How Long Does It Take to Learn to Surf? Shortcuts and Tips


Longboarder at beach

There’s always a learning curve when you’re a beginner. But it’s nice to know what to expect at the beginning. So let’s take a real look at how long it takes to learn to surf and get to the different skill levels.

Learning to surf can take between 1 hour and 3 weeks. It just depends on your athletic abilities, the board you learn on and how often you practice. If you take lessons, that will speed up the process. 

Now obviously, there’s a huge difference between learning to stand up on a 10 foot longboard in half a foot waves and ripping 10 foot Pipeline on a shortboard.

So here’s how long it generally takes to get to beginner, intermediate and ripper status.

How Long Does it Take to Learn to Stand Up?

First, I’ll define what it means to learn to surf. Basically, you know how to surf if you can consistently catch a wave, stand up on the board, and ride for a bit.

To learn how to get to this point as quickly as possible, use a longboard, go out in 1-foot surf and surf at a relatively uncrowded spot. This will allow you to get out to the waves easily, get a lot of practice and give you quick wins. 

If you’re a pretty good athlete, then I’ve seen some people learn to stand up in as little as 1 hour. After 2 hours, these people are usually catching waves consistently.

However, if you are brand new to surfing and don’t have an athletic background, then you can probably learn to be a decent small-wave surfer in between 1-3 days.

Just keep practicing and be ready for these challenges…

Surfing Challenges for Beginners

When you are first getting started, there will be a few minor challenges, so here’s what to expect. I’ll also give you a few tips on how to overcome them.

Your Ribs Will Hurt

Your ribs will not be used to lying on a hard board, so they will be slightly bruised after your first session.

This is normal.

But it can be painful, especially during your second session.

In addition, if you are going shirtless or wearing just a bikini top, then you will also get board rash. The wax will rub against your skin and cause irritation.

You can prevent these things by wearing a rash guard or wetsuit tank top. Starting with a soft top surfboard can also be a good way to soften the blow to your ribs.

But at the end of the day, you will feel it in your ribs, regardless of what you do. So you just have to suck it up and deal with the slight pain, if you want to learn to surf.

It does get better and you won’t feel it after awhile.  

Paddling Can be Hard Work

For some beginning surfers, getting out to the waves is the biggest challenge. Your shoulders will probably hurt a little because those are muscles that most people don’t use.

That’s why it’s important start a break that has really mellow waves.

Again, don’t get discouraged. You’ll probably feel better in a day or two and be ready to go at it again.

Find Your Balance

There are three types of balance that you have to figure out.

The obvious one is when you are already standing up. For this type of balance, it’s helpful to start by first putting your back foot on the traction pad on the tail of the board. Then place your front foot wherever it feels natural.

After you do that a few times, then experiment with the ideal foot placement for you. Longer boards will require more movement on the board to shift your weight.

Another type of balance is when you are paddling. If you are too close to the nose, the board will dig into the water and slow you down. When you are too far back, you will sink the tail and also slow down.

So as you paddle, move up and down the board gradually, to find the right balance point. Most boards have a logo on the deck, so make note of where you are in relation to that logo.

Once you get the hang of it, you won’t need to look at the logo. You’ll be able to feel where the balance point is. But this method helps a lot when you are first starting out.

Finally, you will need to find the right balance point when you are popping up. In this case, it’s helpful to start further back on the board. Then slowly move forward on each successive wave and find the right balance point. You will miss a few waves in the beginning, but you’ll eventually figure it out.

If you start too far forward, you will nosedive (pearl) and that can be painful, even on small waves. So it’s better to start at the back and work your way forward.

The Fear Factor

Finally, some beginning surfers are afraid of falling off the board or getting hit by other surfers.

If you are afraid of wiping out, then my suggestion is to get it out of the way as soon as possible. It’s not that bad and you will do it a lot, no matter how good you are.

Just make sure that you are away from the board, so you don’t get hit. Also be aware of the type of bottom at the beach you are surfing at. You don’t want to jump hard onto a rocky bottom.

As for getting hit by other surfers, this is why it’s best to learn at a beach that isn’t crowded. There’s usually a beach that’s too small for the good surfers, but perfect for the beginners.

Find that beach. 

How Long Does it Take to Become an Intermediate Surfer?

Surfer on wave

Once you learn how to catch waves consistently, it will probably take you 3-6 months to really get the hang of it. This assumes that you go at least 3 times a week.

At this point, you’ll master things like:

  • Turning both right and left (frontside and backside)
  • Duck diving (or turtle rolls on a longboard)
  • Riding different types of waves (point break, shore break, etc.)
  • Pulling out
  • Pulling into closeouts

This is where surfing becomes a lot of fun because you can get waves in almost any lineup and you will be in much more control of your body and your board. Most surfers are content to stay at this level.

How Long Does it Take to Rip?

Learning to surf big waves or doing advanced maneuvers can take anywhere from a year to several years. It all comes down to how much you practice.

Watching videos can help, but surfing in good conditions is the best way to learn.

If you don’t have regular access to good waves, then getting really good will take awhile.

How to Get Started

When you are first learning to surf, start at a mellow break, on a longboard. It helps to take lessons on your first time out, but it’s not necessary. Ideally, you should start at a beach that isn’t crowded. But work with what you’ve got.

Then just have fun!

Observe surfers that are better than you, experiment with different techniques and have a good time.

Hugh Kimura

I grew up in Hawaii and I've been surfing since I was 9 years old. Since then, I've learned to ride all types of boards from bodyboards to standup paddle boards. I started Stoketopia to share the stoke of being in the water.

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