The 5 Hardest Parts Of Surfing (Surf Expert Explains)

While the pros make it seem very easy, surfing is actually one of the hardest sports out there. Of course, some are more talented than others, but everyone will experience wipeouts. Does that mean that standing on your board is the hardest part of surfing?

Surfing is a difficult sport. Although it varies from person to person, some of the hardest parts of surfing are reading the ocean. Besides the ever-changing ocean, surfing requires strength, balance, and endurance. It is also important not to be afraid of the waves and the ocean.

Knowing the hard parts of a sport can help you to stay motivated. It’s always nice to see that you’re not the only one struggling with a certain aspect. So keep on reading to find out the hardest parts of surfing.

What is The Hardest Part of Surfing?

Below I will cover several points that most surfers find most difficult. If you want to become a good surfer, you will have to master all these aspects of surfing.

1. Reading the ocean

A surfer needs to have a good understanding of the ocean. This includes much more than just the waves!


Most swimmers who drown do so because of a riptide. A riptide is a current which goes away from the beach into the ocean.

While this can be dangerous for some, an experienced surfer gladly uses the riptide to their advantage.

It’s a fast and easy way to get behind the waves. Just make sure that you never paddle or swim against the current.

Rocks, reefs, or sandbars:

The ocean floor has a significant impact on the ocean’s surface. Shallow parts will cause a wave to break or speed up the breaking process.

Therefore an experienced surfer will have an understanding of the ocean floor by looking at the way the waves break.

The same goes the other way around. While studying the ocean floor, they’ll better understand how the waves will break when a swell is coming.

Knowing where the shallow parts (sand, rock, or reef) are will allow you to paddle around them.

It’s also very important so that you’re aware of the hazards.


No wave is the same. It’s important to know when and where to paddle. Which wave will close out (completely break at once, not surfable), and which wave will give you a fantastic ride.

  1. First, you need to know where to position yourself to catch a wave. Sometimes this is easy to find due to the other surfers in the water (a lineup).

    Still, when you are by yourself, you'll need to be able to figure out what the best location is to catch a wave.

  2. After you've figured out where to wait for the waves, you'll need to know when to start paddling for the waves. This has to do with the height of the wave.

    For a massive set, you might have to first paddle further onto the ocean, but for a small set, you might have to paddle closer to the beach, reef, or rocks.

  3. When you've managed to get into the wave, it's important that you know if it's a left- or right-hander.

    While some waves (A-frames) can be surfed in both directions, other waves can only be surfed in one direction.

  4. Once you are surfing the wave down the line (away from the breakpoint), you'll need to understand how the wave will continue.

    This means that you know when to speed up if there is a fast section ahead of you or when to surf the high-line so that you can get barrelled.

    And eventually, you might be better off steering over the wave to make it easier to paddle back out. However, this is different for each spot and wave.

All of the above combined will help you navigate through the currents, around the rocks, and into the lineup so that you can then surf a fantastic wave.

Since every spot is different, and each swell direction and height have a different effect on the spot/waves, surfing requires you to read the ocean around you constantly.

Not one wave is the same, so it’s up to you to know which one is going to deliver that amazing ride!

2. Navigating the lineup

Due to the sport’s increasing popularity, the surf spots are getting more crowded.

Unfortunately, this can lead to dangerous situations if the people in the lineup (the area where the surfers wait for a wave) don’t know how to behave.

Surfing comes with a specific set of surf etiquettes. These are meant to keep the lineup safe and allow everyone to surf waves.

  • While the surf etiquettes are something, every surfer should learn, understanding the dynamics in the lineup and how to position yourself to catch a wave can be pretty difficult.
  • Always respect the right of way. When someone is surfing the wave, it’s theirs.
  • Respect priority; someone who has been waiting the longest amount of time has priority on the next wave.
  • Don’t snake. Snaking means you paddle towards the inside of the wave while someone else is already paddling to surf the wave. This means you don’t respect the right of way rule.
  • Always look at the wave to determine if you can surf it. If someone else is on there but won’t make it past the next section, go for it! If you’re on the shoulder, but nobody is paddling for the wave, go for it!
  • When paddling back to the lineup, make sure to paddle in such a way that you’re not hindering people from surfing waves.
  • Share waves. There are plenty of them.

These are a few basic things any surfer should know before paddling towards the lineup.

However, not every lineup is the same, and the busier they get, the harder it becomes.

Some lineups have a big locals priority mentality, whereas other lineups are full of beginners and hardly have any rules.

So make sure that you recognize what kind of lineup you’re paddling towards.

