Stepping into the ocean means entering a powerful and unpredictable environment. Many surfers join the sport for the thrill of riding waves and the sense of freedom it brings, but surfing comes with its share of hazards. That’s why it’s so important to understand the ocean’s dynamics, including tides, currents, and wave strength.

From sudden weather changes to marine life encounters to the physical requirements of surfing, the risks and challenges demand preparation. These water safety tips every surfer should know will help you stay safe, feel confident, and fully enjoy your time in the surf.

Know Your Limits

One of the most crucial aspects of water safety is understanding and respecting your limits. Acknowledge your skill level and avoid overestimating your abilities, especially in unfamiliar or challenging conditions.

For example, if you are a beginner, start out by practicing in small waves (ankle to knee high) and gradually advance to medium-sized waves (roughly knee to waist high). Overconfidence can put you in hazardous situations that can be easily avoided with good judgment. A solid rule of thumb is: if the ocean looks “angry”, especially in a winter swell with large waves, it’s best to stay out of the water that day. Another tried and true method is to trust your intuition. If the conditions don’t feel right and you have any doubt about your abilities and fitness level to stay out of trouble, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Check Weather and Ocean Conditions

Before heading out, always check the weather and ocean conditions. Be aware of the tide schedules, swell height, and look for potential rip currents (powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore). Likewise, check for the possibility of severe weather changes, as these can drastically alter wave conditions, making them more dangerous.

Reliable weather apps, surf forecasting websites, and local knowledge (ask your local surf shop) can help you make informed decisions about when and where to surf. We highly recommend for forecast information.

Use the Proper Equipment

Selecting the appropriate equipment for your skill level and the conditions is vital for ensuring safety. Beginner surfers and even advanced surfers heading into crowded lineups greatly benefit from using soft-top surfboards, as they provide better stability and are safer in collisions due to their softer construction. No matter which surfboard you have, keep it in good condition and always securely attach your leash.

Next, wear a wetsuit appropriate for the water temperature. Colder waters require thicker suits to prevent hypothermia. You will also want to consider a hood, booties and gloves in colder water.

Understand Rip Currents

As mentioned above, rip currents are powerful, fast-moving channels of water that can pull you away from shore. It is crucial to recognize the signs of rip currents before even heading out into the water. According to NOAA, the visual signs of a rip current are:

  • A narrow gap of darker, seemingly calmer water flanked by areas of breaking waves and whitewater.
  • A channel of churning/choppy water that is distinct from surrounding water
  • A difference in water color, such as an area of muddy-appearing water (which occurs from sediment and sand being carried away from the beach).
  • A consistent area of foam or seaweed being carried through the surf.

If you get caught in a rip current, remain calm and avoid swimming directly back to shore against the force of the rip. Don’t fight the rip, get away from it. Instead, swim parallel to the shoreline to break free from the rip current, then swim back in. For those surfing on the West and East Coasts of the US, a good general rule when caught in a rip is to swim North or South up or down the beach first to get away from the rip’s force, then when free of it, swim to shore.

Surf With a Buddy

Surfing with a friend is always a good idea, in all conditions. In case of an emergency, having someone nearby who can assist or call for help is invaluable. Even experienced surfers should surf in groups. At the very least, be sure to inform someone onshore that you’re planning to head out and your expected return time. If you cannot avoid surfing by yourself, we highly recommend that all non-expert surfers surf within line of sight to an actively staffed lifeguard tower.

Prioritizing water safety is essential for enjoying the sport of surfing while protecting yourself and others. By following these water safety tips every surfer should know, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with this awesome sport.

June 07, 2024 — Brent Wellington

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.