Surfing 101 A Beginner's Guide
(Photo/James Lynch)

Surfing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Gear and Getting Started

If you’re just getting started surfing, it can be hard to know what gear is going to help you, and what gear is going to make you look like a ‘kook’ (someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing surfing).

To help sort through the choices, find useful pieces of gear, and some helpful tips, we spoke with Jake Adee of Dawn Patrol, a surf school in Venice, California. Jake Adee and his brother, Lucas, offer lessons and rentals to new and inexperienced surfers. So, while they’re both expert riders themselves, they also know what helps new riders get better.

Here are some of the things they — and we — recommend to give you the best time learning to catch a few waves.

Great Surf Gear for Beginners

Surfboards

storm blade 8ft - performance ssr

You can’t surf without a surfboard, and Jake Adee recommends this Storm Blade SSR ($350). This board is a soft-top “foamie,” a foam-topped surfboard that gives greater buoyancy (which makes it easier to catch waves) and won’t break your nose if a wave knocks it against your face.

“These are bigger, wider, and a lot more beginner-friendly, especially if you are having some difficulty getting up to your feet,” Adee explained.

And if price is your biggest concern, you can always go with the highly affordable Wavestorm ($236). “It’s everyone’s favorite board to hate but it’s great for beginners; it does the trick. You won’t do the performance turns, but it’s a good one to start with. It’s cheaper so you can start with it then move on.”

Check Storm Blade Price at GlobalCheck Wavestorm Price at Amazon

Board Care

Once you make the investment in a surfboard, whether it be a “foamie” or a fiberglass board, protect it and take care of it. That means not leaving boards out in the sun, which will degrade the color and quality of a board.

And when you move or store it, Adee recommended some protection in the way of a lightweight surf sock to cover your board, or a more robust board bag.

Surf socks are usually fairly cheap and surfboard bags are in the $100 range. A surfboard bag is more protection, but a surf sock will work. I really like Dakine’s surfboard bags.”

Leash

Most companies’ leashes will work well to keep you and your board together, but we recommend looking for a few key features.

“You want the leash to be about the same length as the board, and you want a double swivel at the ankle,” said Adee. This will allow the leash to move however you move.

Wetsuit

O'Neill Reactor II 32 Back-Zip Full Wetsuit

Even when the weather is warm, the water can be cold. For most of the surfing in California, and on the East Coast, you’re going to need a wetsuit.

“You’ll need either 3:2 or 4:3 wetsuit,” Adee said. The first number is the thickness of the wetsuit, measured in mm on the chest, while the second is the thickness of the material on the extremities. “For Southern California, 3:2 is pretty good for most of the year, whereas in Northern California you’re going to want the 4:3.”

Adee recommends the O’Neill Reactor ($140). “It’s super stretchy, the price point is the best bang for your buck, and it’s great if you are just gettin’ started.”

Check O’Neill Reactor Price at REI

Wetsuit Care

Just like with your board, you’ll want to protect the investment of your wetsuit. “Rinse it with fresh water after you use it, and then hang it in the shade,” said Adee. “The biggest beginner mistake is letting it dry in the sun. It’s a petroleum-based product, and it degrades in UV — it will stretch, lose the elasticity, and crack.”

When you hang it, fold it over the waist rather than hanging from the shoulders, as hangers can stretch a wetsuit. Check out our extensive wetsuit care guide for more tips.

Wetsuit Cleaner

Ocean bacteria and pee (it’s OK, we all do it) can have your wetsuit smelling some sort of way. We also recommend washing it with a wetsuit cleaner about once a month. The Adees’ advice? Don’t use dish soap or strong detergent — instead, use a wetsuit-specific cleaner brand. 

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Surf Rack

DAKINE Aero Rack Pads

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who live within walking distance of the beach, you’ll likely have to drive to the beach. Some people’s cars are big enough to get a board entirely inside; but if yours is not, you have a few choices.

