First Time Surf Experience Questions

I just got back from Panama City, Florida and experienced my first time in surf. We camped at St Andrews State Park and crossed the channel to Shell Island. We were well prepared for the crossing with radios, tide information and all rescue gear. We then paddled out the jetty on the protected side and out into the gulf.

The weather forcasted 3-4 feet seas with 15 mph winds. We studied these conditions the previous days so we has some idea of what we were into.

We rounded the jetty and headed upwind for about 1 mile to clear the jetty completely. The waves were head high with an occasional wave breaking because of wind.

At this time we wanted to make our first attempt at coming ashore. We both were able to surf the outside and inside breaks to the beach. We both had to break heavy to keep straight but we stayed upright.

We then made our first exits through the surf where we took breakers completely over our heads. Again we survived and made it past the surf.

Our next beach entries didn’t go as well. Niether of us could stay straight on the waves and ended up surfing all the way to the beach sideways. We braced heavy on the wave and rode it until it spit us out high and dry on the beach.

After this experience we got scared and headed for home with a million questions.

Could some experienced folks translate what happened to me and pass on a few lessons for us all.

We are thrilled but we suspect that we were luckier than we realize.

I case you are wondering, we were both in poly WS Altos. I am 190 and she is much less.

Thanks, Alan

If you rode in sideways – upright – you did well! A high brace into the wave is a common method of dealing with a broach.

sounds like yall did great!
good job! i have surfed beautifully, cut back over the crest just in time to paddle back out thinking how simple and easy only to get dumped on the next wave. i guess the ocean’s unpredictability is part of its allure

Make sure to keep you elbows

– Last Updated: May-18-04 5:47 PM EST –

tucked in or heavy bracing in surf can dislocate your shoulders. Lessons from really competant paddlers are in order if you have doubts.

YOu did great! Nigel foster videos or classes, or working with a very experienced surf paddler could help you do even better.

Using your feet and abs to push, learning to use the back (powerful) part of a sweep (while maintaining a paddlers box), and stern rudders will become some of your ever increasing bag of tricks.

It is hard not to broach (surf sideways) eventually.

I Learned to Surf In That Exact Spot

– Last Updated: May-18-04 5:54 PM EST –

I learned to surf longboards in that exact spot about 40 years........

I don't know what a WS Altos is, but I assume it is a touring kayak. If so, you did very well to stay upright.

A surf specific boat is very short. Like 9-10' Surfing anything over 13' is just catching a ride on a wave. You can't crave a medium sized face with a boat that long.

Remember, Steer from the rear...

I surf sideways at least 4 out 5 times

– Last Updated: May-18-04 9:14 PM EST –

when landing in surf. A lot depends on the size and frequency of the waves and the particular boat that you are paddling.

Some boats like to broach more than others. My Gulfstream is so easy to broach, that frequently, I will broach it myself just to get set up on the wave on my terms. Then just ride it in and straighten out as it releases you.

Remember to lean towards the wave and as Peter K said, keep your outside elbow glued to your side and directly under your wrist. Your hands should not go any higher than your chin. If done properly, you won't have any shoulder problems.

In addition to the the Nigel Foster Video, you might want to check out Wayne Horodowich's Surf Zone video too.

I have no financial rewards from it, but several paddling friends and I are in it.

If you landed upright and in one piece, you did very well. Your launch was good if you made it out past the breakers while staying right side up.

It's sort of like what the old pilots used to say about any landing you could walk away from was a good one.

Congratulations on a great 1st time surf experience.


Stern Rudder helps as does angling in
As Cuda said anything longer than about 10’ with any kind of volume and you are going to end up in a side surf soon or later. You can get very good at angling to the curl of the wave and paddling at the speed of the breaking curl and paddling to keep just surfing, applying a strong stern rudder pushing with your body like you are wagging the stern of the boat like a huge tail. If you are really good and you have the right shape of boat you can delay the side surf a long time, eventually you will lose it and end up in a side surf in a sea kayak in 3 or 4 foot waves.

i love surfing my bell rob roy. works very well at catching waves. one thing i’d mention is weight. to catch a wave more easily, lean forward while your getting up to speed. once on the wave, i typically lean back and into the wave. slight braces are wonderful things at this point.

as to the sideways surfing, all that means is you can handle beam waves pretty well. you should be glad you survived those situations without a spill.

i also surf outrigger canoes, which is a totally different beast. those things can easily approach 20 mph on the right waves. with outriggers you use a low brace to balance the boat. the ama is flying in the air in a delicate balancing act.

sounds like you’re on the right track. nothing beats experience. i’d be careful closer to the shore though. you don’t want even an unloaded kayak crashing down on you in a couple feet of water.

self-confessed surf chicken
you did great,helmets and surf with long boats aren’t a bad idea,can you roll, how are your thigh braces? Side surfing is how you’ll come in eventually,what PeterK said is worth drilling in your head to protect joints.

Let’s see
You didn’t break your boats, you didn’t break your heads, you didn’t end up with sand in your sinuses, and you had fun. What’s not to like? Sounds like you did great!

The More You Play

– Last Updated: May-19-04 5:35 AM EST –

The better you get at it. Fear becomes exhilaration. Just make sure you have helmets! Just about any brand will do, including a bike helmet in a pinch.


(who loves his pink skateboard helmet and doesn't care what anyone says.)

You are the guys I wanted to hear from. We had several things going for us. We have both spent several hundred hours in our boats, we have good basic skills, we are well equipped and the boats we were in have very rounded hulls. If we had boats with harder chines I don’t think it would have gone as well. Most of all I think we were very lucky. We were definitely more lucky than skilled. Thanks for the link and pointers that you guys all have to offer. It makes the sport much safer for us all.


got a islander hula but
some times forget it’s a yak and stand up,

The Chines

– Last Updated: May-20-04 5:46 AM EST –

won't make much of a difference when you're sidesurfing. As stated by others, just lean into the wave, brace and keep your elbows in the "box."

Foster's boats are known to be good "surfers" (as far as long boats are concerned). Foster believes hard chines in the stern section affords better directional control and carving whereas rounded chines will slide out and lead quicker to a broach and sidesurfing.

I am a big fan of surfing. It's great fun, develops skills and confidence. If nothing else, it makes you safer in a long boat when you have to land/launch on the beach.


I thought the sharper edges might have a tendency to catch in the surf. Our boats just seemed to go with the flow with no tendency to dump us. I was very surprised.

Chines shouldn’t make a difference.
I’ve seen boats with hard chines surf very well and I’ve also seen boats with soft chines surf well too.

Also, I’ve seen the reverse where both types of hulls wound up upside down.

Remember that until the wave actually starts to break that the water is only moving up and down. It is the energy of the wave that is moving towards the beach and not the water itself. Therefore, there shouldn’t be anything to “catch”. Once the wave starts to break though, the water will start moving towards the beach too.

Keep practicing, keep your elbows in and low and you’ll be fine. Remember that all of us swim and receive “kelp awards” at times.

The water is going in a cirlce
but your boat is not, if your boats bow turns away from the forward velocity vector you can catch the edge, or rail of your boat on the still water and flip or windowshade. The shape of the side hulls and rails are very important for surf boats but more for turning at high speeds and digging into the wave to climb and exit.

That is what I thought
I know if you are facing down the wave it should not make a difference but when you broach and start surfing sideways it looks like it would. For me this happened after the main break of the wave. Our boats are round bottom and they seemed to have no tendency to catch and roll.