Q: Can you teach yourself to surf?
A: Yes. I like to think you can teach yourself to do just about anything. I actually tried hard to think of things you can't teach yourself just to counter my point, but the only thing I came up with is maybe flying to outer space. I think you might need some people to help teach you to do that. I'm sure there are other things too...
Is it your best option? To me, it depends on your experience with the ocean and your knowledge of the surfing world. Are you brand new or have you been around, kind of on the sidelines?
The truth is, there are probably a million intricacies about surfing and surf culture that are hard to pick up on after a few years, let alone on your first session. The ocean isn't the only element that can be unpredictable and hard to read. Quality teachers and camps can be the right option, especially if you have little knowledge of the ocean and need some guidance. Plus, sometimes it's nice to learn with other people who are on the same page, as opposed to a crowd of lifelong surfers who can spot a beginner pulling into the parking lot.
I remember when I was about eleven years old. I had caught what I claimed was "the best wave possibly ever!" at my Junior Lifeguards Camp one morning in early July. I came home, insisting my dad take me to the beach right then so I could show him my *mad skills*. He took me to Doheny, a gentler, beginner friendly spot in Orange County at around 6 p.m. I paddled straight out and caught the first wave that came to me. A tiny little brown and green one. The problem was, someone else was already on it and he was pissed I decided to join him. The man surfed past me and shouted back, "This one's mine, go get your own!".
The idea that someone could claim a wave was a whole new concept to me and, although I'd never say anyone can call a wave their own, I understand now that this principle tends to make riding waves safer and often more enjoyable for all surfers (although the value of an old fashioned party wave is not to be underestimated). When I came in, my dad explained to me how the surfer closest to the peak, or whitewater, has the right of way and after that humbling experience, I never forgot (not that I haven't dropped in on anyone since. Sometimes, I think people deserve it. See? There are so many intricacies).
It's probably better to learn the rules from someone in the know than learn the hard way and embarrass yourself at a spot you might like to frequent in the future. If you don't want to hire an instructor, go with someone knowledgeable who can show you what to do to have a good time and surf respectfully. You'll be so thankful for this knowledge in the long run and will hopefully pass it on to someone else some day.
Personally, I'd probably attempt to teach myself if I were to learn today. Although, I did try that with snowboarding and it didn't go so well. If you choose this option, spend a lot of time observing the waves and the lineup before paddling out. Drive around to many spots. Check them all out. Watch the waves. Consider surfing near a lifeguard and definitely away from other surfers. The picture above demonstrates some beginners getting a little too close.
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