Surfing and bodyboarding are two of the most fun water sports, but they can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s important to have a good understanding of surf safety and surf etiquette before getting in the water. If you’re new to surfing, there are a few things to remember to help make your surfing experience as safe and pleasurable as possible.
- Be a strong swimmer: so you feel confident in the water.
- Book a lesson: with a qualified instructor at a Surf School so you can learn the basics in a safe environment.
- Check the weather: and tides before you paddle out, and look out for wind changes and hazards in the water.
- Sun protection: should be used at all times in the summer.
- Keep warm: with the right thickness of wetsuit, especially in cold weather to lower your risk of hypothermia.
- Check your equipment: to make sure everything’s in order before you go out and that the leash is attached.
- Tell a friend: that you’ve gone surfing (or bodyboarding) and how long you’ll be gone for.
- Always protect your head: with your arms when you ‘wipeout’.
- Be aware of other surfers: and never let go of your board unless you’re sure there’s no one behind you.
- Look out for warning flags: as they’re there to keep you safe. Avoid the beach sectioned off with red/yellow flags which are designated for swimmers. And a red flag indicates that conditions are too dangerous, so don’t enter the water.
- Emergency help: is on hand if you see another surfer in difficulty in the water. Call 999 and ask for the Coast Guard. Even experienced surfers sometimes need help.
- Know First Aid: so you can help others if the worst should happen.
There’s some important kit too which can help you stay safe in the water:
- A rash vest and sun lotion to protect your skin against harmful UV rays. Most rash vests offer 50+ UPF sun protection, so they’re also ideal for kids on the beach. They help prevent chafing too
- A wetsuit (thick enough to keep you warm)
- Board wax which stops you from slipping
- A helmet to protect your head near sharp coral
- Neoprene boots to protect feet from sharp rocks and coral
- Earplugs to protect your ears from cold water
What is a rip current?
One thing you must watch out for when surfing are rip currents. A rip is a strong and narrow current of water which moves directly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of breaking waves like a river running out to sea. It is strongest and fastest nearest the surface of the water.
Surfers who are caught in a rip current and haven't experienced one before may panic, and could exhaust themselves by trying to swim directly against the flow of water. Rip currents are the main cause of rescues by lifeguards at beaches, so if you are unlucky enough to get caught up in one remember to stay calm, and do not swim against the current. Swim parallel to the beach until you feel free of the pull, then swim to shore using the waves as an extra push by bodyboarding in. If you have trouble breaking free, just tread water as the rip will only take you to the end of the break zone.
What is Surfing Etiquette?
This is a set of ‘unwritten rules’ which are based around being considerate to others, and which every surfer should follow.
- Observe right of way: The classic rule is one surfer per wave. Cutting in front of other surfers who are up and riding is a quick way of getting yourself in trouble with other surfers.
- Don’t hog the waves: Take turns and don’t ‘push-in’. Paddling round someone to get into the inside position on a wave is also a big no-no.
- Do apologise: If you crash into someone or breach the etiquette rules. We all make mistakes, but it’s how you deal with it that counts. And give respect to local surfers.
Choose the right surf spot: Try not to pick a spot that is out of your ability range as you’ll get in the way of other surfers, or become a potential hazard. And always try and help another surfer in trouble. Surfing can be dangerous, so look after each other.