Our Experience Surfing for the First Time in Pacific Beach, San Diego

girl walking on beach in wetsuit with surfboard

I had probably been to the west coast 20 times before I ever tried surfing. It just wasn’t on my radar until I went to San Diego with my friend Courtney, who was hell bent on trying it. Y’all know I’m not one to say no to new things, so of course I was all in! After going, I thought it might be useful to share our experience with surfing for the first time: things that shocked us, what we learned, how we went about it, where we went… you get the idea.

Courtney and I were both complete beginners. Like, we had never stepped foot on a surfboard. Courtney skateboarded when she was a kiddo, but other than that, we were relying on our athleticism and blind confidence. Because of this, we opted to take a lesson first. Our AirBNB host offered discounted lessons to their guests, which ended up being about $80 per person for an entire morning of surfing with a private instructor. (good deal, y’all!)

We took our lesson in Pacific Beach, San Diego. It consisted of a crash course and some technical talk on the beach, and then about 3 hours in the water. We covered the basics with paddling, catching the wave, how to properly center yourself on the board, how to stand up, how to avoid getting absolutely rocked… ya know, the important stuff.

After our lesson, we felt decently confident in our ability to go out on our own and at least not drown, if not catch a couple waves! So the next morning we rented boards and wetsuits and surfed all day.

Do I recommend taking a lesson?

All of that being said, I do recommend taking a lesson for your first time OR going with someone who has been at least once. You will learn more + faster in a lesson, but they can be expensive. If you have a friend who has been at least once, they should be able to give you enough of a crash course to keep you from getting hurt. If you don’t mind looking like a newbie, this could be the route to roll, just because of price. The only thing I wouldn’t try is going in completely blind. At the very least, watch a couple youtube videos.

Where to rent surfboards in PB

Lesson or not, you are going to need a board and a wetsuit. Courtney and I found an awesome rental shop that was close to the beach + extremely reasonable. It’s called Ray’s Rentals; you’ll be looking for the Pacific Beach location off Mission Boulevard. If you go to their website, you can find this coupon. Foam top surfboard and a wetsuit, all day, for $27 total.

Tips from one beginner to another

I can’t stress this enough… I have literally only been surfing 3 times in my life. So these are not professional tips. I honestly don’t know if I would call them tips at all. They are just things that surprised me from the first time we went surfing or tips that are so rudimentary that people who can actually surf won’t even talk about them. If you want actual instruction on surfing, again, take a lesson or get on youtube.

It’s mainly paddling

I honestly can’t figure out why they call it surfing, because you spend at least 80% of the time paddling. (Experts probably actually surf more.) Now, don’t get me wrong… the paddling is still really fun. You are in the ocean, it’s likely sunny, and it is a great workout. So it is still a really great time, I just didn’t expect it my first time… because who actually pictures the paddling when they dream of surfing!?

Dive under the wave

Speaking of paddling, the waves don’t stop while you are trying to get out there, so you will have to go over a few before you can surf. If you aren’t on your board yet, dive under the wave just before it gets to you. All the power is in the top of the wave, so if you let it hit you, you are going to get rocked. Dive under and you’ll be golden. If you are already on your board, paddle as fast as you can straight into the wave, then grab the sides of your board and just ride it.

(Definitely not a) Pro Tip: make sure you are paddling straight into the wave, if you get crooked it’ll throw you off your board. (learned this one the hard way)

Falling Doesn’t Hurt

I can’t speak for all beaches, because I’m sure other places are rockier. But at Pacific Beach, you shouldn’t be afraid of falling. It feels about as painful as a sneeze. And then you just pop back up and head back out. Don’t be scared of it.

Choosing waves wasn’t as hard as we thought

After our lesson, when Courtney and I went out on our own, we expected the wave selection process to be much more difficult. During the lesson our instructor told us whether to go or wait on each wave, so we had no experience choosing. When we got out there, we found it was pretty easy to determine which ones we would be able to ride in. All we really looked for was that it was going to break at the right time + that it wasn’t a double wave. Other than that we just paddled, surfed, and hoped it would work.

Standing up is the hard part

The hardest part of surfing is actually standing up on your board and staying up. I thought catching the wave would be the hard part… Nope. Centering yourself perfectly on the board and maintaining your balance is the hard part.

I think that about covers all of my incredibly helpful, very beginner tips. 😉 To the surfers out there… am I missing anything?? And to everyone else… are you going to try surfing the next time you are at the beach? Let me know in the comments!

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our experience surfing for the first time

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