Do All Surfers Know How to Swim? (The Real Truth)

Have you ever heard of the phrase “You should learn how to walk before you try to run”?

Or perhaps in the surfing world, it would be best to say, “You should learn to swim before you try to surf.”

So, Do All Surfers Know How to Swim?

It is uncommon to come across a surfer who doesn’t know how to swim; in fact, surfers tend to be exceptionally strong swimmers. However, there are those individuals from around the world that mastered the art of surfing long before learning how to tread water.

Let us take a deeper look into the value of being able to swim before surfing and the benefits that being a strong swimmer will have as you progress through your surfing ventures.

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Do All Surfers Know How to Swim?

Do You Need to Know How to Swim Before Surfing?

You technically don’t need to know how to swim before learning how to surf; however, attempting to enter the ocean without being a confident swimmer is dangerous and reckless.

The ocean is a dangerous place at the best of times, and not being able to swim makes it more so. Not only for you but for others, as it is them, that will need to come to your rescue.

Think about it simply, you wouldn’t get into a swimming pool with water too deep to stand if you couldn’t swim, so you shouldn’t be entering the ocean either.

The question comes down to more of how good of a swimmer you are than whether you can swim or not.

Do You Need to Be a Strong Swimmer to Surf?

Although it’s a perfect idea to learn how to swim before entering the ocean, you do not always need to be a strong swimmer to surf.

The requirements for how strong of a swimmer you will need to be will differ according to the current weather conditions as well as your general fitness and surfboard size.

Surf Conditions

The conditions you will be surfing in will greatly affect how strong your swimming will need to be.

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Four major factors that will come into play are the following:

Wind Direction and Speed

The wind is required for surfing, but too much wind or wind in the wrong direction can make a relaxing day in the ocean into an endless struggle.

The stronger the wind, the stronger your swimming skills will need to be.

This is not only because swimming will aid you with your paddling, but when you bail from your board, you are going to need to swim against some harsh winds to retrieve it. 

If you are not a strong swimmer, you are likely not a strong paddler, so it is best to paddle out in mild conditions.

Swell Size

You should never attempt to surf large waves before you are confident that you are a strong swimmer.

When surfing large waves, you will need to paddle through strong washbacks, duck dive under huge white water, and potentially swim your way back to shore due to a broken surf leash.

If you are not a strong swimmer, these conditions are very likely to result in a life-threatening situation.

On the other hand, however, surfing in smaller 1 – 2 foot waves will require a lot less strength and speed and therefore requires a lesser degree of swimming skill.

Type of Break

The type of break will affect how well you need to be able to swim. 

For example, surfing over a reef will require fewer swimming skills as you will not need to paddle around the bay, and there’s generally a safe place to touch the floor if needed (although this is never recommended).

This is also true for smaller reef breaks as more significant breaks such as Jaws are much more unforgiving.

It should also be noted that surfing on a reef is not ideal for beginners as the ocean floor is hard and close to the surface of the water.

As a new surfer, it is always best to learn on a sandy bottom beach break.

Currents Direction and Strength

Just as wind direction and speed affect how well you need to swim, so does current direction in much the same way.

If there is a strong cross-shore current, you will need to constantly paddle to keep yourself in the ideal position.

Being a strong swimmer will make this task much easier, while not being a strong swimmer and paddler could leave you far down the coastline with no waves to surf.

Does Swimming Help With Surfing?

If we take a look at the basic training routine of just about any pro surfer, it becomes clear how important swimming is to surfing, and we can therefore assume simply by this that swimming can help improve surfing.

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Swimming helps with three main aspects when it comes to surfing:

  • Muscle endurance and fitness.
  • Muscle Strength.
  • Confidence in the ocean.

Although all of the above will be trained simply by surfing, when swimming, you train your muscles slightly differently due to the lack of a surfboard.

Because of this, you need to work harder and become stronger and fitter faster.

Furthermore, learning to swim in the ocean will significantly boost your confidence as you will learn to lose any fear you have about becoming stranded in the backline without your surfboard.

5 Benefits of Having a Strong Swimming Knowledge for Surfers

Although it is not a requirement to be a strong swimmer in order to surf, there are some advantages to training your swimming abilities until they are top-notch.

1. Safer for You and Others

The stronger your swimming skills, the safer you will be in the ocean. 

Being stuck in the backline with no energy to swim or paddle back to shore can be a terrifying situation to find yourself in, and needing someone to come and pull you back to shore endangers their lives too.

If you are comfortable swimming in the conditions that you’ll be surfing in then you should be safe to surf in them.

2. More Confidence in the Ocean

Apart from the skills that you develop along the way, a large part of improving your surfing comes from confidence in surf conditions that are new to you, bigger waves, and breaks that are progressively more challenging.

Being a confident swimmer can help you step over that line of fear when looking out into what may seem like the ocean’s plan to end you.

3. Stronger Paddling

Your paddling endurance and power are directly related to how well you can swim.

The faster, longer, and more confident you can swim, the better you will be at paddling around the bay.

This is simply because swimming uses much the same muscles as paddling, without the aid of your surfboard.

Therefore, once you add to the board, the effort becomes a lot less.

4. Surf for Longer

The longer you can swim, the longer you will be able to surf. This is pure because of muscle endurance and your fitness levels.

Swimming is one of the best ways to increase cardiovascular fitness while strengthening your muscles.

The stronger you are, the longer you will be able to surf without exhausting yourself.

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5. Surf More Frequently

The more you train, the less muscle pain you will feel after each session.

Have you ever had an amazing day in the ocean, only to wake up to another day of firing waves, but your muscles are too sore to even pull on your wetsuit?

Swimming can aid with this in two ways. Firstly, the added training will help prepare you for long-term stress, and secondly, the slow continuous movements of swimming will gently stretch out your muscles and allow them to heal faster.

The faster your muscles heal, the sooner you will be back in the ocean and carving up the waves again.

The Danger of a Lack of Swimming Knowledge for a Surfer

The danger of attempting to surf without swimming knowledge is simple: Drowning.

If you don’t know how to swim and you choose to enter the ocean, then you stand an extremely high risk of drowning.

The ocean can be rough and unpredictable. It is possible, and in fact, extremely common for an almost flat bay that is pushing only a 3 foot swell to pop through a six-footer for no reason.

If you do not know how to swim, this or being caught in a current can be terrifying and lead you to panic.

Panicking in the ocean is the last thing that you should do, as it is through the panic, you will lose most of your energy and ultimately not have the strength to keep your head out of the water.

It has been said before but is always worth saying again.


Do Surfing Schools Teach Swimming?

If you are looking for a surf school that will first teach you to swim before they teach you to surf, you are likely going to be looking for a very long time.

This is simply because it can take weeks to months to learn how to swim, but in some cases, as little as an hour to learn how to stand up on a surfboard.

That being said, it is possible that some surf stores may have swim coaches that train swimmers, but this is not a common practice and should not be relied on.

The best thing to do is first to seek out a swim coach and take classes until you are more confident in water too deep to stand when you don’t have a flotation device.


The ocean is a dangerous, rough, unpredictable paradise that we surfers have made our home. Still, it feels like home because surfers feel calm, comfortable, and confident within its waters.

Part of this comfortability is through confidence that if something goes south, we can always swim back to shore.

Not all surfers know how to swim, but almost all surfers can swim, and many of them are extremely good swimmers.

It is wise to put time into learning how to swim before you decide to surf. It could save your life and the lives of others.

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