surfing encuentro


The question of ‘what level of surfer am I?’ inevitably crops up when you are selecting where to travel, and when to travel to a surf destination (tip; if it doesn’t occur to you, it should). After all, most surf destinations/countries have different surf seasons which may suit different surfing abilities.

If they don’t actually have different seasons, then at least there will be different surf breaks and or tides to consider and match up to your own surfing ability.

what level surfer am i

Here at Swell Surf camp, and at our sister surf hotel, Swell Bali in Indonesia, we are very often tasked with helping a student identify their ‘level’ of surfing and what they are trying to achieve with their surf lessons or surf guiding.


In our experience, most often a student will class themselves as an ‘intermediate’ surfer when they have had a few surf lessons before, but it’s actually not that straightforward. Overestimating your skillset as a surfer will almost inevitably lead to problems/frustration at the very least, and when the ocean is involved there’s an obvious element of danger too. We really want to avoid giving any student a frightening surf experience which could end up putting them off surfing for life.

what level surfer am i
So for us, there are many things which help define what level of surfing you are at. For example, you might have only been surfing a short time (perhaps a few months), but have been lucky enough to get loads of water time, plus the right surfboard and good surf conditions, in which case your progression could have been quite rapid.

But perhaps like many novice surfers we encounter, they’ve already been trying to surf for a while, but just haven’t managed to make any big ‘leaps’ forward.

This could be for any number of reasons. Some examples would be; regularly visiting a surf break which doesn’t enjoy good waves, and/or going out on a board which is too small, and/or choosing to surf in the wrong conditions (which don’t suit your ability), and/or not being very skilled at wave selection and/or (hopefully not) poor surf instruction initially which might have led to you developing some bad habits.

As a result of all these factors, it’s clearly not reliable to accurately define our level of surfing ability just by considering the length of time you’ve been surfing or the number of surf lessons you have taken.

Instead, we can gauge with far more accuracy what level of surfer you really are by actually assessing the skills you have managed to master so far in the water.

What do we mean by that?

In our many years of experience giving surf lessons at many different levels, we usually find surfers classing themselves in one of the 4 following categories; Beginner, Intermediate, Expert or Pro.

But we don’t agree with only using 4 categories as it takes an awful lot of water time and good conditions to progress from Beginner to Intermediate: It is widely accepted that an Intermediate surfer already possesses a lot of surfing skills.


For us at Swell, we feel there should actually be 7 stages of surfing. We find it really useful with our surf lessons or surf guiding to very accurately assess someone’s surf skills by using these 7 categories, clearly stating the skills mastered within each stage.


  7. PRO.

Experts and Pros don’t need our help of course, but we do find the subtle changes and skill sets required, especially to get from the Beginner to the Intermediate stage, are worthy of being defined and given their own name as there are so many nuances to take into account with a surfer’s development, especially in the early stages. Let’s talk about those stages and what they mean to us.



A beginner is exactly that, someone who is just beginning surfing, new to the sport, with no previous surf lessons or surf experience. You will have no idea at all about any aspect of surfing and need complete surf instruction right from the very basics (no shame in that by the way). We love complete beginners at Swell and always give our beginners some exercises they can begin at home to prepare for the rigours of paddling especially, plus tips on how to pop up so that by the time they arrive for their surf holiday/vacation they have a bit of a head start.
beginner surf level

You will be needing to learn:

  • The names of the various parts of the surfboard
  • Aspects of water safety
  • Whether you have a ‘goofy’ stance or a ‘regular’ stance
  • How to lie on the board
  • How to sit on the surfboard in the water
  • How to paddle
  • How to pop-up
  • How it feels to catch a wave and be ‘propelled’
  • How to stand up once you have caught a wave
  • How to improve your stance for balance as the wave carries you
  • Basic theory about how waves are formed
  • How to identify a good wave to catch
  • When to start paddling for the wave

Recommended board for a beginner, adult, average weight :

9’0” long  Soft top surfboard with lots of volume

Ideal wave height:

1′ to 3′ (half a meter to 1 meter) white water / broken waves.


The NOVICE stage applies to you if you have taken some surf lessons before or even visited one or two surf camps in the past and have already mastered the skills listed above. You should also be able to;

Paddle into white water waves or even small green waves unaided (i.e. not being pushed into the wave by someone else)
Able to pop-up on the surfboard and ride for a few meters without falling
Paddle yourself back into position ready for the next wave
Novice surf level

You will be aiming to do the following:

  • Start to read and select waves (learning which ones to leave and which to paddle for)
  • Improve your stance on the surfboard to get ready for;
    trimming (turning slightly) the surfboard to start to ride ‘down the line’ instead of only going in a straight line
  • Learn about surf etiquette

Recommended board for a novice surfer, adult, average weight :

8’0 to 9’0”  Soft or hard top top surfboard

Ideal wave height:

2′ to 4′ (half a meter to 1.2meters) white water / broken waves.


