Some sports are more accommodating to the beginner than others. Surfing is NOT one of them. People are ellusive when telling you where to find surf. Even some surf shops are reluctant to give up much information. And no matter how hard you try, you're going to be called a kook.
Don't despair. We were ALL kooks once. It is a rite of passage you just have to bear. But trust us when we say it is worth it. Surfing is unlike any other activity you've tried before. The dues are intense, but the pay-off is immense. Welcome to the club!
Put your right foot forward....or left
Getting a surf lesson is a GREAT advice for beginners. But it's not rocket science either, and many surfers are self-taught. If you choose to bypass the lessons and make a go of it on your own, do your homework first (starting with this page). Ignorance is a general cause of conflict in the line-up, so learn all you can before your first paddle out.
You also need to be prepared with the right equipment. Rent a longboard and a 4/3mm or thicker wetsuit, and YES, you do need booties ('cause it's cold!). Then go to a safe beach and stay well inside the main break, avoiding other surfers. Getting wacked in the head by someone's board is usually a buzz kill for all involved.
When you arrive at the beach, watch the surf for at least 15 minutes before you even suit up. The best surfers are the best observers....and there is much to look at when you are studying the surf. Look for rip tides, rocks and other obstructions (like other beginners!). Note the wind direction and the tide is it coming in or going out? Watch at least a few sets to see the variance in swell size. Become a student of the surf. It will save you precious paddling energy.
Bill of Rights and Lefts
Now is the time to introduce you to the surfing etiquette Bill of Rights and Lefts as presented by Surfline's Surfology. The bills are listed in short form below, but I encourage you to go to Surfology to read about them in detail. The site in general is loaded with valuable information, including a glossary, online "surf school," tips on meteorology, etc.
- Pick the right spot for your ability and attitude.
- Don't drop in on or snake your fellow surfer.
- When paddling out, stay out of the way of riders on waves.
- Learn to take turns.
- Respect the vibe in the line-up.
- Always aid another surfer in trouble.
- When traveling, respect the local surfers.
- Don't use your surfing advantages to abuse your fellow surfers.
- Be responsible for your equipment and respectful of others'.
- Relax, have fun, and enjoy your surfing and that of your fellow surfer.
Forecasting tips for the NW
In short, if you want to know what the weather and waves are doing right now, check the bouy reports, beach cams and satellite images. If you want to know the wave forecast for today and the next few days, use the NOAA Coastal Waters Forecasts. All of this info is found on the new Forecast pages.
As far as tides go, some breaks are more affected by tidal influence than others. Get yourself a tide book from your local surf shop or use these online tide tables.
Interpreting the numbers
When reading buoy data, wave height is important, but the wave period and swell direction are probably more telling of the actual surf conditions. A 6 foot swell with a short period of 8 seconds will equate to smaller surf than a 4 foot swell at 20 seconds. The longer the period the bigger and cleaner the waves will be. You want small wind waves, too. That is an indication of how junky the surf will be. If the wind waves are the same or bigger than the swell, that's not a good sign. Consult the Oregon Surf Guide for advice on ideal conditions for many of Oregon's more popular breaks.
All of the info available to us these days is great, but obsessing over the data is going to make you crazy and cost you a lot of great surf sessions. And it is important to keep in mind that most of Oregon's surf spots are beach breaks, not reefs, and are therefore very fickle even under otherwise predicable conditions. Basic rule of thumb, just go!
Links to learn more....
Surfline's Surfology Required reading for any beginner!
Stormsurf.com Surf forecast tutorials