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Learning To Surf At 30: Is It Too Old?

Learning To Surf At 30: Is It Too Old?

So you’re in your 30s and you dream of learning to surf. Most of the learners you see, however, are kids or teens, and you keep being warned about how hard it is to learn to surf as a grown-up. Can you still learn to surf at age 30?

You definitely can. Many surfers have taken up surfing while in their late 20s or early 30s. Even people in their late 30s and 40s can learn, although they may face more challenges.

So why is everyone acting like 30 is too old to start surfing? Simply because surfing is hard. Paddling on a board in waves, duck diving under incoming sets, popping up on your board at take off, these are basic but tough skills to learn.

So how do you go about learning these skills at age 30?

  • Get the right surfboard and wetsuit
  • Second, prepare yourself for a long and tough learning curve, and make time in your weekly schedule
  • Make sure you’re in decent physical condition – if not, first get in shape
  • Be VERY determined and persistent
  • Find a good beach and if possible, a good partner
  • Get ready to spend as much time in the water as you can

The above applies whether or not you choose to take surf lessons – doing so can greatly reduce your learning curve and time for getting up and riding a wave.

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Your objectives for learning to surf at 30

What is it you want to achieve when starting to surf at 30? If your goal is to eventually ride small-to-medium size waves on a medium-to-long surfboard in a mellow and flowy fashion, that’s likely something you’ll be able to achieve, provided of course you’re reasonably fit for your age.

While people who start surfing after 30 (and don’t quit) often end up being decent surfers, most get to be soul surfer or longboarder types rather than radical, edgy, competitive, or big wave surfer types (pro surfers generally start very young).

Even though I started surfing as a teen, I find the greatest pleasure in mellow soul surfing and friendly waves. As a 30-year-old newcomer, that should probably be your objective as well.

The challenges of starting to surf at 30

These are the main initial challenges you’ll encounter when learning to surf at 30:

  • Making time for hitting the beach several times per week
  • Building up the endurance to stay in the water for hours
  • Developing the paddling power for moving around effectively
  • Learning the mechanics of the surf pop-up

Learning to surf requires putting in A LOT of water time. As a 30-year old you may have a career, a partner or family, commitments… Unlike younger kids who learn to surf during holidays, finding time may be challenging for you.

Another thing is, even if you’re in decent physical shape at 30 years old, paddling will typically work muscles you didn’t even know you had, such as certain shoulder, lower back, neck, and hip muscles (even when simply paddling).

Besides paddling, the hardest part will be popping up on your board. While kids can keep practicing pop-ups for hours without getting tired, for a 30-something it can get exhausting much quicker. See below for tips.

How fit do you need to be to start surfing in your 30s?

As mentioned, a 30-year old in average physical shape can certainly learn to surf. However, to make progress you will need to build up specific skills and muscles, such as shoulders, arms, lower back, and cardio endurance.

Notice I’m not even mentioning legs, since standing and riding waves is the easy part, the reward after months of prone hardship. Even then, standing will likely make up a negligible chunk of your water time.

Aside from endurance, what you will really need for learning to surf as a 30-something is mental fitness. By that, I mean strong determination and perseverance to fight off discouragement.

In order to get there, you’ll need to get to the beach several times a week regardless of weather – wind, rain, etc Every time you’ll paddle out, chances are you’ll get smashed or pulled under by a wave, often without catching a single wave for days on end. Until one day, something clicks and you start riding.

In addition to paying your dues in the ocean, cross-training can help a lot when learning to surf at 30. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, planks, squats, leg raises, lower back lifts, all these bodyweight exercises will greatly help develop your physical ability for paddling and standing up on your board.

Get the right surfboard and wetsuit

Choosing the right surfboard to start on is essential for any beginner of any age, but even more important if you’re learning at age 30 or later. Really, the board you choose can make or break you as a potential surfer. You can get away with using a potato chip type board for learning if you’re 12, but not if you’re 30-something.

