What Is Your Surf Level?
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“What level of surfer am I?” is a question that inevitably pops up when deciding where to travel, when to go, and what surf camp to choose.
Certain surfing destinations offer something for all levels. Others might be too challenging for beginners, or not challenging enough for the advanced. Furthermore, the surf seasons have a great impact on the wave size, speed, and strength. And of course, the surf camps in each destination offer specific coaching programs tailored to different surf levels.
Learning to surf is a long process, with countless rewarding moments along the way. Mastering the basic techniques from the get-go is key if you wish to improve. By separating skill levels, the instructors can make sure you enjoy the experience and maximize your progress.
The lessons are usually held in small groups of surfers with similar abilities. Therefore, it’s important to be able to communicate your current skills and experience so that the instructors can plan your coaching accordingly, give more personalized advice, and accelerate your learning curve.
To help you assess your surf level when booking a surf camp, we’ve put together this useful guide. Find out which coaching program to choose and the skills you’ll acquire while there.
Image credit: Line Up Fuerteventura
Before we dive into it, you should know that “beginner” is a slightly broader term than you might think. Whether you’ve never surfed before or have been at it for a while, you can have zero experience or several sessions under your belt and still be considered a beginner.
It’s very important not to overestimate your skillset. Often times, surfers who’ve taken a few classes before are inclined to consider themselves “intermediates”. But that’s not necessarily the case.
In fact, there are different “sublevels” of beginner surfers.
Obviously, first-timers are those who’ve never touched a surfboard before. They’ll have to start from scratch.
If you’ve taken lessons before but continue to lack the control required to ride broken waves (whitewater) from start to finish unassisted, you’ll need to review all the basics and work on your paddling, pop up, and take off.
Maybe you’ve tried surfing before, but only briefly, and it’s been a long time since you’ve last done it. In that case, you’ll need a refresher.
Novice surfers have taken a few surf lessons before and have gone through the basics. They can paddle into and catch broken waves (green waves) in a familiar location, but still require some assistance.
No matter how many times you went surfing before, if you’re still having trouble selecting, paddling to, and catching waves on your own, you could benefit from beginner coaching.
Beginner surf camps offer programs for first-timers and novice surfers, as well as refresher courses.
Skills you’ll acquire on a beginner surf camp:
- As a first-timer, you’ll be introduced to the surfing equipment
- You’ll learn about ocean safety and surfing etiquette
- Learn how to read a wave and identify a good wave to catch for your skill level
- Learn to paddle in the forgiving whitewater (broken waves)
- Practice popping up on a surfboard
- Learn the correct surf stance
- Catch and ride whitewater waves
- Work on your bottom turn
- Learn to carve and cutback
- Learn the correct stance and positioning in order to catch green waves (unbroken waves)
- Learn the basics of slowing down and accelerating
- Agility and prediction skills
- Angle your take off to go left or right
- Difference between trimming and carving turns
» READ MORE: What Will You Learn on a Surf Camp for Beginners?
The main difference between beginner and intermediate surfers is their autonomy in the water.
Intermediate surfers are comfortable paddling past the break all by themselves in a familiar location. They can consistently catch shoulder to head-high waves without assistance and have a basic understanding of turning and trimming along the wave face, the key maneuvers in surfing.
As an intermediate surfer, you are able to pop up quickly and with ease, angle the board and take off smoothly, as well as go left or right on the wave. You can read a surf report and plan the session ahead. You are also capable of reading the waves and making decisions by yourself.
There are certain skills that you must work on, such as selecting the best waves for you and positioning yourself in the line-up. You need to refine your timing and take-off, improve your trimming, top and bottom turns, cutbacks, frontside and backside techniques, and linking maneuvers.
At this stage, the changes you bring to your technique can make a big difference in the way you surf. If you’re ready to step up your game, an intermediate surf camp offers all the necessary equipment and tuition you need to make progress.
Some intermediate surf camps also offer video coaching, which means that you are filmed while you surf and you analyze your technique together with the instructor afterward.
Skills you’ll acquire on an intermediate surf camp:
- Learn to choose the right equipment for specific conditions
- Improve the way you read and assess waves, as well as your positioning, in order to catch more quality waves
- Improve your stance so that you can gain more mobility
- Decide when to make certain maneuvers while riding a wave
- Learn to generate speed
- Learn to duck dive
- Learn to do floaters
- Improve your stance
- Improve your basic turns and cutbacks
- Learn to do vertical snaps
- Paddle into larger waves and take steeper drops
» READ MORE: What Will You Learn on an Intermediate Surf Camp?
At this point, you’ve been surfing for a few years and are already developing your own personal style.
As an advanced surfer, you are fully capable of surfing alone. You can select the best waves and paddle out in an unfamiliar surf spot all by yourself. You can make controlled high-speed bottom turns and top turns, can link turns, can make off-the-lip maneuvers, and you probably got barreled in a few medium-sized waves by now.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement and the journey is never-ending. If you’d like to build on your skill set, improve your wave count, and take things to the next level, an advanced surf camp can help you achieve just that.
Since you’re already familiar with the ins and outs, the focus on an advanced surf camp will not be on instruction but rather on charging as many waves as possible.
For advanced surfers, the programs are mostly centered around surf guiding. The instructors will take you to world-class waves, some of which are remote, off-the-grid, and only accessible by 4X4 or boat. In short, they’ll take care of everything so that you can surf to your heart’s content.
Skills you’ll acquire on an advanced surf camp:
- Practice and perfect various advanced maneuvers, such as frontside cutbacks, backside cutbacks, closeout re-entry, off the lip, floaters, frontside snap, backside snap, and aerial tricks
- Get barreled in larger waves
- Achieve an elegant style of surfing through controlled speed, fluency, and coordination
- Perform committed maneuvers in the critical part of the wave
- Surf with speed, power, and flow
Surfing takes time and it’s important not to rush into it. Taking baby steps ensures that you master the basics first and that you don’t develop bad habits. This will help you progress to the next level faster and in a more fun and enjoyable way.
No matter where you are in your journey, there’s always room for improvement. Surfing is addictive and the more you surf, the more you’ll love it!
The best way to improve your surfing is to practice, practice, practice; in all sorts of conditions. Join a budget surf camp and increase your wave count without burning a hole in your pocket.