Learner’s Boards

a longboard is your best friend

When you are learning to surf a longboard is essential. It provides you with the volume and stability that you need to get going. Soft Top boards and Foam longboards give you protection against bumps and bruises and the rubber fins on a foam board cope with being ridden into the sand.

Longboards are technically classified as surfboards over 9 feet which are wider than a shortboard and they have a big rounded nose. There is such as thing as longboards under 9 feet. But they are referred to as mini mals and are good for smaller bodies to learn to surf on.

There are also a whole variety of what is often called ‘fun boards’. Fun boards are between 6 – 8 feet in length and have a slightly rounded nose.

Use the table below to get an idea of a suitable longboard length/volume for your weight range as a beginning surfer. Surfboards are measured in feet and inches and their volume is measured in litres. 

If you’ve found yourself a beaten up old board to borrow, embrace it. In this modern era of machine shaped surfboards, those well-loved hand crafted, beaten up old gems are quickly becoming valued. Make sure the leash attached to the board is reliable. See the setting up the basics module for more about leashes.

There are a lot of variables out there to the classic surfboard shape. When you are looking to hire or buy a surfboard you will more that likely find yourself having a conversation about different board dimensions / litre-age /volume / your weight / surfing ability etc. Always be honest with the information you pass onto whoever is helping you. The needs of a learner are simple compared to than those of an advanced surfer, therefore shop assistants or surfboard hire staff should be pretty good at matching you with a good fit surfboard.

Use the above table as your guide. If you find that you are directed to a surfboard that is a long way off the above guidelines, shop around and seek a second and third opinion.

Surfboard anatomy

Below are the basics of a surfboard’s anatomy and it applies to both long and short boards. This is as about as much as you need to know as a beginner.

Go to the module on Setting Up The Basics to find out how to set up all the equipment for your board including putting on wax, attaching a leash, putting in and taking out removable fins.

Setting up the basics

The Essentials Checklist

The equipment that you will need before you head off for your first surf… & how to set it all up

Optional Extras

The need for a wetsuit depends on the temperature of the water where you are surfing. Wearing a swimsuit underneath makes getting changed in and out of your wetsuit in the carpark a lot easier.

For some female surfers, they can get a bit of a bruise on their hip bones from lying on their board (unless you use a soft top or foam board). But this is usually only if you are surfing back to back days on end. Wetsuits offer a little extra padding.

The foam on the deck of soft tops and foam boards can sometimes be a little irritating on bare skin. The only solution is to cover your skin.

There a few variations of surf wax available and, basically any wax will do. Don’t worry if you don’t have the correct temperature match.

The Leash

Always check that the leash you are using is in good order. Your leash is vital. It attaches to your back ankle and is what keeps your board in arms reach. It is a hassle having to swim in for your surfboard if your leash breaks and it is a hazard for others in the water. An old leash may have lost it’s strength and integrity. If the fabric has frayed a lot it might be time for an upgrade. They cost around NZ$70 and is money well spent.

A longboard requires a long leash. There are some whopping long 12ft leashes out there, which are usually reserved for SUPs. Your leash should equal the length (or be slightly longer) than your board. When you are surfing it is important to consider other people in the water and the ‘knock out’ radius a longer leash has when letting go of you board.

The thickness of the leash cord is something to consider too. Beginners put their leash to good use (think about how many times you fall off compared to an accomplished surfer) and benefit from a thicker leash. Steer clear of what is referred to as competition leashes as they are thinner and short.

Every surfboard has a leash plug and the leash string needs to be attached securely to the plug. The leash string must be set to the correct length once threaded through the plug. Watch the video demonstration (below) to see this vital step.

The leash string attached to the leash plug

A leash attached correctly and ready to go. Note the leash string is set to a length that has the rail saver in the correct spot.

The following video shows you everything you need to know about setting up all your surf equipment

Lying on Your Board

Good surfing begins with catching lots of waves. This requires good paddling. Good paddling begins with correct body positioning on your surfboard. Invest time getting this critical foundation mastered.

Suggested Time: 10 mins practicing in the water followed by regular reviewing during your surf sessions.

These are simple, yet highly important instructions.

