When you watch California surfers riding wave after wave, they may just inspire you to grab a board and get in on the action. With the weather and water still warm in September (they don’t call it the endless summer for nothing) and as the state celebrates its official sport on California Surfing Day—September 20—now is an ideal time to catch a wave.
But how to begin?
For tips, download the latest episode of California Now, in which host Soterios Johnson gets expert advice from former professional surfer Izzy Tihanyi, co-owner of the Surf Diva surf school and boutique at La Jolla Shores in San Diego County. The world’s first all-women surf school when it opened in 1996, Surf Diva is now open to dudes too and teaches aspiring surfers of all ages—from kindergarteners to octogenarians.
Tihanyi believes that surfing can transform lives: “It’s something that’s like meditation on the water and it’s very spiritual, yet it’s very athletic and adventurous at the same time,” she says. But first you have to learn, and Tihanyi outlines what to expect during your first lesson.
Yes, surfing is “fun fun fun,” as the Beach Boys might put it. But the ocean is inherently unpredictable and Surf Diva instructors emphasize basic water safety and board handling techniques. “We teach people to keep their board to the side of them when they go out in the water, so the wave doesn’t push it into your face,” says Tihanyi.
Perfecting the Pop-Up
While still on the sand, students learn and practice their paddling and pop-ups, the critical move in which surfers raise themselves from a belly-down position to standing on the board. There’s no one right way, so instructors help students identify the pop-up method that works best for each individual. “Everybody has different body strengths, body sizes, and body shapes, so we have different tricks up our sleeve to help people get up on the board. And they’re all fun,” says Tihanyi.
Into the Surf
Not only is La Jolla Shores beautiful, but the absence of rocks and reefs make it an ideal place spot for newbies. Tihanyi says that there are “perfect little beginner waves” at the beach’s south end that reduce the intimidation factor as students strive for the “Instagram Moment" when they pop up and actually surf. “It’s like your first kiss,” she says. “You’ll never forget it.”
Now, a reality check: You’re not going to become Kelly Slater in one lesson. “Surfing looks really easy and I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most challenging sports to learn because you’re trying to predict what the ocean is going to do and every wave is different,” says Tihanyi. Some students do take to surfing quickly but even if you poop out before you pop up, no one at Surf Diva will judge you. Says Tihanyi, “Our motto is the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.”
To hear more of Tihanyi's insights, including great places to eat lunch and grab a coffee in San Diego, listen to the latest episode of the California Now Podcast.