It's getting warmer outside and while that’s mostly a good thing, it also means more people will be in the water surfing. So this Surf Coach blog entry will focus on the newbies who plan on paddling-out after things thaw-out this March, April, and May. It's time to listen up little groms, soccer moms, and all of you weekend warriors! Just because you purchased a seven foot soft top and a wetsuit, does not give you the right to go and disrupt your local surfing lineup. There aren’t any rules posted anywhere, or waivers to sign... you're on your own out there. So any beginners visiting a local spot, should understand how waves break before paddling out!
Respect the Locals
Any place that you find breaking waves, there are probably locals. Someone surfs that spot regularly. So unless it’s someone you’re related to, you’re just going to need to respect the locals, like it or not. If you’re a beginner, and you're past the stages of going straight, in the shore break, you might be ready to paddle out to where the real waves are. But understanding that a surf lineup is not a free-for-all, and that it has a workflow and pecking order is vital to your surfing growth. If you can’t figure this part out - Surf Etiquette, you’re going to have a hard time paddling out anywhere that has decent waves... because these spots will be regulated by local surfers. The first thing that all groms and beginners need to learn is where NOT to be as it pertains to locals. After you learn this concept, you can begin to compete for waves within a pack of surfers, minimizing your chances of pissing off the wrong dude.
Paddling Out and Around
There are different zones to cross as you make your way from the beach and out into the lineup. How to approach paddling out at a surf break is determined by the tide, the beach, the barriers, and the bottom contours. If you’re an experienced traveling surfer, just watch where everyone else is paddling out, and then copy them. But if you’re a beginner, don’t go out unless you know WHY everyone is only paddling out in that specific area. If you’ve never surfed a spot before, and you’re unfamiliar with how the point, reef, jetty, or pier is going to impact a particular lineup, then don’t paddle out at that spot. Find a sand-bottom beach break that is known to be more friendly to beginners, and then choose a softer, less crowded peak to paddle out and learn on. If the crowd is thick at a beach break like The Wall in New Hampshire, for example, try to find where there’s a break in the crowd, or a lull in the pack, and then paddle out there. The less crowd, the less likely for a collision or mishap.
If you're a decent paddler and you've mastered duck-diving, as long as you’re willing to follow typical surfing etiquette, you're welcome to share waves with the locals at most beach breaks in New England. Beach breaks are mainly sand-bottom, with some rocks, sometimes, depending on the spot. A typical beach break like Nantasket or Horseneck in MA will provide multiple peaks to play on, unlike a reef break or jetty that focuses energy into one spot… there’s just more space to maneuver at a beach break, which means you’re less likely to cause an accident, as opposed to when you’re surfing a spot that has a tighter margin for error. Do you know how and where to paddle to minimize trouble when clean-up sets are unloading on the outside, dudes are scraping for position, and you’re right in everyone’s path? If you’re a beginner, just avoid this scenario altogether. Or be ready for someone to yell at you... or worse you can get hurt, or cause someone else's injury.
Once you clear the shore break and white water, you enter the surfing zone… this area can be split into two halves, the inside and the outside. Waves are ridden through the inside, but they’re hunted and caught from the outside. You need to choose a spot to sit, along that boundary, that’s not in the way of the experienced surfers. You’ll have to duck under some waves while paddling to reach the outside. After you’ve punched through the initial impact zone, you’ll be in the take-off zone for several yards, so you’ve got to paddle hard while staying aware of the surfers dropping in on waves around you. Quickly make your way to the outside, aiming for the empty spot that you chose. Try not to paddle in front of surfers who are up and riding, you will not beat them to the shoulder. Paddle to the back of them, towards the whitewater, and duck under the wave crashing behind them. You are on the “game field”, so you need to evacuate the playing area as quickly and efficiently as possible, so as not to disturb another surfer's ride. Keep paddling for the horizon, and ducking under waves until you are far enough outside that the bigger sets just roll under you, and the breakers are between you and the beach.
Go to the End of the Line and Wait Your Turn
Each peak will have a line of surfers waiting, sort've. It’s an informal line based on who’s a local, who’s been there waiting the longest, and the angle in which a wave approaches. You might think you’re next up to catch a wave, but an incoming set might shift in a way that makes it someone else's turn over yours. Whoever is closest to the peak, paddling in the best position, and to their feet first usually has the priority on a wave. Surfers will let you know they are going by calling you off of a wave (If it’s a local ripper, they’re going to paddle around you and call you off... they rarely share). Locals know their home break really well too, so they know the shortcuts back to the better spots in the lineup, and they beat you into position for most set waves, and on most occasions. So let them. It’s their surf break. They will eventually give you some waves if you show respect. They may even encourage you into a bomb or two, just to test your prowess... if that's the case, you have no choice, you must go! Hahaha. But knowing when it is in-fact your turn, takes a bit of experience. Being in shape helps a lot, especially when you’re surfing in more challenging conditions. Some sessions you’ll need to paddle a lot harder to stay in a good spot. You can learn to use landmarks on the beach to determine your position, and practice navigating around the lineup without being disruptive. And It’s ok to paddle or drift over to another peak, you just have to follow the same rules, and wait your turn… unless it’s the local ripper, because again, they don’t really wait their turn. Paddle away from these dudes.
Don’t Mess Around on the Inside
When you’re finishing a ride, or you’ve wiped out after the initial drop, it’s time to get back on your board and paddle back to the outside. It’s ok to catch your breath for a few seconds, but after that, it’s time to get moving. Every second you spend in this area, you are potentially in the way and causing a hazard to surfers who are riding waves. If you’ve got a 9.5ft longboard with a 10ft leash, that’s nearly 20ft of danger… a fairly large area for other surfers to be aware of. When wipeouts do occur, or when you get stuck inside and/or somehow sucked over the falls, you are expected to gather your board and get the heck out of there. It’s called the impact zone for a reason… waves are crashing here. Once you become a better surfer, you’ll see how frustrating it is when you’re trying to set up for a maneuver, or drive through a critical section, and there are human surf buoys floating in the way. Also, sitting underneath a pack of surfers, to ride the inside sections, can be seen as a snake move... especially if you’re going to drop-in on folks. If you are going to sit on the inside, the etiquette says you’re only permitted to hop onto waves that don’t already have someone riding them. And you need to paddle out of the way when the bigger set waves come through, so you’re not messing up a good ride for someone who’s been patiently waiting on the outside, and is connecting that section to the beach. The person with the opportunity for the longest ride always has priority.
A List of New England Surf Spots Best-Suited for Beginners* (Alphabetical, Not Ranked)
Salisbury Beach - Salisbury, MA (WEB CAM)
*NOTE: Even the spots that are beginner-friendly can sometimes have powerful waves and unfriendly locals… so get to know the surf break before you paddle out. Also, some spots have restrictions in the summer. And one last thing... only park your car in a clearly marked parking spot. Driving into a more secluded break, and then taking up one of the roadside street parking spots, is a quick way to get your windshield waxed by an a-hole local. If you’re a visitor, you need to park in a designated public parking spot, or you probably shouldn’t surf there.
FINAL NOTE: If you're past the beginner's surfing stage, and you live in the Boston area, hit me up for some Board Rentals. All of my rentals come with a parking spot to surf the break at the end of my street in Nantasket Beach - Hull, MA. I'm always willing to donate surfing time to any military veterans out there suffering from PTSD, or anyone who's had a rough time and just needs a friend to go surfing with. I'm not looking to teach you how to surf. I'm not a surf school. I'm looking to help a down-and-out surfer, who just needs a friend to shred with.
Know The Origins...