Surf Class

Coach Ross trying to catch a Bomb off Magnolia!


We wanted to create this class as a way get you guys on the right path if you do in fact want to learn to surf. It should be noted that surfing has a very steep learning curve! Unlike snowboarding, where you stand up, point the nose of the board downhill and go, surfing you actually have to “catch” the wave first… which requires reading the wave, paddling strength & power, timing, balance etc. Every one who learns to surf has a paying of the dues phase where your sessions are generally more about paddling and getting tumbled more than anything else. That is to be expected…but eventually the hard work will pay off and you will get a ride on a clean down the line wave and the feeling is pure magic.


• Boards – Generally most beginners start with a longer board which has more volume, paddles easier (catches waves better) and is more stable once riding. There are no hard and fast rules but 9-10ft would be considered “long” boards. Much depends on your bodyweight, height etc. The general progression is to go from longer to shorter boards once you get more competent… but also conditions are a huge factor and different conditions require different boards as you become advanced.  As a beginner a board of sufficient volume and in fair condition is the most desirable. It’s too early to spend a lot of money on top quality, name brand, or perfect condition. None of those attributes will have an effect on learning.

• Leash – Attaches the board to you ankle (sometime calf with traditional longboarding) leashes are a MUST for beginners unless you like swimming for your board frequently and pissing people off trying to paddle out. A loose surfboard in the whitewater is a hazard. Use a leash!

• Wetsuit – We live in a cold water environment. Late fall through late spring require a “winter suit” (aka 5/4, 5 mil, or 6 mil) with boots gloves and a hood (attached to winter suit). Boots and gloves should be in the 5-7 mil range as well. Mitts are generally better than gloves if you get cold easily. Summer generally requires a 3/2 or 3mil (some call them spring suits) with or without boots depending on the water temp, where your surfing (rocky) etc. “Trunking it” is seldom in these parts. Unlike swimming when you are in and out, when your are submerged for longer periods of time you get cold especially if there is any wind.   Wetsuits wear out much faster than surfboards and buying used is generally not recommended. If you’re committed to learning and no longer growing, this is where to spend $$. The proper size, thickness, and condition of the wetsuit has a greater effect on enjoying the conditions and learning than the curb appeal of the board. Used suits only make sense if they fit well and just want to get access to the water for cheap money.

• Wax – Goes on the top deck of the board for traction, both for laying and standing (opposite of skis and snowboards). Cold to cool water wax is the name of the game around here. Base it off what wetsuit your wearing.

• Roof Racks, Pads + Straps –  If you don’t have a pick up truck or van you will need roof racks for transporting your board. The board will always go on the rack bottom up (so wax doesn’t melt) with the fins forward so the fins will catch the strap if they get loose.


• Ideal conditions are generally the result of a long period swell (generated from a storm far offshore where the waves have a long distance to travel and get groomed in to well organized sets) with a light offshore wind (wind that blows directly against the face of the breaking wave to hold it up) Example of a favorable buoy report would be 5ft at 14 seconds (meaning size and  the time interval between crests of waves) The Longer the wave period the more organized the swell.

• Wind swell or “chop” comes as a result of a steady onshore wind and can produce surfable waves but those conditions generally tend to be disorganized and weak. Example of a unfavorable  wind swell buoy report would be 5ft at 5 seconds.

• Most general spots on Cape Ann face south or south east so north or northwest winds are the most favorable.


• Beach Break Peaks – the obvious place to start!  Waves peaks formed by sandbars that generally break both “right” and “left”. Beach breaks also have a tendency to “close out” meaning the wave breaks all at once with no visible shoulder. Not an ideal set-up. Some beach breaks are really consistent with peaks, some are more consistent with closing out…Likewise good versus bad conditions can be dictated by tide as well.

• River Mouths – Outgoing deeper water creates a point style set up where the incoming waves break along that line. Ride the current back out!

• Point Breaks – Waves break along a fixed land mass to generally create a long continuous wave. Fun!

• Reef Breaks – Wave breaks over a rock/ coral shelf generally advanced spots as waves come from deeper water and unload on the shallow reef.

Where to go on Cape Ann?

•    Good Harbor – Generally best at higher tide with NW wind
•    Long Beach – Generally best at lower tide with NW wind
Those are the obvious ones. As you progress and learn to read waves/conditions… more options will open up. That is somewhat of a right of passage in a way though. Do not rush the process. Much like skiing, you don’t get off the chairlift to hit the double black diamond if it’s your first time on skis!


This is a basic skill progression. Each level should be mastered before attempting to move on. The first 3 skills don’t require a spot or conditions that experienced surfers seek.

•    Beach pop ups – Kind of like the “pop up” portion of the burpee to a lateral stance

•    Whitewater takeoffs – catching the wave after it has broken and ride the whitewater straight to the beach

•    Wave face takeoffs going straight – Actually catching the wave before it breaks and ride it straight to the beach

•    Angled takeoffs / Going down the line – Riding the wave face aka “surfing”

•    Trimming – getting the board hull on plane and in the right spot on the wave combined with you on the right spot on the board.

•    Turning – Utilizing turning to generate speed, cut back if your outrunning the wave and just for general fun.


Right of Way  – The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if you’re paddling for a right, and a surfer on your left is also paddling for it, you must yield to him or her. There are a couple variations to this rule: If someone is up riding a wave, don’t attempt a late takeoff between the curl/whitewater and the surfer. If the surfer who’s riding the wave wants to make a cutback she’ll run right into you.  Doing that is also called backpaddling, and it’s just as bad as dropping in. If a surfer riding a wave gets closed out with an impossible section or wipes out, the next surfer down the line can take off. If you’re a very new beginner I’d hold off on doing this anyway until you have a bit more experience. If a wave is breaking towards itself (a closeout) and two surfers are taking off at each other, yes both have the right of way but this is a perilous situation and it’s advisable to kick out early to avoid a collision.

