Surfing for beginners: first, catch a wave

You don't have to go to Hawaii, or even Cornwall. Rupert Isaacson finds the Isle of Wight has the beaches and breakers
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The Independent Travel
IT MAY LOOK impossible to do - and in truth, it is bloody difficult - but surfing makes a fun way to spend a weekend. By the end of two days you should have managed to stand up once or twice, but if not even body- surfing on a board is pretty exhilarating. If you are prepared to spend several weekends learning, you can become a novice-level surfer by the end of a summer.

Most people head for Cornwall to learn surfing. However, a well-kept secret is that the waves and beaches of the Isle of Wight offer fewer crowds and, some would say, better waves. Wight Water, based at Freshwater Bay - one of the least spoiled on this resort island - offers great-value packages of up to five daily sessions, or surfing by yourself on a hired board.

There is also an option to try surfing as part of a multi-activity programme which also includes catamaran sailing, wave- skiing, windsurfing and canoeing. (For more details on these activities, call High Adventure on 01983 730075).

The first thing to bear in mind is that surfing is physically demanding - as the muscled bodies of regular surfers testify. Before taking it up you should be able to swim 50 metres in open water without tiring. And before using a surfboard, it is a good idea to mess about with a body board (also called a boogie board) for an hour or two to get an idea about how waves work. You can hire these quite cheaply from Wight Water.

If you have never surfed before, it's best to start under instruction - once out in the waves it is easy to become disoriented (and exhausted) - and if you have never spent long periods in surf before it's good to have someone with you who can perform a rescue.

Having swum out to where the waves begin - lying belly-down on the board and using your arms as paddles - and once you and the instructor are in position, he will watch for the right wave and give you a signal to start paddling back towards the beach. A wave will be coming up behind you. As it catches you it will lift the board. Grab the sides, tense your stomach and thigh muscles, and try to stand up, with your left foot under your chest and your right foot a short way behind, both at right angles to the centre of the board.

At the same time, make sure the nose of the board is out of the water, or it might "pearl" - dive down like a dolphin - taking you with it. These are a lot of things to try to do all at the same time, especially with a wave thundering beneath you. Inevitably, you will "wipe out" the first few times. However, many people do manage to stand up by the end of their first day.

If you take a three- or five-day course, you should be standing fairly confidently about midway through, and your muscles will be on their way to Baywatch-dom.

As for accommodation, Wight Water can arrange bed and breakfast at the comfortable Saunders Hotel, which overlooks the bay. However, if you want to bring the cost down you can arrange something locally yourself. You will then need your own transport to get to and from the centre - whether local taxi, bike, or hired car.

surfing fact file


Wight Water Adventure Sports, 19 Orchard Leigh Rd, Shanklin, Isle of Wight. Tel: 01983 404987.


The price (a bargain) is pounds 45 for five one-and-a-half hour sessions (pounds 40 for the under-19s), or pounds 10 for a one-off session. This price includes use of a body suit, surf board, and instructor.


Clients should obtain personal insurance cover.


British Surfing Association.


For information on places to stay, call the local tourist board on 01983 862942.