Do I need to be a strong swimmer, or be able to swim at all, to learn to surf?

Swimming ability and learning to surf

Do I need to be a strong swimmer, or be able to swim at all, to learn to surf?

Do I need to be a strong swimmer, or even be able to swim, to learn to surf?

Another very common question that we get asked is ‘Do I need to be a strong swimmer, or even be able to swim, to learn to surf?’.

Walkin On Water Beach Practice Surf TechniqueQuite often, when people are interested and keen to try surfing and are wanting to book a lesson so they can feel the excitement and fun of riding waves, a big issue holding them back is their lack of swimming ability or fear of not being able to swim well enough to do it, possibly not being able to swim at all.

The great news for these people is that the answer is NO.

Or it should be no, if they are getting lessons at a professional, experienced surf school with qualified and high quality instructors.

We teach our Learn to Surf Lessons in very shallow water. Generally our instructors are in water no deeper than waist deep. All our surfers can stand and touch the ground so if they fall off their board, all they need to do is to put their feet on the sand and stand up.

We have taught many people who are getting in an ocean, a large body of water and experiencing being in waves for their very first time. And then, for many of these also, they have very limited swimming skills or some cannot swim at all. So their anxiety and fear can be quite high. Our job is not only to give them an amazing time, allow them the chance to surf and catch waves but to ensure that they stay safe and feel safe and unthreatened the whole lesson.

Our comprehensive lesson plans and stringent safety protocols have been set up and are in place to ensure that everyone who does lessons with us feels this safety and security during the entirety of the lesson. We believe that surfing and being in the ocean is such a powerful thing and provides so many benefits to everyone, we want to provide this opportunity to everyone so they can experience the beauty, the thrills and the excitement of being in the ocean and surfing waves.

What is important though is that people are comfortable in the water.

So, if you have always wanted to try surfing but have been afraid of doing it because you are not able to swim very well or cannot swim at all, then take comfort in the fact that you can still do this safely and many many people before you have learnt to surf and done lessons without having these skills or ocean experience either.

They have been able to enjoy the amazing sensation of being in the waves, catching and surfing them and feeling the fantastic enjoyment of spending time in the aquatic environment. Please though ensure that you are only doing this and learning with a professional, experienced surf operation who uses experienced qualified surf instructors. If you are going out to try by yourself or with someone who maybe has done it before then this absolutely can be a huge danger and risk threatening your safety and others.

As I get better, can a surfer still have poor or no swimming skills?

As skills develop, techniques improve and a surfer becomes competent in the shallows on the broken waves and small green waves then the next step is to begin to move out into deeper waters and start catching the bigger waves, moving towards the ‘line up’ out the back.

Green wave surfing at Greenmount Beach with Walkin On Water Surf SchoolAs a surfer does begin to surf in the deeper waters, starts catching the bigger, unbroken waves and moves out of the shallow areas so they cannot stand and are further away from the shoreline, then absolutely surfers need to be able to swim and be competent swimming in the ocean with waves. This is a critical safety aspect and swimming ability is a must. The bigger the waves, the stronger the swell, the greater the currents, then the greater the competence, ability and swimming strength a surfer needs to have.

Swimming in the ocean is very different to swimming in a pool or a body of water that does not move. It is important if someone decides that they want to continue with their surfing, they must work on not only their surfing skills but also their swimming skills, surf swimming competence, surf awareness, understanding of the ocean and surf, and understanding of the environment to ensure they maximise their ongoing safety in the water.

While it is not generally a common occurrence, there is always the risk of a surfer being separated from their board or not being able to use their board as a floatation device to lie on and paddle. This may be due, most commonly, to their leash / legrope snapping or maybe due to other incidents like their board snapping and it no long floats so they can  no longer lie on it.

When this happens, a surfer must be able to then be able to swim to return to shore. If they do not have the skills, ability or swimming strength and fitness to do this, it can be catastrophic and pose a grave risk to their life. Often in the water when there are other surfers around, someone will offer to assist but this can definitely not be relied on and surfers need to ensure they have the level of skills and competence to match the conditions they are surfing in and this includes not only their surfing skills but also their safety and swimming skills. It also means that surfers must be realistic with their understanding and judgement of their level of surfing and abilities and not go out in conditions that are beyond them.


So while when you are learning and doing your first lessons with a professional high quality surf school, you do not need to be able to swim strongly or even be able to swim at all. However if you continue with your surfing and want to keep surfing, then this is a skill that is critical for your safety and well being


Book your Adult Surfing Program with Walkin on Water today!

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