Surfing FAQ

Posted by Norman Kelly on

What’s the difference between a regular pack and a surfing pack?

The main difference has to do with keeping your wet gear separate from dry gear. A surf pack will have a separate compartment for you to store your wetsuit and beach gear, keeping stuff like food, towels, and electronics safe from water damage.  

Do I need to be a strong swimmer? 

You will not need to swim in order to surf, but it is highly recommended that you feel confident in your ability to swim. When things go wrong, you’ll want to be able to pull yourself to safety. 

Should I start with a long or shortboard? 

For beginners, this doesn’t make much of a difference. Once you get into the scene, though, you’ll be able to find the board that suits your style. Longboarders tend to be more relaxed and take on a variety of wave sizes while shortboarding is more aggressive and requires a lot more technical skill to do correctly.  

How can I become good at surfing while landlocked? 

I am sure you don’t want to hear this, but the truth is, NOTHING. Surfing is an ocean sport that involves a complex set of ocean skills. However, there are things that you can do on shore that will help condition yourself. Get in great aerobic shape. Run and or swim often. Pool swimming won’t replace ocean swimming, but it is a great workout. Other board sports, like skateboarding or onshore longboarding, can help improve your balance, too. 

If you are in decent aerobic shape, have decent balance and an average degree of athleticism, you’ll then need to learn how to be at home in the ocean. Real surfing is not done in the waist deep white water at the water’s edge. When you are comfortable in the ocean, a few good surfing lessons will get you started.  

Will I need a wetsuit? 

That depends on where you want to surf. If temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need something to keep you warm. If you’re in a more tropical climate, you can go without a suit. That said, investing in a board shirt can help prevent some superficial injuries.  


How to Care for a Reef Wound

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Coral exoskeletons, as many reef surfers know, can be extremely sharp. While most reefs are deep underwater, far enough away for surfers to be in danger, the occasional rough wave could send somebody several yards below the surface. When this happens, you may scratch a foot, elbow, or other part of your body on coral. While the wound may look benign at first, it can quickly develop into a painful, infectious, and dangerous situation.

Coral cut symptoms differ from regular cuts. Typically, the skin will become inflamed, red, tender, swollen, and sometimes itchy. If the wound becomes infected, it may develop into a sore or ulcer with pus. If the redness around the wound expands past the localized area, the infection is spreading and requires immediate emergency medical attention. Similarly, red streaks moving upward from a wound will require a trip to the emergency room.

Preventing Infection from a Coral Cut

Coral cuts are common for reef surfers, but a small incision can quickly turn into a visit to the hospital. Warm, tropical waters may feel nice to the uninjured surfers, but this environment is full of microscopic organisms that can cause harm. If your skin is sliced open while underwater, these organisms may seize the opportunity to enter the body.

Additionally, because coral formations are both rigid and sharp, cutting yourself on a mass will leave behind a small amount of animal protein and calcareous material inside the wound. This means that an otherwise small, harmless-appearing cut can develop into a serious infection. Listen to a board-certified dermatologist about skin infections, they can become dangerous very quickly. Plus, some corals contain nematocysts, which is an organ some marine animals have that contains an ejectable threat, like a stinger. If you cut yourself on one of these corals, you will sustain a more significant injury.

Coral Cut Wound Checklist

  1. As soon as you are out of the water, scrub your wound with soap and water. It is important to do this as soon as possible after coming in contact with the coral. Before scrubbing, take care to remove all visible pieces of coral that may have become lodged in the wound.
  • If you have a First Aid kit on hand, use isopropyl alcohol to clean the wound further. This should kill some of the microscopic organism that may have entered the wound, and it can reduce the overall effect of any toxins a coral may have.
  • Pat the wound dry and cover with a gauze bandage. If the bleeding has not yet stopped, visit your nearest hospital. While rarer than the occasional scrape, some reef surfers can get cut up pretty badly if they have a bad fall. The best way to heal the wound and receive proper care is to visit a medical professional at an emergency room or hospital.
  • If you did not need to visit the hospital, rinse the wound daily and apply an antibiotic ointment, like bacitracin, 3-4 times per day. Keep track of your daily use in case a doctor needs to know later.
  • See your doctor at the first signs of an infection. Typically, oral antibiotics are prescribed to prevent and rid the body of infection. If you don’t see any evidence of an infection, an over-the-counter steroid ointment may be used as itch relief as the wound heals.

If your wound does not show signs of an infection, but it has not healed after a week or two, make an appointment with your doctor. This may not be an emergency, but it could indicate a different type of infection.


Beaches in South Orange County

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In South Orange County, I like use two beaches for the surf lessons I teach. 90 % of them are held at Doheny State Beach, which is best for beginners. Intermediate and advanced lessons, as well as bodyboard lessons, are held at Salt Creek State Beach. If you’re in South Orange County and interested in surfing the same waves, I’ve included some more information about each beach 

Doheny State Beach 

Doheny is an ideal beginner’s wave. Swells slip past the swell-choking jetty, break softly over a bed of cobblestones and form into slow shoulders providing perfect waves for learning how to surf.  Doheny is located at Doheny State Beach park at the base of the cliffside in Dana Point. 