Don’t Drop In – This is probably the most important part of surfing etiquette. Dropping in means that someone with the right of way is either about to take off on a wave or is already riding a wave, and you also take off on the same wave in front of him or her. This blocks his ride down the line, and is extremely annoying, not to mention dangerous. If you are tempted to drop in remember this: no matter how good the wave is, if you drop in on someone you’ll feel like crap, the other surfer will be pissed, and the wave will be ruined for everyone.

Paddling – Some common sense surfing etiquette rules that people don’t seem to realize are important. Don’t paddle straight through the heart of the lineup where people are surfing. Paddle out through the channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing. Sometimes at spread out beach breaks this is hard, but usually there is a less crowded area to paddle through. When paddling back out, do NOT paddle in front of someone riding a wave unless you’re well, well in front of him. You must paddle behind those who are up and riding and take the whitewater hit or duckdive. You’ll appreciate this the next time you’re up on a wave. Sometimes you’ll just end up in a bad spot and won’t be able to paddle behind a surfer. It’s your responsibility to speed paddle to get over the wave and out of his or her way.

Don’t Ditch Your Board – This is important, especially when it gets crowded. Always try to maintain control and contact with your board. Surfboards are large, heavy, and hard. If you let your board go flying around, it is going to eventually clock someone in the head. This means if you’re paddling out and a wall of whitewater is coming, you don’t have permission to just throw your board away and dive under. If you throw your board and there is someone paddling out behind you, there is going to be carnage. This is a hard rule for beginners, but if you manage to avoid picking up the habit of throwing your board you will be a MUCH better surfer.

Beginners…don’t paddle out to the middle of a packed lineup –  If you’re a beginner you should try to avoid paddling out into the middle of a pack of experienced veterans. Try to go out to a less crowded beginner break which is likely just walking a bit down the beach.  This is especially true if you’re learning with a bunch of friends.

Dress the Part – The brightness of your plumage should be directly proportional to your prowess: if you’re going to draw attention to yourself in the lineup, then you better make sure you know what you’re doing.

Don’t be a wave hog! – Just because you can catch all the waves doesn’t mean you should. This generally applies to longboarders, kayakers, or stand up paddlers. Since it’s easier to catch waves on these watercraft, it becomes tempting to catch them all, leaving nothing for shortboarders on the inside. Give a wave, get a wave.

Don’t be a loudmouth! – For many folks, surfing is a restorative activity. Sure there are hoots and hollers when you get or see good waves but keep conversation quiet. A pack of obnoxiously loud folks in the water can ruin the session everytime.

Glossary Lingo

A-Frame or Peak – A wave that breaks both left and right

Barrel – The hollow, covered portion of a wave forming a tube

Blown-Out – Poor surf condition due to high winds

Bowl – As a wave breaks outside and peels inside, the foam ball reforms into another wave over the inside sandbar/reef. This wave is usually steeper than the outside section and offers a bowl (or tube)  section once reformed.

Caught Inside – A surfer who is repeatedly getting caught on the inside foam section and having a hard time paddling out of the wave.

Channel – Place where the ocean floor dips deeper then the surrounding area. Deeper water results in smaller waves, making it easier to paddle out in a channel.

Clean-up Wave or Clean-up Set – A wave or set of waves that break further offshore then normal and allow surfers to paddle out farther, thus “cleaning” out the group of surfers caught inside

Close-Out – When a wave breaks all the way down the line, breaking in every spot simultaneously, preventing a long ride

Curl – Section of the wave face that curls over, right before it breaks. Surfers try to stay as close to the curl as possible. It’s the most powerful part of the wave.


Drop In on – To steal a wave out of turn (to snake a wave); or to ride down the face of the wave after catching the wave

Goofy Foot – Style where the right foot is placed in front of the left foot on the board

Regular Foot – Left foot forward

Grom – A young surfer

Groundswell – Waves that were generated from storms that were way offshore. These waves have traveled a greater distance to reach the shore than windswell waves, and are generally thicker, more powerful waves.

Hollow – Term used to describe a wave with a great tube section. The surfer can ride inside, completely covered up by the wave, without having it break on him. Like riding in a tunnel.

Impact Zone – Where the waves first break

Inside – Anywhere between the shore and a breaking wave

Kick Out – To go over or through the back of wave in order to end a ride

Kook – Derogatory term for a novice

Left – A wave breaking to the left, from the surfer’s perspective. From the beach a left is a right-breaking wave.

Lineup – The group of surfers waiting to take a wave

Lip – The top part where a wave is starting to break

Localism – Protection of surf spots by locals and/or the existence of well-established hierarchy on the waves based on experience and seniority

Mushy – Weak-breaking wave

Offshore – A wind from the shore blowing onto the ocean, usually resulting in great surf conditions

Outside – Waves that break out further than most are said to be “outside”

Over the Falls – A wipeout while going from the top to bottom of a wave

Pearl – To drive the nose of a board into the water

Point Break – An area where readable waves form around a piece of land or obstruction jutting out from the mainland, or a break forming around an island

Right – A wave breaking to the right from the surfer’s perspective. From the beach, a right is a left-breaking wave.

Set – A group of similar waves, usually used to describe a series of good waves

Shoulder – The about-to-break portion of a wave; also called a corner

Swell – A group of waves coming onshore that were originally formed in deep waters by wind; also used to describe waves coming from a storm

Trim – Gliding across the wave face. To be in trim is to be in perfect harmony with the wave.

Trough – The bottom part of a wave that is not breaking

Turtle – A maneuver to get under a wave by flipping upside down while pulling the board underwater

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