Plan Your Surf Session
By having a surf session plan and sticking to it you'll benefit because you will:
- Catch more waves on the best surf days suitable to your surfing level.
- Become a skilled surfer more quickly.
- Surf safely and promote goodwill in the line up with other surfers.
- Have way more fun in the surf!
Beginner surfers who don't have a plan before they enter the surf will potentially:
- Get caught in rip currents.
- Spend most of their time and energy fighting the oceans energy and therefore catch very few waves.
- Get sun burnt or too cold in the water.
- Use a surfboard that's not suitable for their level of surfing or the surf conditions.
- Surf in inappropriate or even dangerous conditions for their surfing level.
- Cause an accident or spoil other surfer's rides due to not understanding surfing etiquette.
In developing your surfing session plan ask yourself the following:
When and where are the best surf conditions for my surfing level?
To find out when and where the surf conditions are best for practising your surfing, check the surf reports and forecasts before you head to the beach. Kids, beginners and progressing surfers will have way more fun surfing smaller, spilling waves, sheltered from strong winds and away from crowds of experienced surfers.
If you're at the beach and the conditions aren't appropriate for your level of surfing, search for a different surf spot at another beach that faces a different direction where the waves may be more suitable.
Remember, that while on most days around Australia there are normally many surf spots with safe, fun waves breaking that are great for beginner surfers, there are however some days when the surf conditions are average or unsafe for beginner surfers at all surf spots due to weather events or the surf conditions. So if the surf is not safe, wait for another day.
What surfing equipment suits my surfing level & the surf conditions?
Surfboards: the bigger the surfboard (the more volume in a board) the easier it is to catch waves, stand up and surf on, both in the whitewater and when catching green waves that form and spill slowly.
Even on a bigger surf days, if you're keen to catch green waves and you need to negotiate multiple waves each time you paddle back out to the line up, stick to using a bigger surfboard. Paddling out on a smaller board might make negotiating waves and even duck diving easier in bigger surf, but it will also be so much harder to paddle and catch waves on, let alone stand up and surf on than a bigger board - those who attempt to catch waves on a board that is too small for them normally catch waves too late when the wave is too steep, which leads to some nasty nose dives. If you can't paddle out on a big surfboard on a bigger wave day, it is not the board that is too big, it is the waves that are too big!
The key here is improving your surfing fitness and knowledge - positioning and timing when paddling out to the line up through the impact zone and once there, when paddling to catch green waves. After hours and years (and even decades) of practice, you will obtain the knowledge and skills to be able to negotiate and catch small and big waves on a small or big surfboard.
When the surf is tiny, surfers of all levels often have more surfing success riding a big, high volume surfboard as opposed to a thin short board that would make catching and riding small waves more difficult. Good surfers ride both long and short boards really well and by adapting to the surf conditions, they have the most fun.
Bikinis, Boardshorts, Rash Vests & Wetsuits: water and air temperatures vary greatly around Australia and throughout the year so wear the right wetsuit or swimwear to avoid getting too hot or cold and to avoid sunburn. Check out the climate page or surf reports for info on water and air temperatures around Australia.
How big are the waves?
Spend enough time on the beach watching the waves until two sets (a series of bigger waves that arrive clustered together) pass through the surf zone so that you know how big the surf really is. You don't want to arrive at the beach, check the surf for 30 seconds, then paddle out to the line up during a lull only to be greeted by a massive set of big waves that are way beyond your level and about to break on your head!
So work out the wave breaking cycle (which may take 20 minutes or more between two sets of bigger waves) and if the surf is big, catch whitewater waves on a sandbar closer to shore, or on small wave days you may be ready to catch green waves out the back. Experienced surfers work out this cycle to paddle out the back during the lulls (conserving energy) and wait patiently to catch the bigger and better set waves.
On really small surf days, by waiting to see how big the set waves are, you may be pleasantly surprised that the waves are bigger than you first thought and definitely worthy of a surf session. Remember that with a big surfboard, even knee high waves are great fun to ride and are often easier to practise catching and turning along, with fewer crowds than on bigger surf days.
Which sandbar along the beach am I going to catch waves on?
If you are starting out with surfing or the waves are too big out the back, find a sandbar and stick to practicing catching whitewater waves. Look for a sandbar where the water depth is around waist deep (you may need to wait for the tide to rise or fall). In shallower water whitewater waves quickly lose their energy as they roll to shore and become too small and weak for adults to surf on.
Surf on a sandbar that is attached to the beach. At times, deep holes or a gutter forms between the beach and a sandbar. These holes are often feeder rips (known as long shore currents) and when you try to move past them and up onto the shallower sandbar you can get pushed sideways by the current into a rip that then takes you further out to sea.
Have a landmark on the beach in front of the safe, attached sandbar where you are going to catch your waves so that you don't accidentally get swept sideways into a rip zone.
If you are ready to catch green waves, find a spot where there are no other surfers, where the waves are small and spilling slowly in deep water (normally during mid to high tide). Attempting to catch dumping, fast breaking green waves at low tide leads to lots of nose dives, even on small surf days. Again, if the waves are too big or steep for you level of surfing, stick to the whitewater or find another surf spot with smaller, less steep green waves. Before heading out to the line up to catch green waves where there are other surfers, understand surfing etiquette, to ensure that you and other surfers stay safe and maintain harmony in the surf.
Where are the rip currents? Which direction is the water flowing?
Identify where the rips are and which way the water is flowing into these rips zones before you enter the water. Learn more about how to spot, avoid or get out of a rip current.
Where is the best place to walk or paddle out to catch waves?
If you decide to catch whitewater waves on a sandbar, then conserve your energy by walking out onto the sandbar (in front of your landmark) where the waves you want to catch are rolling to shore. During your surf session, keep checking to make sure you are in front of your landmark and if you drift sideways towards a rip current, catch a wave back to the beach and walk back in front of your landmark before entering the water again. You will waste a lot of energy if you try to wade through the water back to your landmark against a sideways current that is pushing you towards a rip.
When deciding to catch green waves out in the line up (ideally on small wave days during higher tides) you have two options to get out there:
1. During lower tides: walk out on the sandbar and during a lull, quickly move through the impact zone, past where the waves are breaking taking care not to get in the way of other surfers who are riding waves. You may need to paddle out through the impact zone if it's too deep to walk all the way out, or
2. During high tide (and again only on very small wave days): Progressing surfers who are also strong swimmers can paddle out in a deep water channel where there are less waves breaking, beyond the impact zone and then paddle sideways across to where the waves are breaking (in front of your landmark on the shallower sandbar). Paddle out through the surf zone during the lulls to conserve energy - flow with the ocean, don't fight it. Once you catch a wave on the sandbar, paddle back around and out to the line up in the channel (to again avoid wasting energy negotiating waves on the sandbar and avoid getting in the way of other surfers riding waves).
Be aware that when paddling out in deep water channels, you are paddling out in a rip current. Although using rips to head out the back conserves energy, even on small surf days, they can be very dangerous. Rip currents should be avoided by kids, weak swimmers and all inexperienced surfers, especially on big surf days or even small surf days during lower tides when the currents are often strongest as water is 'squeezed' between shallow sandbars and waves break in the rips.
The best way to practise developing a surf session plan and sticking to it is by taking surfing lessons at an accredited surf school. The surf coaches will explain to you what the lesson plan is before entering the water and once in the water, guide you through where you need to walk, paddle and catch waves so that you surf safely, conserve energy and therefore catch a lot more waves. By taking surfing lessons in a variety of surf conditions and following the tips above, you'll have more success and fun in the surf. Good luck!