3. Reading the forecast

Although you can always wing it and just go to the beach to check out the surf, understanding how to read surf forecasts can help you find the perfect conditions.

Since every spot requires different conditions, it helps to know the area you will be surfing.

You’ll need to understand wind maps, swell maps, tide charts, and weather maps.

Wind and weather maps will help you find out if there won’t be too much wind or wind from the wrong direction.

It’ll also help you figure out if you can still surf in the morning, before the thunderstorm that is supposed to come in the afternoon.

Swell maps are important to see if there will be any waves and how strong and high they’ll be.

A swell map talks about the height of the swell, the direction of the swell, and the swell period.

The size and the period explain something about the power and height of the waves. The direction will help you figure out which spot will work best.

Some spots only work with certain swell directions, so it’s essential to understand which spot needs which swell direction.

Tide charts are straightforward to read, and they’ll tell you when it’s low- or high tide.

First, however, you’ll need to know the spot or do some research to determine which tide the spot works the best.

4. The basics

Learning how to surf is not easy. You’ll need to learn the three points above and the techniques necessary to surf a wave.

While the basics are the foundation of all your surf techniques, they must be well performed.

A few of the difficulties when learning the basics are:


Paddling requires a certain balance and a lot of muscles that people usually don’t tend to use too much. Becoming a good paddler requires lots of practice.

When combined, when reading the waves, a good surfer can accelerate at the right moment to catch the wave.


Surf instructor with students

While all the basics are essential for further progress, a good and fast push-up makes the difference between a wipeout and a great surf.

Due to the difficulty of a push-up, soft-tops have been invented. Soft-tops allow more mistakes during the push-up. Therefore it’s an excellent way to learn.

Once a surfer transfers from a soft-top to a hardtop surfboard, the learning progress of a push-up starts again.

A few of the hardest parts of a push-up are:

  • When a surfer has too much pressure on either one of their arms, the board will start turning while performing the push-up. It’s essential to have the same pressure on the left as the right side.
  • When someone does a push-up too slow, late, or early, a surfer might end up nose-diving or losing the wave.
  • Many surfers tend to push-up to their knees rather than their feet. While this can help initially, this technique will hinder your surfing abilities further down the road, and you’ll have to re-learn the correct technique.


The first steps in learning how to turn can be very difficult.

It requires you to shift your weight correctly from one foot to the other and rotate your upper body in the desired direction.

Doing these things while keeping your balance and speed will cost you many hours of practice.

The surfer will gain speed with the turn when a bottom turn is well performed. However, when the turn is poorly done, the surfer will lose its balance or speed and won’t be able to continue surfing the wave.

Speed control:

Once a surfer can surf down the line (away from the breakpoint) and make turns, the final part of the basics is speed control. 

While slowing down can be done by shifting more weight to the back leg or sticking one or two hands into the wave, gaining speed is more tricky.

Gaining speed is done by steering up and down the wave (also called pumping). It’s important that the pumping is done with a certain rhythm and flow.

When going down, the surfer will need to compress by bending the knees, and when going up, the surfer will have to decompress by stretching the legs.

Pumping is the first maneuver that requires flow and is often the first maneuver that combines multiple techniques.

Besides steering and maintaining flow, it also requires understanding the wave and where to be on the wave to gain the most speed.

Give yourself time to learn this maneuver because it is not easy.

(Click here to find out if surfing lessons are worth it)

5. Becoming stylish in any type of wave

Although I listed this as the last most challenging part of surfing, it might be the hardest because this is the difference between a surfer and a pro surfer.

To become stylish means that you excel in the points above and more.

You’ll need to really have mastered the techniques so much that you can focus on how you make them look better.

A good surfer can perform complicated techniques while making them seem very easy.

You also need to really understand the ocean and the waves.

To be stylish means knowing what the wave will do and how you can get the most out of it. The timing of the tricks and maneuvers is essential.


Becoming good at surfing requires you to master many different aspects. This is what makes surfing such a difficult sport.

While everyone has different things they find hard about surfing, most surfers will agree that understanding the ocean, the lineup, and the basics are some of the hardest parts of surfing.

Besides all the techniques, maneuvers, tricks, and surroundings, not being able to surf when there is a fantastic swell might be the most annoying and hardest part of surfing.

But that again depends on who you ask. So, I’d recommend you to go surf and find out for yourself what it is that you find the hardest about surfing.

Marcus Campbell

Surfing is the biggest passion in my life. Transferring my knowledge about surfing to others is what I love doing most! I do this through my own surf school and through my articles on this website. This is how I hope to get everyone excited about this amazing sport!
January 27, 2022
Published: January 27, 2022