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Surfing 101

By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

Surfing is incomparable to other outdoor sports. You simply get your foot in the water and leave life's worries and stresses behind as the white water wipes you clean.

"You leave all that nonsense behind that's plaguing you," said longtime surfer Gary Mumm, 58, of Crescent City. "You just lose stuff, look at the water and on those nice, clear days, you can see all kinds of (sealife)."

Often one of the hardest parts of surfing for first-timers is catching that first wave. But with a little coaching and paddle speed, riding Del Norte County beaches' waves can be an addictive treat.

Whether starting on a longboard or boogie board, local surf shop owners stress wave etiquette and say South Beach is the safest, most surfer-friendly in the area.

"It's sandy, not rocky and easy to get to," said South Beach Outfitters co-owner Joni Baugh. "Most of the other beaches are a lot more dramatic, with harder climbs (and) are rockier."

Brad Dodson,who grew up surfing in Crescent City and recently moved to Arcata, said South Beach is amazing. "There aren't many places where you can drive down to the ocean and be home in five minutes," he said.

One of the first steps before paddling out is to practice "popping up," said Bev Noll, co-owner of Rhyn Noll Surf and Skate. "You have to come to a standing position in one swoop so you're not teetering on your knees or in a crouching position."

This can be done in your living room, on the sand or atop one's car, but it's a key element, as "you have to be able to pop up," Noll said.

And be sure to strap the leash to your back foot, she said.

When going into the water, remember to paddle straight into the wave "like a boat," Baugh said, and steer clear of other surfers. "That way nobody gets hurt," she said.

Once out in the water — and "you don't need to go that far out," Baugh said — wait for a wave and some white water to pick you up and paddle as fast as possible.

"You have to be going the speed of the wave," Baugh said, and once caught, be sure to place yourself in the board's middle, otherwise the ride won't last very long.

She recommends big boards for first-timers. "The bigger the board, the easier it is — the longer, the wider, the thicker the better."

And even if your upper body strength is lacking, those muscles will develop with practice.

"Your paddling strength (and) your back and leg muscles will come the longer you do surf," Noll said.

Even if you're a female, "you're going to be able to propel your body as much as a guy would," she said.

Women may take longer to build to that "really strong" point, Noll said, because they don't have the same muscle structure, "but you can develop it to accommodate what you want of that surfing experience."

And ocean conditions right now – actually most of the year – afford more surf than the summer provides, Noll said.

"The summer is notoriously flatter," she said. Even so, sometimes "it's just the luck of the draw."

But unlike popular surf regions like Hawaii and Southern California, Northern California's water temperature hardly reaches above 55 degrees, Noll said. So wrap yourself in a wetsuit and keep those toes warm with booties.

Dodson said there's no better time to learn than now, as surfing is "a great adventure and pretty cheap for a starter.

"You're participating in nature," Dodson said. "You're definitely not conquering it or one with it, but are part of it when you're up and riding."

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Surfing etiquette

•The rider has the right-of-way: The paddler must stay out of the way. When possible paddle wide, well away from breaking waves and riding surfers.

•Hold onto your board: A loose board can injure someone or ding others' boards. If you know you can't handle it, let anyone paddling behind you know of the danger. On the other hand, don't paddle right behind someone.

•Crowds: This isn't a huge problem in Del Norte, but even so, don't be a kook. Follow the guidelines above and you're starting on the right foot. In a crowd, be aware of who has been waiting their turn patiently. Don't be a wave hog. Check out the amount of waves, amount of surfers and the mood of the crowd. How critical are the waves? Sometimes everyone will take turns, other times it's dog-eat-dog, and only the more aggressive surfers make it to the peak for the right-of-way. During such times, seek a less crowded spot.

SOURCE: South Beach Outfitters and the Surfrider Foundation

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