How to lie correctly on your board

-Position your body in a straight line down the middle of your board
– Keep your feet and legs together
– Allow space for an imaginary soccer ball under your chest. This will mean your shoulders, chin and chest will now be floating. ALWAYS maintain this position
– With the soccer ball under your chest, the nose of your surfboard needs to be sitting about 5cm out of the water.
– If the nose of your board is sinking, slide back slightly.
– If the nose of your board is aiming skyward, slide forward.
– Your feet may or may not hang over the end of your board, this will depend on how long your board is

body is too far forward, low shoulders, legs apart, surfboard nose is sinking
body is too far back, legs are apart, surfboard nose is too high
surfboard is sitting well in the water, but shoulders are low and rolled forward
surfboard nose is 5cm out of the water, chest is elevated, shoulders are up and back is slightly arched

This short clip shows a surfer starting too far back, then she goes too far forward, then she finally finds her magic spot.

Tips & Trouble Shooting

After your first surf, you will probably have worked out the best paddle position on your board. You can use a waterproof marker pen, or put a sticker on the spot your chest should lie so that you’re not having to think this through/reshuffle your body each time you’re jumping onto your board out in the water. You won’t need it there for long.

A good way to test if you’re automatically lying in the correct place is to take your hands off the rails while lying on your board. If you are stable and don’t tilt from side to side then you’ve found that magic spot and you are ready to move onto building a smooth, efficient paddling style.

If you are having repeated trouble finding your balance, review the board you are riding. Is it long/heavy enough for you? This will quickly eliminate the problem.

If your board is suitable and you’re still having trouble – move on to the paddling module. Being stationary on a surfboard in water can be a little tricky and you might find that once you begin moving, your balance will come.

Common Errors to Avoid

-Spreading your legs and feet apart for balance
– Positioning your body too far back or too far forward on your board
– Low hunched shoulders
– Chest in contact with your surfboard


This module isolates the skill of paddling and requires you to have mastered lying on your board correctly.

Suggested Practice Time: 20 mins concentrated practice + ongoing refinement each surf

A proper paddling technique is one of the most crucial elements to master as a surfer. Functional paddling propels you through the water with maximum speed and minimal energy, which means longer surfs, more waves and quicker progress.

With paddling your aim is to have your surfboard gliding along the surface of the water with minimal drag and maximum efficiency. This applies to both long and short boards, and the technique is exactly the same for both.

Good paddling begins with your body position. The two skills are intricately linked and you will notice that a lot of the prompts match what is enforced in the previous module.

Once you’re in the correct paddling position, apply the following:


-Your paddle stroke should be long and close to your rails
– Extend your arms well out towards the nose of your board
– The palm of your hands face the water
– Keep your elbows slightly lifted during your paddle stroke
– Your arms should exit the water far behind you
– Your forearms should be vertical under water to ensure you are pulling yourself through maximum amounts of water


-Keep the rest of your body still, it is your arms job only to do the paddling.
– Draw in your abdomen to help stabilise your torso. If you rock your body from side to side, your board will do the same.
– Remember the imaginary soccer ball under your chin: keep your chest elevated, you eyes and gaze up, looking beyond the nose of your board.
– Once your have your back arched and your shoulders and chest elevated, check that the nose of your board is sitting about 5cm above the surface.
– Keep your feet together

Here is an example of good paddling. The same technique and same principles apply to both a long board and short board.

Common mistakes

An inefficient paddle style uses a lot of energy and creates drag. It makes catching waves almost impossible, leading to great frustration and disappointment. There are many variables to bad paddling, but a classic bad paddle technique looks the same on a long board and a short board. It is rounded shoulders and short, wide paddle strokes, combined with a surfboard nose veering skyward, body weight shifting from side to side and wide spread legs.

Making the most of white water

The white water is unofficially reserved for you to practice catching and riding wave, after wave, after wave.

It is the safest, most forgiving playground that you will come across in your surfing ventures. Embrace it and don’t pressure yourself to advance beyond it. The white water offers countless hours of confidence building, learning, freedom and fun.

Beyond the white water is a realm of rules and surfing etiquette which, while learning you don’t really want to have to worry about. The more time you spend in the white water refining your skills, the better. When popping up to your feet is a well established reflex, you will feel relatively comfortable advancing out into the green waves and taking in the protocol will be easier as your focus will have shifted from establishing the basics.

The protocol to follow in the white water is to be aware of swimmers, kids on boogie boards and other surfers around you. Think about the radius your surfboard covers before your leash stops it. You need a lot of space. It’s always a good idea to find your own little spot on the beach somewhere. It is your job to stay out of the way of others, not the opposite.

In some conditions the white water will offer you a nice long ride into the beach. Often a lower tide will have the waves breaking further out meaning the white water will have longer to travel to the shore. These longer white water waves are the best to learn on. And if they are moving with some good speed, even better. Make sure you position yourself about 5 meters from the impact zone (where the wave breaks) to allow for the initial turbulence to pass.

