Questions & Answers

The Ins and Outs of Surfing Lessons

as part of GLA's new Costa Rica: Sports Service Adventure program

The following article contains excerpts from a Q&A with Gibran, one of GLA's staff surfing experts behind our Costa Rica: Surf & Sports Service Adventure program. It's like a teen surf camp, but with many more elements of service and cultural immersion than your typical surf camp experience.

Q: What kind of skills do you need to have to be able to surf?

A: None to begin with, except basic swimming skills. We'll start with how to care for and protect your equipment - what the surfing experts on the program call 'surfboard management.' Afterwards, we'll move into the water and learn positions - walking through the surf, from a prone position, from a sitting position and from a standing position. You'll also learn paddling technique, including how to properly paddle through waves.

Q: What other kinds of surfing knowledge will I gain on this program?

A: Catching waves: being able to identify a good wave, positioning oneself in the correct spot to catch a wave, avoid risks and protect yourself and your equipment

Beach knowledge: assess the beach, such as physical characteristics and potential hazards

Ocean knowledge:  identify and understand risks, hazards (e.g. identify and assess ocean conditions, including but not limited to waves, currents, tides)

Q: What would you say to a student who is excited to learn how to surf, but never has before and is a bit nervous?

A: Surfing is unique in that it’s an individual sport and there is no objective scoring system (there are no “winners” or “losers”). This means that each person can develop at his/her own pace and the most important thing is that you learn and have FUN – in other words, there’s no keeping track of goals scored or baskets made.

Though surfing is a sport, it’s not really possible to compare surfing to any another sport, but if you were to compare it to some other physical activity it would be most similar to dancing. You need to learn the basics, in this case certain techniques, and then it becomes an artform, a form of self expression. As with dancing, there is no objective scoring system — some will like the way you dance and others will not — but the most important thing is that you enjoy and have fun. Surfing is like dancing on a liquid stage.

Q: What kind of challenge can I expect?

A: Surfing itself is challenging, regardless of whether you’re just learning or you’ve been surfing for decades. This surfing program is designed to help students develop the basic fundamentals necessary to become an independent surfer, and we will be working in small groups to ensure students get the attention they require, build fundamentals and techniques, engage in proper surfing etiquette, and what they need to do to keep themselves, others and their equipment safe.

Q: For students who have surfed before, is there anything new to the experience that they can gain during their surf sessions on this program?

A:With surfing it’s very common that because an individual has stood up on a surfboard they will affirm that they have surfed before; however, this program aims to help students develop the fundamentals one needs in order to surf independently. Surfing has been sold short in that the only aim of the majority of surf schools or surf instructors is to have their students stand up on a surfboard rather than be able to surf independently. This shortcoming would be the equivalent of a basketball coach teaching his players how to shoot free throws but failing to teach his players how to dribble the ball. It’s undeniable that standing up is a big part of surfing (it’s the most obvious part), but there are many other skills that one requires in order to be able to surf independently, and this program will cover all those skills so even students that have ridden waves before will leave with a greater knowledge and understanding of not only what to do, but why.

Our small groups will allow for each student to receive specific instructions that are on par with each individual’s ability level. Each surf lesson will be structured, not unlike other sports camps, with theory, drills, and practice. We will have classroom sessions to discuss theory, we will have practice sessions in which students will be given drills to carry out, we will review the outcome of those drills through video analysis sessions, and lastly we will have an evaluation day in which students will put into practice what they have learned and demonstrate their skills.

Q: What if a student is a more advanced surfer?

A: If we have a student whose skill level is beyond an advanced beginner (someone who surfs on a regular basis), we will hold an evaluation session, and provide a set of drills based on that evaluation. These are not free-surf sessions, these are practice sessions will clear objectives in which students will be asked to practice specific drills with the goal of improving their surfing/techniques.

Q: Can you describe the different steps in the surfing program in terms of instruction? What will students learn each day of the program? What is the best way to explain this to students unfamiliar with students?


  1. General safety: assess the local beach and its potential hazards, assess the daily ocean conditions, review general surf/ocean safety guidelines
  2. Get to know your equipment: learn the parts of a surfboard, how to manage a surfboard on land
  3. Controlling your surfboard in the surf
  4. Paddling technique: how to balance on a surfboard, find your proper positioning, and paddle the surfboard from a prone position
  5. Catch and ride waves from a prone position: complete single and multiple turns from a prone position, and stop the surfboard in a controlled manner
  6. Standing up on a surfboard: proper technique, how to fall off safely, how to stop the surfboard in a controlled manner, how to dismount off your surfboard
  7. Stand up and turn the surfboard: complete single and multiple turns from a standing up position in a controlled manner
  8. Identifying rideable waves
  9. The mechanics of waves: understand why waves break, what makes some waves stronger/more dangerous than others
  10. Types of surf breaks: how to identify the different types of surf breaks, learn the pros and cons of each
  11. Sitting on a surfboard: balance on your surfboard from a sitting position, turn the board from a sitting position in order to position yourself to catch a wave
  12. Paddling out into the line-up: read the surf break, know where to paddle out into the lineup (past the breaking waves), know when to paddle out, practice techniques for getting through breaking waves
  13. Identify a rideable wave: learn to read a wave, learn to identify the peak, learn where to position yourself
  14. Surfing etiquette: learn the priority system for riding waves, be able to identify who has priority, understand what to do when you don’t have priority, learn how to keep yourself and others safe
  15. Being a smart surfer: know your limits and be able to recognize conditions and/or surf breaks that are or are not suitable for your ability level

Q: How do you tie surfing into the theme of ocean conservation and ecosystem health?

A: Ocean conservation and guardianship will be a large part of the program. Why? It’s safe to say that becoming a surfer often goes in tandem with gaining a special appreciation for the ocean and the marine ecosystem. Since surfers like to spend more time in the ocean than on land, it’s like their second home. However, there is an immense amount of pressure on our oceans and beaches due to the fact that it has become a human dumping area – all of the pollution that we as humans generate on our planet eventually ends up on our beaches and/or in our oceans by way of moving water such as lakes, streams, and runoff.

It is our goal to teach the fundamentals of surfing so that our students have a real understanding and appreciation for what it means to be a surfer; moreover, that ocean appreciation, care, and guardianship is a large part of that. It is our belief that through a positive surfing experience individuals, regardless of whether they become lifelong surfers or not, are more likely to implement pro-environmental behaviors, simply because people protect what they love.

Interested in this program?