My first time on a surfboard was when I was 13 years old during a vacation in Florida with my aunt, uncle and cousin. We loved it so much that my cousin actually convinced my aunt and uncle to buy him a surfboard and took it back to Chicago (you can imagine how many Thanksgivings it took for my family to let that one go). Now that I live in San Francisco, I know that Florida is not the ideal state for catching real waves—California is.
Sure, we’re not in Southern California, but the surf scene here is just as vibrant and—most importantly—just as fun. I know what you’re thinking: the water around SF can be pretty cold. This was one part of surfing that I was afraid of, but to be honest, it’s not that bad, and you get used to it right away. It can also be quite intimidating when you’re not an SF native and you see those cute surfer dudes and chicks at Ocean Beach. They look pretty damn cool walking along the shore with their boards and sporting their hip-hugging wetsuits. As a bystander, it feels as if there’s this exciting surfer universe happening without you—and really, that’s true. The good news is that you don’t have to live the rest of your life lost in a fog of FOMO. Anyone can become a surfer chick (or dude). Yes, you read that correctly—even you can become a surfer. Here’s how to get started:
1. Find a Friend/Coworker Who Knows How to Surf
The easiest way to catch a break in the surf world here is to know someone who is already immersed in it. Personally, this worked for me because a friend I work with has been surfing for ages. In my mind, he’s basically like professional surfer Kelly Slater’s offspring. It’s really helpful to have a friend who knows what they’re doing and can teach you the basics on a foggy weekend day. This is also helpful because this insider will know where to go and when. The waves and riptides can get pretty dangerous around here, so it’s important to go with an experienced surfer for the first couple of times. The best places to get started are Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica or Bolinas Beach. Both are popular beaches for beginners and have surf shops nearby where you can rent a wetsuit and board.
2. Join a Meet-Up
Groups like the Northern California Surf Crew and Ladies Who Surf and are a great way to find and meet people who surf too. It’s probably best to join one of these groups after you’ve surfed a couple of times and feel confident being out there on your own, though. This doesn’t mean you have to be able to actually ride a wave to shore, but you should know how to paddle out, stand up and—most importantly—get yourself out of a riptide in case you find yourself caught in one. The best part of surfing is that everyone is usually really nice and helpful, unless you bring too many of your friends to a local spot or cut someone off in the lineup (then you’ll be yelled at). But generally, everyone remembers what it was like when they first got started surfing. The people you meet in these groups will be happy to give you some pointers.
3. Date Someone Who Surfs
I list this as a way to get started only because I do, in fact, know a couple of women who have taken up surfing because their boyfriends like to surf or they went on a few dates with a surf enthusiast. It’s actually a great way to start and a fun date idea. My friend was lucky enough to find a guy of interest who had an extra wetsuit and board. If you are serious about pursuing this, I highly recommend updating your Tinder profile to say that you’re looking to learn. I bet you will get a lot of replies from some surfer guys—just sayin’.
4. Find a Teacher on Thumbtack or Craigslist
Hey, we’re in San Francisco, so shouldn’t there be a start-up for this? If there isn’t one now, there probably will be one in the near future. In the meantime, use marketplaces like Thumbtack and Craigslist to find a teacher. This way you can set your own price and get a one-on-one lesson from someone who has been doing this for a while. Trust me—you’re not going to want a crowd to watch you get in the water for the first time as you swear like a sailor.
5. Take Official Group Lessons
And then there’s always the traditional route. You can take official group lessons in the Bay Area, but you’ll have to travel a bit to get to them. Surf schools like Adventure Out in Santa Cruz and Bolinas Surf Lessons come highly recommended.
Wherever you begin your surfing journey, know that it’s going to be a long one, but with lots of fun and laughter along the way. There’s nothing quite like spending a day in the Pacific Ocean paddling and trying to catch some waves. You’re not going to become Kate Bosworth’s Blue Crush character overnight; it takes time to learn and a lot of patience. But always remember that even if you don’t catch any waves, the scenery, exercise and camaraderie make it all worth it.