Doheny Beach in Southern California is a beach that makes you feel like you’ve been “away from it all!” The waves are slow paced with people of all ages from 4 to 80 surfing together. The wave provides you the perfect formula that enables you to stand up and have long exciting rides on the very first day you surf. 

Though the Pacific Coast Highway is very close by, including access to many businesses and restaurants, if you should need them, you don’t actually have to see any busy streets while you’re in the Dana Point Harbor/Doheny Beach area. 

In the nearby Marina Village, just down Dana Point Harbor Drive, you can browse through a collection of interesting shops, gaze at beautiful white yachts floating in a sparkling blue harbor, rent a kayak and paddle around the calm waters of the harbor, or dine at one of several good restaurants. 

You can head out onto Dana Point harbor’s man-made island, where you’ll find quiet, shady spots for picnicking, and a long, attractive sidewalk for strolling or jogging. Just a bit farther still down Dana Point Harbor Drive, you’ll come to the Dana Point Marine Institute, where you can take in exhibits, explore old-fashioned sailing ships, visit a waveless “baby beach,” or just enjoy the beautiful scenery from a pier. 

Salt Creek State Beach 

Nestled in a beautiful cove at the northern end of Laguna Niguel lies Salt Creek, a watery playground of long pointbreak-style lefts, wedgy A-frames, relentless shore break and sand-gurgling rights. You name the type of wave, and Creek probably has it. Salt Creek is more of a steep wave making it more dangerous and difficult to learn how to surf. Salt Creek is for intermediate and advanced surfers as well as bodyboarders. While this doesn’t mean beginners can’t surf here, it does imply that you might want to take fewer risks here than at a calmer beach.  


What to Know About Bodyboarding Lessons

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If you’re interested in surfing but not quite ready to get on the board, you may want to consider bodyboarding. This is an easier, less technically challenging form of surfing perfect for all ability levels and ages. While not great for reef surfing, it’s an excellent first step toward becoming a more confident surfboarder.  

Bodyboarding is an easier, more accessible option for surfing catching waves than surfing. It’s safer and easier, which means participants will experience rewards much faster than when using a board. The lessons can be as laid back or as formal as you like, with the emphasis being on learning in a fun, no pressure environment. 

If you sign up for a bodyboarding lesson, you will typically receive between 1 and 3 hours of instruction. You’ll be able to rent a bodyboard, swim fins, and a wetsuit (if necessary), sometime for the whole day so you can continue practicing after the lesson ends.  

Anyone can learn to bodyboard! 

Most people can learn basic bodyboarding fairly quickly. You can go from riding whitewash to riding a wave much faster than with surfing. The more advanced maneuvers like spinners and rolls come after more practice. 

So, who can take these lessons? Literally anybody, as long as you can swim. If you’re younger than eight you need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian as well. The upper age limit is open to anybody that feels they fancy a go. 

Sample Rates 

Below, I’ve outlined what a typical bodyboarding lesson might look like. Rates are often the same as surf lessons. 

$160 for 1 person (Includes all day bodyboard/swim fins & wetsuit, and 1 Instructor for 2 hours). Each additional hour $60. 

$180 total for 2 people (Includes all day bodyboard/swim fins & wetsuit, and 1 Instructor for 2 hours). Each additional hour $50 per person. 

Each additional person will be $80 for two hours. 
Each additional hour $50 per person. 


Discover Notable Surfing Destinations: Okinawa

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If you’re going to travel halfway around the world on a major vacation trip, you’re probably looking to visit more than just one surfing beach. That’s why any single surfing spot that may be in the running for best surfing and most intense waves may not be a huge destination for spot.

Instead, long stretches of coastline that offer a variety of surfing experiences tends to be more of a beacon to the typical travelling surfer. And it’s this dynamic that explains why Okinawa is one of the top surfing destinations in the world. Here are just some of the spots you might visit for surfing.


White Beach

A great spot when traveling with beginner or rusty surfers who need to work on their skills with generous sand bars before moving on to more intense surf. White Beach is also just a great spot for easy fun and relaxation on any size budget. There is tent camping, camping trailers, and cabins available in the immediate area. The downside is that it tends to get packed, especially on the weekends. This is a reasonable drive east of Okinawa City



This is a perfect combination of being less crowded while still offering multiple surfing options. From Junkyard to 5 Rocks to California, you can find several different styles of tubes and surf in a relatively clustered and easily accessible spot. A reasonable drive southwest out of Okinawa City, Sunabe can be a great day trip or an overnight stay and extra spur for your travel plans. Maybe because the town hasn’t been conquered by a stream of tourists, the locals have a reputation for being especially welcoming.


Suicide Cliffs

Named and in some ways better known for its history of mass suicide, these cliffs also overlook some of the best and most consistent reef surfing in Okinawa. A great spot to visit for surfing enthusiasts and as a plan for getting away from some of the more congested and touristy spots, don’t fail to put the Suicide Cliffs on your travel itinerary list, especially if you’re going to visit the island for more than a couple days. Near the southern most point of the island, it takes a longer travel commute to visit this surfing spot.


The Complete Vacation Experience

The final reason we want to point out as to why Okinawa is such a popular spot is because of its parallel opportunities for an international and multicultural experience. With significant influences of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai culture, you can find a thoroughly unique but representative sampling of Eastern cultures.