by steven watts March 13, 2017

learn how to bodysurf before you surf

So you want to learn to surf? If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s that you should learn how to bodysurf before using a big surfboard and I will explain why.

No two waves are the same

What you may not realize about stand up surfing is that the easy part is standing up. I used to tell the kids at our surf camp, humans are designed to stand and have balance that’s the easy part. What takes many years to master is how the ocean and waves work around you. As I am sure you are aware like snowflakes no two waves are the same. Each wave varies in size, power and shape and there is no way to tell without experience what a wave is going to do. Even at best an experienced surfer is making an educated guess on how a wave is going to break, and as with most things the more experience you have in different conditions the better you become at being able to read / guess the outcome. That being said that’s what makes being in the ocean so much fun it never ever gets boring.

Become one with the ocean - Mr Miyagi Style

One of two reasons we recommend either bodysurfing or handboarding before you learn to surf is that there is no better way to learn the ebb and flow of the ocean, there is no more immersive experience than riding a wave with your body. It allows you to feel the pull and push of the wave as it comes toward you. You will find the more you bodysurf that your skills in the water will grow exponentially.  

Improve your ocean skills exponentially

The second reason we recommend getting comfortable in the ocean and riding wave without a surfboard first is that it is important to be comfortable with the ocean and waves. Over the years that I taught stand up surfing many of my students would view the board as a life saving device because they were not comfortable in the ocean. I saw firsthand the damage a surfboard can do to someone without the general water skills needed to learn surfing.

One of my student had a wave lip break directly on his back, breaking the board in two under him. Fortunately, he was unhurt and we had a bit of laugh about it. The same cannot be said for another student, who held onto a board while being sucked over a small 2-foot wave and was pile driven into the sand headfirst. All these could have been prevented if they had previous experience with the ocean and had practiced some safety techniques making them comfortable in the ocean and in turn more comfortable with a surfboard under them.

Learning to bodysurf is the best way to learn the ocean

Obviously knowing bodysurfing is not a fail-safe in preventing yourself from getting hurt in the ocean when stand up surfing.  However, it makes you far more competent and more importantly, more comfortable in the ocean. In addition, as I would say to many of my students, the easiest part of surfing is the standing up! The hard part is understanding the ocean, reading the waves, figuring out where you should be positioned to catch the wave, paddling for the wave etc. The safest and best way to learn these skills in the ocean is to master bodysurfing. The ocean is forever changing and unpredictable.  The more you are out there, the more instinctual and knowledgeable you will become.

Be the bodysurfing master

Learning to stand up surf is difficult to master especially someone who has either never been in the ocean or who is starting out later on in live give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by giving yourself a summer playing in the water trying to catch as many waves as you can bodysurfing you won’t regret it and your overall waterman skills will be so much more finely tuned that when you do decide to take out a large surfboard you will be a lot more prepared for what comes at you.

Give us your feedback

Let us know below if you started your ocean life riding waves bodysurfing and playing in the ocean or if you went straight to learning how to ride on a big board and what your experience was. 

Watch the Slyde learn how to surf edition

Below we have put together a sweet little video for all you complete newbies out ther that want to learn how to handboard but just are just not sure let Dalton and Sammy tell you.

steven watts
steven watts

Growing up in South Africa, Steve spent his youth dreaming of far off places. After spending eight years extensively traveling to many of the great surf destinations of the world getting dengue fever, having a near death experience from a falling coconut in mexico, Surviving a 15 foot drop on a handboard on a Nias bomb, jumping from every rock he could find without adequate health insurance. and comprehensively debunking the myth there are no waves in Thailand, even if they are small. He decided it was time for a a degree. Steve Graduated from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London with a degree in product design. He missed his graduation to go surfing in Californian, found a kindred spirit with Venice and never left


Join the community

Top