Not all white water waves are the same. It is very hard to catch and stay on tiny, slow moving white water ripples. It’s much like trying to ride a bike without really moving. Speed is your friend, so be selective and go for the ones with some push.

The Module Catching White Water breaks down paddling into and catching white water waves, step by step.


Don’t feel embarrassed to be a learner in the white water, do the complete opposite and own it!

Accomplished surfers have all spent their time there and are super supportive towards learners. They will also appreciate you respecting and staying within your limits.

As you fall and get washed around, have a laugh, enjoy the turmoil and countless wipeouts and don’t take it too seriously. Every failed attempt to catch waves or stand up develops your body’s reflexes of what does and doesn’t work.

You will stand a lot while waiting for waves. This is naturally what most learners do and it makes sense. It is much easier to quickly whip your board around into position from standing, rather than from a paddling position. White water is usually pretty continuous, and without knowing how to duck dive, a common and good approach is to jump yourself and your board up over white water. Keeping your board perpendicular to the beach eliminates the chance of you and your board colliding.

How to keep your board safely next to you

When the conditions feel right and as you become more comfortable on your surfboard, you will find yourself doing more paddling rather than walking. Jumping off and on your board to get over white water is fine, but you can try a technique called gliding over a wave which means you stay on your board. Go to our module Getting Out the Back on a Longboard and we will show you how.

I sometimes wish that I could go back to those days. Looking back I was so focused on improving that I don’t think I really fully embraced my time in the white water. As you improve, you do become fussier. You wait for the best tide, or for the wind to turn. Learning days in the white water are all about taking whatever is on offer and not wishing for anything better.

Popping up

Popping up to your feet is a simple exercise that you can practice anywhere. Burying your fins in the sand and practising on your actual board is a good idea so that you are getting instant feedback of your foot placement and body positioning on your board.

Suggested time frame: 5 – 10 minutes practise before you head out + as often as you like at home

This popping up technique is the most efficient method. It is able to be transferred to any type of surfboard, long, foam or short and so is the most ideal to learn.

An alternative method (that is specific to long and foam boards only) can be found in the Alternative Pop Up Module

When you see somebody pop up on a shortboard, their back foot is right at the tail above the fins. It is important to note that when you take off on a longboard, you need body weight towards the nose. Weight towards the tail on a longboard is like having breaks on. You simply loose speed and fall off.

Here at the basic steps to popping up broken down

-Lie down in your paddling position
– Keep your eyes looking to where you want to go
– Place your hands below your shoulders
– Push your hands onto the deck and straighten your arms this creates a big space for your front foot to come and fill
– Glide here for a second to establish balance
– Jump your feet through and stay low
– Aim to land with your feet about hip width apart
– Front foot: between your hands
– Back foot: at 45 degrees
– Release your hands and outstretch your arms
– Keep your your upper body straight, your knees bent and look to where you want to go

With practise you will begin to discover whether you naturally place your left (natural footer) or right foot (goofy footer) forward when you stand up. 

This short clip demonstrates the pop up. Notice that it is exactly the same technique on both a long board and short board.

Popping up in the water requires you to do all the above…on a moving surfboard! Prepare for a laugh…This is where wipe outs can be ultra epic and hilarious.

Avoid the common mistakes

The most important thing is to make sure you have caught the wave and you’re moving fast before popping up, so paddle hard. Think riding a bike without momentum. The same applies with standing up on a surfboard, you need to be moving with speed.

You will quickly learn to go for the white water waves that are moving at a good speed and that will offer you a long ride. If you keep having trouble selecting the right waves, go to the Catching White Water module and the Making The Most of White Water module.

Dont grab your rails when preparing to pop up, keep your hands flat on the deck

Always keep your eyes looking in the direction you want to head. If you are looking down at your feet, this is the direction that you will end up going

When you stand up keep your knees bent and your upper body straight and centred over your board and your eyes facing where you want to go

Once you’ve caught the wave, glide in the push up position for no more than a couple of seconds before popping up

Avoid bringing your knees onto your board. It is a bad habit and a hard one to break. If you find you are repeatedly bringing your knees onto the board, try the alternate taking off method

Your standing position should cover approximately the front 2/3’s of your long board with weight in your front foot (think front foot = accelerator)

Established surfers sometimes glide for just a split second in push up position to establish their flow with the wave before popping up. You can do the same in white water while travelling forward with the wave (as opposed to down the wave)