In short, get yourself a long and stable board with enough volume, e.g. a 8-foot long, 21-inch wide foam-top (softer) or epoxy (stronger), with a “funboard” evolution type shape. You’ll have much more fun and faster success getting up in whitewater and small waves compared to a shorter, narrower board. See this other post about the joys of learning to surf on a shortboard.

As a 30-year old, you’ll probably be time-constrained, so it’s essential to maximize your learning efficiency in the water by using the right board for you.

You’ll also need to invest in a good wetsuit, one that fits you perfectly and that’s warm enough to keep you paddling, getting up on the board, and diving under the water for hours without getting frozen.

Many surf learners in their 30s choose to take surf lessons. A surf school will not only provide the right surfboard and wetsuit to learn, but you’ll also benefit from some key instruction that may get you up on your feet faster.

Learning surf paddling and pop-up at age 30

As mentioned, two of the hardest skills for any wannabe surfer are paddling and jumping up on your feet on a surfboard. Another challenging skill to learn is duck diving under waves.

As a 30-something, besides general fitness training, you can practice paddling on your surfboard from point A on point B on flat water. Strong paddling is essential for catching unbroken waves.

Popping up on your surfboard is a big challenge for 30-year old learners. The good news is, you can practice this move anywhere, e.g. at home or on the beach. Start in push-up position, stretching your back and extending your arms, then strongly push on the ground, lift your hips, and bring your legs in under you into your surf stance (right or left foot forward). Make sure your knees never touch the ground.

Popping up on your moving board on a wave is of course going to be harder, but practicing the pop-up on land over and over will help you a lot once in the water.

Check out these Surf Simply tutorials on Youtube to really help get you started.

Choose the right beach and partner

When learning to surf at age 30, you should put all chances on your side to succeed. Besides getting into the right physical condition and choosing the right surfboard, you also need to pick the right place to learn.

Ideally you want to start surfing on a wide sandy break with no currents and gentle waves breaking into nice and mellow yet lively whitewater! There should be little or no wind, and a small swell with 3-5 foot waves.

But of course, no-one lives in a perfect world! Surf conditions will vary a lot from day to day. Surfline is your best friend! Check the surf forecast before hitting your local break. You should ask local surfers about the best conditions for your beach, namely wind and swell direction for the cleanest, most ridable waves.

Although not so easy in your thirties, recruiting a friend also interested in learning to surf is a great move, as you can keep each other motivated through the hard times – the first few weeks of paddling, taking in seawater, falling off your board, getting hammered by waves etc.

Having someone more advanced than you to hang out with is even better, if possible someone also in their 30s with similar physical abilities. Observing them when they catch waves, and getting tips from them, can greatly shorten your learning curve.

Final words

Learning to surf at 30 is challenging, typically more so than starting at an earlier age. However, with the right mindset and determination, physical conditioning, surf gear, and with relentless practicing both in and out of the water, it can certainly be done. And, trust us surfers, the rewards are truly commensurate with your efforts!

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Photo credits:
Featured image: “Cursos de Surf 2012 -julio” (CC BY 2.0) by SURF&ROCK (Miguel Navaza)

Thursday 17th of December 2020

good article, I started last year at age 51 and most of the same advice is applicable (just more getting into shape required, getting tired faster). I spent most of a year on white water and just started trying small green waves, surfed about 14 times this year, for a busy adult thats all I could do.

One thing to add, conditions often arent suited to you unless you live in a surfers paridise, you appreciate the good days and learn to roll with the less than ideal days...as an adult it took me awhile to get that surfers mentality, I would get frustrated on bad days, not any more.

Big Kahuna

Thursday 17th of December 2020

Thanks for sharing! Yeah most surfers get crappy conditions most of the time, one way to cope is to vary the weapons - smaller wider vs longer board, longboard, SUP surf, depending on the conditions. 14 sessions is not bad at all! Congrats for having the determinations to start and follow through. Ride on!