly on to new tips if you have already mastered those vital skills. Surfing depends so much on fitness, so even if you were rocking in a previous lesson at another surf camp, you may find that paddling again exhausts you fairly quickly, so you too will benefit from some helpful pushes from our surf coaches.
Let’s expel a myth about surf lessons: Just because you are not catching green, unbroken waves, it doesn’t mean you are not learning to surf. Every paddle, every pop-up, every ride, every turn; they all count, even in the white water. Everyone has to master those basic skills before you can move onto the unbroken waves.
This is you if you already have several months of regular surfing behind you and can achieve the following: 1. You feel comfortable paddling independently out to a line up on a smaller swell. 2. You can paddle yourself into a wave and are able to pop up and trim the surfboard to ride down the line.
Our staff can still teach you a great deal; tips on popping up more quickly, taking the correct stance, better trimming, even beginning to make bottom and top turns (carving).
When you are surfing regularly (every week) for at least one year and more importantly, you can achieve all of the following: 1. You can catch head high, unbroken waves independently (you certainly don’t need to be pushed by a surf coach to get into a wave). 2. You can control your speed on a wave. 3. You can carve or trim the surfboard whilst on the wave, changing direction easily. Giving lessons to a genuine Intermediate surfer is mostly dependent on wave co-operation (too big a swell makes coaching intermediates very challenging). We coach intermediates at Swell by being out in the water with you and giving tips and advice on improving certain aspects of your technique.