Surfing is one of the most amazing sports on earth. Not only does it keep you fit while naturally improving your balance and coordination, but learning to surf means spending a lot of time in the ocean.
Ocean time is one of the coolest aspects of surfing as it puts you in touch with nature and helps you to enter what is considered a “flow state”.
Being in a surfing flow state essentially describes the feeling of living in the moment and reactivating to the ever-changing wave face in front of you.
When you’re not actually riding a wave (which is most of the time), sitting in the ocean and soaking in your surroundings is a super peaceful and cleansing experience in itself.
It’s certainly true that the ocean can be a calming, tranquil place, but, as we all know, it has a dangerous side too. This begs the question – do you need to be a good swimmer to be a surfer? Well, you’re about to find that out now.
Are All Surfers Good Swimmers?
As you may have guessed, there isn’t exactly a yes or no answer to this open-ended question. Being a good surfer and a good swimmer go hand in hand as surfing entails plenty of paddling.
Most surfers who grow up by the beach will be competent swimmers. This is because spending your formative childhood years playing in small waves by the shore on bodyboards as well as bodysurfing ensures you are both confident in the surf and a good swimmer.
People who start their surfing journey a little later on in life won’t have the same intrinsic connection with the ocean as surfers who started young.
Just like anything in life, kids are annoyingly good at picking things up. So, when you learn to surf as a kid and grow up around the ocean, you will become a confident swimmer which will put you in a good position to excel in surfing.
However, the question remains and that is whether all surfers are good swimmers. In short, no, not all surfers are good swimmers.
You can learn to surf in 1 – 3ft beach break waves without being a confident swimmer. The risk of something going catastrophically wrong is minimal in these types of waves and there are many learner surfers who can get away with having a low swimming ability while still nailing the basics of surfing.
The problem arises when you start to take on bigger waves and different types of waves like point breaks and reefs.
Is It Dangerous To Surf Without The Ability To Swim?
If you have absolutely no swimming experience then yes it would be considered dangerous to surf no matter what the conditions are like.
Surfing isn’t a controlled sport, there are many variables and you have to be ready for all of them. For instance, the strength of a wave during a wipeout could snap your leash.
If this happens, there is a high likelihood that you will lose your surfboard. Losing your surfboard will mean you will be left in the water without a floatation device.
You will then need to swim into the beach to retrieve your surfboard and source a new leash before heading back out.
Another example would be if you wipe out in water that is deeper than your body. Waves have a not-so-funny knack of keeping surfers under the surface of the water while they break and lose energy.
This will require you to stay calm and let the wave do its thing before swimming back up to the surface and getting a much-needed breath in.
If you aren’t able to swim and don’t have good ocean awareness then this could be a potentially life-threatening situation.
Is It Dangerous To Surf With Low-Level Swimming Ability?
Surfing with a low-level swimming ability can be safe as long as you understand your limits and read the ocean. If you are able to tread water for five continuous minutes and swim a minimum of 200 meters nonstop this would be considered an adequate swimming ability to safely surf in easy conditions.
We would define easy surf as waves under three-foot that have a gently sloping wave face. 3-foot waves that break over a super-shallow reef in, say, a destination like Indonesia can still be very powerful and dangerous.
Why? Because these types of waves are likely to barrel over the reef. This makes them hard to catch and surf while also posing the risk of surfers hitting the reef if and when they fall off.
What Are Important Ocean Elements To Consider In The Surf?
Whether you’re a pro surfer or taking your first lesson, there are ocean elements that must be considered before you paddle out. Things to watch out for if you have a low swimming ability alongside a burning passion to surf are currents and rips.
Ocean currents, in general, will run parallel to the beach from left to right or right to left. Your job as a surfer is to understand these currents and make sure you aren’t getting swept down the beach by them.
Finding a large landmark on the beach or beyond the dunes is a good idea as this can help you to determine where you are in the surf.
If an ocean current has taken you down the beach, you will be able to understand this by locating your landmark and paddling back up the beach to be in line with it.
Rip currents are their own beast. Rips are formed by water that is pulled parallel to the beach on the inside of a sandbank. This trapped water needs to escape back out beyond the surf break. It will, therefore, find a deeper channel between sandbanks and flow out beyond the surf into deeper water.
Rips are the most dangerous element of surf beaches for swimmers. If a poor swimmer gets caught in a rip and taken out beyond the surf they will have to swim themselves back in.
Hopefully, there will be a lifeguard there to save them. Though lifeguards can’t patrol every beach in America so being a good swimmer is still a necessity
Relating rips back to surfing – if a surfer loses their surfboard via a snapped leash or their surfboard snapping and they get stuck in a rip, they will be in a very sticky situation.
The best thing that you can do if you get stuck in a rip with or without a surfboard is to let it take you out the back to where its power will naturally lessen in deeper water.
When the rip has lost its power you will then be able to paddle parallel to the beach and back in over the sandbank. What you don’t want to do is fight it by trying to paddle against the rip’s surging water.
You will become extremely fatigued in a matter of minutes. Whether a surfer is a good swimmer or not, rarely can they paddle themselves back in through a rip.
Learning to surf is one of the most exciting endeavors that you can take on in life. Once you become a competent surfer you will be able to travel the world and put what you have learned into catching perfect waves in exotic locations – the surfer’s dream.
Just as laying a solid foundation for a house is important, becoming a competent swimmer is an essential first step in becoming a competent surfer. We hope you find your surfing and swimming grooves soon.