What Size Waves Should A Beginner Surf?

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The popularity of surfing has caught on in almost every coastal country globally. The culture and the overall fun and excitement of catching waves are genuinely unlike anything else. For a beginner, surfing can seem somewhat intimidating, especially when seeing experienced surfers catching huge waves. Perhaps you are wondering what size waves a beginner should surf? 

The ideal wave size for beginner surfers is anywhere from one foot to a maximum of three feet or from knee height to waist height. This enables beginners to focus on the fundamentals of surfing without the challenges of advanced paddling and avoiding the crash of large incoming waves.

There is no doubt that learning to surf is one of the most exciting – and challenging – activities that anyone could ever do. While the process of starting can be intimidating, understanding wave heights, surf reports, and the best surf spots for beginners can help to give you a lot of confidence. Let’s dive right in and get you started on your surfing journey.

What Size Waves Should Beginners Surf?

Let’s face it, arriving at the beach and seeing what looks like expert surfers tackling massive waves is both exciting and daunting. You will likely be filled with a desire to want to do the same yet be terrified to get face to face with a huge world-class wave. Luckily, the journey of surfing does not have to – and should not – start at the top. 

Many beaches worldwide have many if not more waves that are best suited to beginner surfers. These waves are perhaps less awe-inspiring, but they ultimately provide the perfect conditions for learning how to surf. Large waves should undoubtedly be avoided when you are a beginner since you are pretty much guaranteed to wipe out or get seriously hurt.

So, if you are a beginner surfer, the waves you should surf will range from one to three feet in height. For more of a visual representation, the waves should be anywhere from knee height to a maximum of waist height. These kinds of waves will provide the perfect conditions for focusing on mastering the fundamentals of surfing, like catching a wave and maintaining your balance.

If the waves are any larger than that, you will likely have a tough time getting the hang of surfing, which will undoubtedly leave you feeling frustrated and demotivated. Surfing is supposed to be fun, so ensuring that you follow some basic principles will go a long way in having the best possible experience in the waves.

Understanding Surf Reports For Beginners

So, understanding ideal wave heights for beginners is one thing. However, to take things to another level, a handy piece of information for beginners (and all surfers) is surf reports. Surf reports let you know about the overall conditions of the surf before you have even left your home to set foot on a beach.

“Why is this helpful?” you might be asking. Well, understanding surf reports is a great way to save you a lot of time and find the surf spot that has the best conditions for your level of surfing. For a surfer, there is nothing worse than arriving at the beach only to find that the waves are less than satisfactory. 

For a beginner, this is equally important. You want to be confident that when you arrive at the beach, there will be suitable waves for you to surf. So, without making things too complex or complicated, here are a few terms to understand in surf reports to help you find the perfect beginner wave.

The Size Of The Swell

The size of the swell is the term used for the height of the waves. This is one of the first parts of a surf report that you will want to check out. Anything from one to three feet means that you are good to go!

The Swell Period And Direction

In simple terms, the swell period is the time in seconds of how long a wave travels and builds momentum. The longer, the better! Short swell periods mean you will have a short ride. While more extended swell periods help the wave build momentum, resulting in a better wave and a longer ride – every surfer’s dream!

Swell direction informs you about where the swell is coming from. For example, if you are at a beach that faces south but there is a north swell, there likely won’t be any exciting waves. Traveling to a beach that faces further north will undoubtedly give you some great quality waves.

The Direction And Speed Of The Wind

The direction of the wind plays a significant role in the quality of the surf. Generally speaking, surfers prefer having no wind at all. That being said, there are primarily two kinds of winds that you will see described: onshore and offshore winds. If anything, you want to have an offshore wind that blows the waves towards the shore, ultimately giving momentum to the waves. 

Onshore winds are the opposite and are far less ideal for good surf, except for kite surfers. 

The Tide

The tide refers to the rise and fall of the sea level. This is something that will be different at every beach, so it would be helpful to become familiar with the local surf spots in your area.

The Best Surf Conditions For Beginners

Now that you understand the fundamentals of reading a surf report, you might be wondering what the best surfing conditions for a beginner wave rider are. Let’s do a quick breakdown:

  • A small to medium swell size (one-to-three-foot waves)
  • An oncoming swell direction
  • A mild offshore wind
  • And lastly, some warm sunny weather makes for an all-around better beginner experience!

The Best Surf Spots For Beginners

Knowing a few of the best surf spots that are most suited to beginners can also be really helpful in your journey of starting out. To end things off, here is a quick list of the best beginner-friendly surf spots in the world:

  • Waikiki, Hawaii
  • La Jolla Shores, California
  • Cocoa Beach, Florida
  • San Onofre, California
  • Canggu (Bali), Indonesia
  • Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
  • Muizenberg, South Africa
  • Lagos, Algarve, Portugal


All in all, there are plenty of epic surf spots around the world that are perfect for beginner surfers. Ensuring that you can understand basic surf reports to find the best waves for your level of skill will go a long way in ensuring that you have the best possible surfing experience. Remember to stick to smaller swell sizes, and most importantly, have fun!