If your car has a roof rack, you can buy pads for the rack bars. And if it doesn’t, you can buy pads that sit on the roof of your car and attach through the doors. Dakine makes some of our favorite surf racks and pads.

Check Dakine Aero Price at REI

Surf Wax

Sex Wax Quick Humps Coconut 3 Pack

Some foamies won’t need wax, and will have a textured top to help you keep grip. But for most other surfboards, you’ll need to wax. Similar to waxes for skis, every wax is based on temperature.

“You want the base coat wax, and then a wax for whatever the water temperature you’re riding in.” Many surfers use hard “Tropic” wax as their basecoat.

“We use Sex Wax the most. It’s been around a long time and it works well. They’re also coconut-based and they have eco-packaging,” said Adee.

Another pro tip: Make sure you are caring for your surfboard in transit, too. However you get your board to the beach, make sure you tighten it down securely, and the right way: fins toward the front, with wax down to protect it — every other variation is wrong.

Rinse Kit

RinseKit PRO Portable Shower

Washing yourself and your gear off after surfing won’t just keep your car from getting sandy — it will also help the beaches stay as beautiful as possible.

“Have some fresh water in the car and leave the sand where it came from. Don’t track it back to where you live. Reduce erosion and leave the beach where it belongs,” Adee recommended.

To do this affordably, bring a bucket or jug of fresh water with you. But, if you want to be a bit more fancy (and comfortable), consider the Rinse Kit Pro.

“It’s like a shower and you can fill it with hot water, then spray with different showerheads. You can rinse your board with the attachment, then use a normal showerhead to rinse off your face and hair. It’s a little pricey, but it’s definitely sick,” Adee said.

Check Rinse Kit Pro Price at Amazon

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Sun Protection

Headhunter Heavy Duty Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 50

On the water, you’ll have the light coming down on you, and the light reflecting back up at you — you’ll need to protect yourself from both of them. Start with sunscreen, preferably reef-safe varieties.

“Our favorite is Headhunters,” said Adee. “Anything zinc-based will work well, but it’s not great for the ocean reefs. Headhunters, and other sunscreens, have reef-safe versions.”

For extra protection, consider a surf hat to keep the UV rays off your face. Good surf hats have a chin strap and will dry quickly.

Check Headhunters Sunscreen Price at Amazon

Changing Poncho

Slowtide The Digs Changing Poncho

You should get out of your wetsuit before you head home, and a surf poncho ($80), most often made out of the same material as a towel, will help you do this.

These are like giant robes that you can pull over yourself to take your wetsuit off beneath without exposing yourself, or shuffling about clutching a towel at your waist. With every season, they get more and more popular, and for good reason.

Some of our GearJunkie staff’s favorite changing robes aside from the Slowtide The Digs Poncho are the Matador Packable Poncho and Red Paddle Co.’s Quick Dry Changing Robes. (These come in different sizes to fit different heights, and there’s an option for kids, too!)

Check Slowtide Poncho Price at evo

Key Storage

KGUARD Waterproof IPX8

Nothing ruins a good day surfing like losing all your valuables, so when you get in the water, have a plan for your keys. Instead of hiding your keys in the wheel well of your car, we recommend getting some sort of key storage like this key pouch ($37).

It fits in your wetsuit, or a lockbox, like those that lock to your car handle, or into the trailer hitch receiver of a truck or SUV.

Check KGuard Price at Amazon

Ear Plugs

SurfEars 3.0

If you’re out on the water nearly every day, like the Adee brothers are, it is worth thinking about surfer’s ear. When cold wind and water flow into your ears day after day, the bones inside your ear will actually grow and partially block your earholes to protect you from the wind and water. This can lead to infection or complications with hearing.

“You want to protect that, so buy surfers’ earplugs; we like SurfEars,” said Jake Adee.

Check SurfEars Price at Amazon

These tips should help you get your gear organized, get out there, learn to surf, and have fun. And enjoy the waves!

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