How Good of a Swimmer Do You Have To Be To Surf?

Surfing is a great hobby, especially if you frequent the beach. But many ask: “Do I need to know how to swim to surf?” The answer is yes. 

Being able to surf means being able to swim. Riding the waves requires you to learn how to navigate the water. And in this case, before you ride your first wave, you need to learn how to swim first. Think of it as learning to walk before learning to run.

Do I need to be an advanced swimmer to surf?

Not necessarily. You need not achieve the Olympic swimmer level, just the level enough to save you from being drowned (although having intermediate skills is still preferred). 

Getting knocked off your surfboard, or what surfers call a wipeout, happens A LOT. A wipeout naturally happens in surfing. Even pros experience wipeouts during their practices and official events. What more for a neophyte still trying to learn it?

When you’re in the water, your swimming skills will serve as the best means to help you survive and find your way through the rough tides. 

You do not need to take the same arduous training famous surfers underwent to become pros. You just need to learn the swimming basics essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable surfing experience. 

How does swimming exactly help you surf?

Aside from preventing yourself from being drowned, there are several. 

1. Swimming helps you master paddling

Paddling is a basic technique in swimming that allows you to propel yourself to a distance and helps you stay afloat.

Swimming coaches teach you how to efficiently use your hands and feet so you can reach the direction you want to go. 

For most surfers, they spend almost 80% of their time paddling across the water and searching for the right wave break. 

This fact alone will give you an idea that before you engage in surfing activities, you might want to master paddling first. This can be safely done and mastered in swimming lessons. 

2. Swimming expands your lung capacity

Swimming trains your lungs. When you undergo a tough workout, your heart rate increases. This is when your body demands more oxygen to be supplied by your lungs. When you constantly swim, your lungs eventually adapt to the conditions and increase their capacity to endure prolonged physical activities.

Surfing is an activity that requires your body to be in shape. If you plan to make surfing your longtime hobby, you will need to become friends with the unpredictable tides, rough waves, tough winds, and huge wave breaks that exhaust your body. 

It is ideal for you to train your body first so you can sustain physical stress when under volatile conditions in the sea. And you can help prepare your body through exercises done during swimming lessons. 

3. Swimming can save your life 

When a surfer gets wiped out off his board, a surfboard leash only ensures that the surfer does not get separated from his surfboard — it does not act as a life buoy. 

Met with the same conditions (which inevitably you’ll do if you’re surfing), your only weapon is your hands and feet. How well you use your body to clench back to your surfboard and swim to the bay is a fundamental part of surfing.

Swimming can help you familiarize yourself with how your body reacts and how your movement affects your position on the water. This skill will aid you in maneuvering through hostile conditions in the common case of a wipeout.

Surfing before swimming

If you’re stubborn enough and go surfing instead of taking swimming lessons first, be ready for the consequences.

Yes, you can opt to find wave breaks in shallower areas. But the ocean is very unpredictable. Being separated from your surfboard will most likely happen at just a moment’s notice.

You can even get swayed by unsuspecting large waves in the shallow waters. And without the swimming skills to help you, you may end up being ravaged by the powerful waves.

Hence, it is still critical that you learn swimming first to keep the worst from happening. It is the safest way. It will keep you away from getting into accidents in the water.

Can You Still Surf if You Do Not Know How to Swim?

Surfing is best experienced when you catch the perfect wave break and ride it. That can only be done if you know how to paddle and navigate yourself in the water. As discussed above, swimming enables you to master paddling.

So, without the know-how of a swimmer, you cannot entirely enjoy surfing. Simply put, swimming is a precursor to surfing. As said above, it is like learning to walk before learning to run. 

What to do if You Do Not Know How to Swim

You will be exposed to many dangers if you decide to venture into surfing without knowing how to swim. Here are some tips that’ll help you along the way:

  1. Never go out to the sea alone: If you find yourself in tricky waters, a companion might be your only chance to keep yourself from being drowned or swallowed by the sea. It is advisable to keep an expert watching your every move. 
  2. Know when to surf: It’s best to perfectly time your surfing session under calm conditions. You can navigate easily without thinking about risk factors that are otherwise present in more harsh weather conditions.
  3. Find the right place to surf: For a beginner and a non-swimmer, shallower waters are the most convenient and safest spots to ride a wave. You can ask an experienced surfer where beginners flock to train (it would be best if you have others around, in case something happens).

The Best Start to Surfing

Book a swimming lesson. That is the first step you need to take to surf.

Spending several classes in a pool with a swimming coach will help you understand the relationship of your bodily movements with the water. 

As stated above, you will be taught how to stay afloat, paddle, kick in the water, and many more. An instructor will teach you how to manage your breath and introduce you to exercises needed to increase your lung capacity. 

You will also be taught life-saving skills so you will not have to worry in case an accident ensues in the water. You will be calmer, in control, and fit in the face of the natural risks that come with surfing.

Swimming Classes vs. Surf Classes

Well, most might not want to take swimming lessons because it will take time. It’s true. Learning a skill could take weeks, even months, to master. 

Summer vacations do not last long. Since mastering the basics of swimming may take some time, the summer season might just be over before you can even ride your first one. 

However, if you want to surf despite not being able to master swimming, the best route is to find a surfing coach or enroll in a surf school (although they might still require you to undergo some swimming lessons first). But in this case, it will be more convenient for you.

You will have a coach who will guide you through all the basics — what you need to know and what surfers do under certain conditions at sea. 

You will have a guard and guide who will help you catch your first wave. This may be the best way to overtake all the important prerequisites — but your safety will not be ensured in the long run.

Remember, when you surf, you go into the ocean alone. You catch that wave alone — and you ride that surfboard alone. 

But if the worst happens, a coach or even a lifesaver can only do so much if you are caught in a wave, separated from your surfboard, and you do not know how to swim. 

So, should surfers know how to swim? 

They must. So they can paddle their way to that right wave and ensure their safety in the water.

Oliver Jones

Written by Oliver Jones

I'm a dedicated surfer and writer, and my heart truly belongs to the ocean. Surfing is not just a sport but a way of life for me. I ride the waves in the water and on paper, pouring my passion into every word I write.

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