The progressive stage applies to you if you have already mastered the skills of the BEGINNER AND NOVICE surfer levels above and are now out of the whitewater (i.e. you are now able to ride shoulder/head-high green, unbroken waves). To recap, we would refer to you as a progressive surfer if you can already do the following:

  • Paddle easily out to a break
  • Understand and able to follow priority/surf etiquette in the line-up
  • Read waves and make correct decisions whether or not to take one or not
  • Paddle unaided into chest/head-high waves
  • Pop up quickly with ease
  • Have a good stance on the surfboard
  • Speed up the surfboard on the wave to enable gentle turning:
  • Able to surf a ‘wavy-line’ along the face of a wave, keeping ahead of the whitewater when a wave is not closing out
  • Paddle back out to the line up unaided after taking your wave

Progressive surf level
As a progressive surfer, you will be aiming to achieve the following:

  • Learn how to make a more drastic top turn and bottom turns
  • Taking steeper drops (paddling into larger waves)

Recommended board for a progressive surfer, adult, average weight :

7’0 to 8’0”  Hard top surfboard

Ideal wave height:

2′ to 4′ (half a meter to 1.2meters) unbroken waves.


An intermediate surfer will have mastered all the skills above; to briefly recap you are an INTERMEDIATE surfer if you can already do the following:

  • Paddle into overhead or larger waves
  • Keep your speed up on a wave to stay ahead of the white water
  • Make more drastic top turns and a bottom turns

As an intermediate surfer, you will probably be aiming to achieve the following:

Intermediate surfer level

  • Learn how to do ‘cutbacks’ (a sharp turn back into the steep part of the wave to make more of a wave’s face)
  • Begin to ‘stall’ yourself on the wave to try to get ‘barrelled’
  • Start learning how to climb on top of the wave’s lip, referred to as a ‘floater’
  • Learn how to come ‘off the lip’ sharply and back into the wave

Recommended board for a progressive surfer, adult, average weight :

6’8″ to 7’8”  Hard top surfboard

Ideal wave height:

3′ to 5′ (1 meter to 1.6meters) unbroken waves.


A surfer who is at an advanced stage is already able to do the following:

  • Has excellent wave selection
  • Can make controlled high-speed bottom and top turns
  • Can round-house cutback into the steep part of the wave
  • Can get barrelled in medium-height waves
  • Can easily manage a larger, wider bottom turn to rush ahead of a close-out section and re-enter an unbroken part of the wave
  • Can make off-the-lip manoeuvres
  • Floaters

Advanced surfer level
Recommended board for an advanced surfer, adult, average weight :

6’0″ to 6’8”  Hard top surfboard

Ideal wave height:

4′ to 7′ (1.2 meters to 2 meters) unbroken waves.


Expert surfers, and of course Pro surfers, don’t need to have an explanation of what they can achieve on a wave as they have inevitably mastered all the techniques described above + a lot more. 360’s, aerials and being barrelled in huge waves are usually all in their repertoire.
Expert surfer level

This article is aimed more at explaining the difference between the first 5 stages of surfing so that as a surfer with less experience, you can let surf camps or surf hotels like us correctly judge where we should be advising you to surf, what type of surf lesson you might need, or whether you are better off just going out with a surf guide.

Recommended board for an advanced surfer, adult, average weight :

5’5″ to 6’5”  Hard top surfboard

Ideal wave height:

5′ and up


It’s a really terrible idea to overstate your surf experience; not least because you will very likely end up in the wrong surf spot for your ability which can inevitably lead to serious injury, or worse.

Having a frightening experience in waves too large for your skillset can set you back for months if not years. Any good surf coach or guide will quickly progress you through stages if they can see you are able: Noone is going to deliberately hold you back and many surf coaches will naturally push you a little out of your comfort zone as that is generally how we all progress. Surfing is a life-long commitment of learning: Even Pro’s will tell you they are still honing/improving skills on every single wave they take.

We are in the process of making an interactive level guide to help you identify your current surfing-skill set.

Once you have correctly established where you are in your stages of learning, come and see us at Swell Bali, or Swell Surf Camp in the Dominican Republic; we’d love to help you keep getting better! Our luxury surf coaching holidays have taught 1000’s of people the sport of surfing in a safe, fun and quick way. If you need any more assistance in ‘diagnosing’ your surf level, just drop us a line and we will try to help out.

We hope you like this article of “what level of surfer am I?” if you do, you might also like the following article: different surfboard and which boards are best suited at which stage of your surfing level, have a look at this page: Different surfboards
Our luxury surf coaching holidays have taught 1000’s of people the sport of surfing in a safe, fun and quick way.

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  • Think of Swell as the anti-surf camp. There’s plenty of surfing, of course, but the similarities to other surf camps end there. For starters, the rooms are stylish — more boutique surf retreat than reggae-loving surfer digs. Then there are the legendary breakfasts (omelets, pancakes and crepes, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fruit bowls). Structured surf lessons take place each morning, with an instructor alongside you and the head surf coach watching from shallow water, ready to offer learn to surf tips between riding waves. If you are serious about learning to surf, then Swell should be on top of your destination list. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Frommer’s Travel Guides]

    Designed with the discerning surfer in mind, Swell is far from a crash pad. The spare clean lines, plush bedding, modern photographs and funky furniture say ‘boutique surf retreat’ but the pool, ping-pong and foosball tables and social vibe suggest otherwise. A huge wood communal table is the center of the hanging-out action, after all the surfing is done. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Lonely Planet]


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