Want to learn to surf? Here’s our ultimate guide for beginners | Bells Beach Backpackers

So you’ve followed the call of the ocean all the way to Torquay to learn how to ride the fabled waves of the Aussie Surf Coast. Maybe you’ve got visions of being the next Stephanie Gilmore or Kelly Slater but in reality, you can’t tell one end of the surfboard from the other.

If you have no idea where to actually start when it comes to learning to surf, gather around friends. From one beginner to another, we’re going to share all the best resources that are oh so helpful, from where to get a board to why lessons are the bees knees.


Torquay isn’t just the chilled out beach town of your dreams, it’s also a beginner surfers’ playground. When all the pros head off to Bells Beach, us newbies are laughing because we’ve got Cosy Corner on the front beach and Torquay Surf Beach all to ourselves to muck around in! If the sun is shining, you’re going to have the best day. If it’s 10 degrees and the grey clouds are rolling in, well that’s what wetsuits are for and you’ll still have an absolutely glorious time.


Take a lesson or two


It may be tempting to run head first into the ocean all guns blazing and wetsuit barely zipped, but cool your jets, Mick Fanning. The best place to start your surfing adventures is with a lesson. Not just reserved for grommets (those little tackers you see cruising along on top of the tiniest waves), surfing lessons are the ideal way to get your technique right from day one.

Still the best surfing lesson of all time.


If you can fit in a couple of two hour lessons, you’ll be perfectly primed to hit the waves on your own. You’ll learn how to choose a ripper wave, how to actually catch it, the right technique for popping up and where the heck you’re actually meant to stand on your board.


Over the course of the lesson, I can guarantee you will take some speccy' wipeouts. You’ll paddle so hard it hurts to lift your beer at the pub tonight, your toes will go numb from the arctic waters and on the flipside you’ll also sweat so much you’ll finally understand why the sea is salty. But, it will all be worth it when you ride your first wave all the way into the shore.


Check out Torquay Surf Academy or Go Ride A Wave for group lessons. They cost around $60-75 and usually include wetsuit and soft board hire. Bargain.

Get the right gear


You’ll definitely need a wetsuit in Torquay. It might seem all lovely and toasty in the sunshine, but you better believe that water will freeze your nips off. The first time I surfed I had just watched the movie Blue Crush and desperately wanted to be Kate Bosworth, carving up the waves in an itsy bitsy bikini. Less than five minutes in the icy waters of New Zealand left me feeling pretty sorry for myself and suffice to say I did not learn to surf that day. Get yourself a full length 3:2 steamer (and some booties if you’re a bit of a scaredy cat!) and you won’t even feel the cold, it’s like magic.


When it comes to your board, don’t be intimidated by the behemoth size of the foam ones at the rental shop. The bigger your board, the better it floats and the easier it is to get up on.

While you might be tempted to throw down some cash on a snazzy new board and steamer, we recommend waiting until you’ve figured out if this wave riding thing is for you. If the lesson goes well, you can keep hiring the board and wetsuit until you’re ready to commit to your own setup.


Learn to read the surf report


There’s nothing worse than spending half an hour loading up your boards, doing your best contortionist impersonation to wriggle into your wetty and hightailing it to the beach only to discover gorgeous glass-like water with absolutely zero surfable waves.


Once you understand how to decipher the surf report, you’ll be able to dazzle your fellow beginners with your fortune telling skills and get the perfect waves every time you head out, which means you will learn much quicker!


On sites like Swellnet and MagicSeaweed you can see the surf rating for the day (bear in mind if it’s a five star pearler the water will be busier than Bourke St!) You’ll also see the size of the waves, the direction of the wind and times of the tides. You can even check out a live webcam view of the waves, so you can judge for yourself if it's worth the trip.


Ideal conditions for beginners are offshore winds (blowing off the land) and small but long peeling waves. Beginners only need the tiniest waves to have some fun, 1-2 feet is absolutely perfect, 3 if you've got the guts! Everything else you will learn to understand with time, just keep reading the reports and getting out there to check it out for yourself.


Watch YouTube videos


Can’t remember what your instructor taught you about your stance? There’s a video for that. In fact, you can find videos that will tell you just about everything you need to know when it comes to surfing, right down to wave etiquette (never drop in on someone else’s wave - that’s the ultimate surfing crime) and surf lingo (you already know grommet, but did you know that ‘man in a grey suit’ is slang for a shark?)

Brush up on your skills between surf sessions with a few online lessons.


Join surf groups on social media


If you want to make some surfing buddies, it’s time to get social. Facebook has a tonne of groups where you can chat with like minded people, pick up a second hand board, ask all your niggling questions and get some tips on the local area. And, trust us when we say you should always listen to the wisdom of the old blokes who’ve been surfing the same break for years!


If you post in the Torquay Surfing Buddies group that you’re hitting the beach, you’re bound to find someone to come along for a surf with you. Don’t be shy - surfers are the friendliest bunch of people you’ll ever come across.


Have a ‘no fear’ attitude


There’s not much more to say here. We all start out as beginners so just get in that water and have a crack!


Good luck learning to surf and don’t forget to zinc your nose! If you’re looking for somewhere to stay while you’re learning to surf in Torquay, stay at Bells Beach Backpackers from just $30 a night.


Written by Rachel Wagner. Bells Beach Backpackers Content Writer. CONNECT WITH US: @bellsbeachbackpackers

Rachel Wagner is a freelance producer who writes about the good things in life - travel, culture, creativity and how to tread lightly on our Earth along the way.


She previously flexed her creative muscles as a Podcast Producer for the Mamamia Women’s Network before she gave up the desk life to travel the world. Over the past three years Rachel has found her home in Melbourne, Scotland, England, Mount Buller and the Bellarine Peninsula. And now? Torquay baby! 


Her top travel tip is not to be afraid of exploring a new place alone. You’ll be amazed at how many locals and other travellers you meet along the way, plus you’ll never have to say no to a spur of the moment adventure.


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