The Australian Geographic Adventure guide to surfing

By Ryan Glen 10 September 2009
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Just because you didn’t grow up riding on the front of your grandfather’s Malibu, doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn.

Pop up at almost any spot along the 36,000 km coast of Australia and you’ll likely see it lined with surfers of all walks of life. Get in and get wet.

Ryan Glen is the Deputy Editor of Waves magazine, putting pen to paper on all things surfing each month. This time he’s popped his expert advice through to us at Australian Geographic Adventure – right before jetting off to spend four weeks in the waves of Hawaii. Lucky bugger.

Top Tips

• Enrol in a surf school, and make sure they’re accredited. Log onto to find out what’s available in your state or region.
• Watch the famed surf movie Point Break with Hollywood epic-hellman Patrick Swayze. Study the actor’s every move… and do the complete opposite.
• Waltz into your local surf shop and introduce yourself as a beginner. You’re going to ask these guys what waves, destinations and boards are best suited to your surf skills.
• Surf with a crowd. This minimises the chances of fatality if something goes wrong. Be wary of your surroundings. If it looks dangerous it probably is. Better articulated? Big waves mean big trouble. Visible big fish mean even bigger fish.
• Further onto the point above – know your limitations. Sit and study what’s going on. Don’t get tangled up in conditions you can’t handle.
• Be respectful of the local surfing culture. Every beach and surf spot has a ‘tribe’ mentality otherwise referred to as ‘localism’. This is mostly good, but occasionally very bad. You don’t want to upset the gatekeepers and cop a set of knuckles on your chin.
• Get the right board. It’s easiest to learn using a longboard (also known as a Malibu or mini-Malibu). The perfect length for your first surfboard can be measured by stretching your arms above your head – your fingertips should just reach the nose of the board.


Straddling your board
Make sure you’re face down with your head toward the nose and that you’re nicely balanced. To centre yourself – position your elbow so that it’s bent outward and your fingertips are holding the nose of the board.
Wave selection
This is extremely important. You want to get the right wave; the ones with a clean unbroken face are the best. Stay close to the whitewash (power source). Seen the wave you want? Face the nose of your board toward the beach and paddle onto the wave. Begin to lean forward slightly, raising your chest, as you feel the wave lift your board.

Standing Up
As you feel the momentum of your surfboard begin to speed up and you no longer need to paddle, this is the time to stand. Grab the rails and push up quickly. Bring your knees up to your chest placing your feet on the board, one near the tail, the other just above midpoint, and stand side-on, keeping knees bent.

Glossary of Terms

Curl/Take Off Zone: This is regarded as the most powerful part of the wave (or the clean face nearest to the whitewash). Watch the waves – these terms are relevant whether the wave is breaking left or right.
Fade/Drop in: Whatever you do – don’t do this. This is basically when you catch a wave at the expense of another surfer who is closest to the curl or take-off zone.
Line-up: Describes what’s happening at a break in regards to conditions.
Natural/Goofy: The first is relevant to whether you surf the wave with your left foot forward and right foot at the base of the wave (going right). Vice versa for those who are goofy-footers, dude!
Ripping: This word is used to describe a surfer that’s performing above the normal standard. Used in the context, “That guy was ripping today.”
Rails: The two rounded sides of your board.

Hot Spots

1. Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW
It may sound clichéd listing Australia’s most famous beach as a surfing spot but if you’re a beginner it’s actually a good choice. The number of tourists flocking here to learn mean the locals are used to it – just pick a day without big dumpers.
Where: 7 km east of Sydney

2. Woorim Beach, Bribie Island, QLD
Not far from Brisbane, this beach has a nice lazy rolling break for beginners – not to mention the bonus of unspoilt beauty and a friendly local crowd.
Where: 70 km north of Brisbane

3. Back Beach, Lancelin, WA
A natural bay protected by reefs and islands, Back Beach, just around the point from the small fishing town of Lancelin, offers up ideal learner conditions.
Where: 110 km north of Perth

Equipment checklist

Surfboard (longboard/Malibu)
Wetsuit or rash vest


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