Catch the Wave

Don't expect surfing to be easy, but it may be the most fun you've ever had. Once you feel the thrill of riding your first wave, you'll keep paddling out for more.

Both coasts and other surfing hotspots like Costa Rica have excellent surf schools and help you learn good habits--at your own pace--from the beginning.

Before you hit the surf, consider these tips:

1. Be water safe. You should be able to swim at least 200 yards (eight lengths of a lap pool) without stopping. There's no need to race it, but you should be comfortable making it back to shore if you lose your surfboard.

2. Get schooled on etiquette. Several surf books (see "Get Schooled" below) will teach you proper surf etiquette and give you greater confidence in the water. Above all, know who has the right of way. Always check over your shoulder to see if someone is behind you. If you spot another surfer coming, get out of the way. Remember this credo: "If in doubt, pull out!"

3. Hit the sand. Who cares if it looks silly? Sand surfing is a great way to get comfortable on a board. Lie on a board (foam boards only) in the sand and practice the "pop-up" by jumping to your feet in the surfing position. The more you practice on dry land, the easier it will be in the water. To ensure proper technique, keep your feet and hips parallel with the board, your front shoulder facing forward, and direct your back hand toward to the tail of the board.

4. Put your best foot forward. In surfing you can experiment by riding goofy (right foot forward) or regular (left food forward, also known as natural). As long as the front foot comes up first as you surf, the back one will follow and you'll be less likely to wipe out. Usually your dominant foot is whichever you'd use to kick a soccer ball or to start a cartwheel. The leash strap attaches to your back foot, and can be switched in shallow water if you decide you want to try leading with the other foot.

5. Become a student of surfing. Surfing is much harder than it looks on TV, but watching surf videos and movies will help you get a sense of timing and also enlighten you with the lingo. Surf shops usually carry a good variety of surf videos, and women-specific ones like Modus Mix, Surf Now and AKA Surfer Girl are good bets.

6. Protect yourself. Nothing spoils a great day in the water like sunburn. To protect yourself from sun damage and ultimately skin cancer, use a waterproof sunscreen that's 30 SPF or higher, and apply it head to toe 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Reapply each time you come out of the water, and don't forget vulnerable spots like the ears and nose.

7. Never give up. Surfing is about rhythm, patience and confidence, all of which take time to master. Realize you may not stand up your first, second or even your third day, and that the waves don't always show up when you want them to. But that's part of what keeps surfing interesting -- those chance moments that are as close to nirvana as you get. By exercising patience and persistence you'll be rewarded with that glorious first ride.

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