Up For Surfing?

The right school, the right weather and the right beach are essential for novice wave riders.

Summertime Surf, a wave-riding school with seven Jersey Shore locations, offers Women's Surf Weekends throughout the summer.
Summertime Surf, a wave-riding school with seven Jersey Shore locations, offers Women's Surf Weekends throughout the summer.
Photo courtesy of Summertime Surf School

Is surfing on your bucket list? You’re in luck. Experienced wave riders say New Jersey is one of the best places to catch a wave on the Eastern Seaboard.

It’s also a great place to learn. Thanks to our relatively warm ocean temperatures—the water at the Jersey Shore can get up to 70 degrees in the summer—it’s easy to stay in the drink for two to three hours at a time. That’s plenty of time to get a good start on surfing.

Summer at the Shore also brings consistent, small waves—especially in the morning. (Bigger, bruising waves tend to hit the Jersey beaches during the spring, fall and winter months.)

Comfortable water temperatures and gentler waves are essential while learning the rhythm of surfing, says Shaun McGrath, founder and one of the owners of Summertime Surf School in Belmar.

Even in summer, wave heights vary depending on the weather. It’s worth checking the surf forecast on sites such as surfline.com, magicseaweed.com and thesurfersview.com. McGrath says novices should look for days when winds are light and wave heights are 2 feet or less.

A generally calm beach, such as the Brigantine South Inlet Beach, where Primal Surf holds its lessons, is ideal for newbies. Other recommended calm beaches for beginners include Cape May and Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island.

Staying safe while learning to surf is as important as catching the perfect wave. McGrath recommends picking a lifeguarded beach. Surfers should be aware of riptides, but since surfing keeps you above the water, they can usually be avoided.

Preparation is important. Novices must learn how weather affects waves and currents. They also need to focus on reading the waves. And it helps to be fit, since surfing is a demanding and strenuous sport.

Before picking a place to take the plunge, be mindful of ongoing beach-replenishment projects, which can add hazards and change wave patterns. Experienced surf instructors generally avoid such areas.

When deciding on a surf school, check if the instructors are certified by the National Surf Schools and Instructors Association, says Jennifer Steffener of the Coastline Adventures Surfing School in Brick. Certified instructors are trained to teach the sport, not just to surf. Also, ask if the instructors are CPR trained and have lifeguarding experience.

For novice surfers, a comfortable swimsuit and sunscreen are the essentials. A wetsuit shirt or a sleeveless, legless wetsuit is worth having if the water is still chilly. Then, of course, there’s the board. Most schools include use of a board in the lesson fee. Some also include a wetsuit. Check before you book. Also check if the school gives refunds in the event of foul weather.

Here’s a sampling of 13 surf schools up and down the Jersey coast. Several also offer lessons in stand-up paddling (SUP).

Aloha Grove Surf Shop and Lessons
Long Branch
One hour lessons. Individual, $70. Semi-private (two people), $60 per person. Groups of three, $55 per person; groups of four, $50 each; call for rates on larger groups. Use of a surfboard is included in all lessons.

Beach House Classic Boardshop
Bay Head
This shop has been offering private and small-group surf lessons and rentals since 1997. It also has stand-up paddling lessons and rentals. Surf lessons—held on quiet beaches in Mantoloking—are $65 per person per hour, with a $5 discount for four or more lessons. SUP lessons are $85 per person per hour with the same discount.

Coastline Adventures Surfing School
Coastline’s services, include girls’ only camps ($75) and one-, three- or five- half day kids’ camps, from $99. Adult co-ed camps are $99 per half-day on weekends. Women’s one-day surf retreats—including yoga, tai chi, healthy snacks and surf lessons—are $110. Private surf lessons start at $75 per hour. Instructors will travel to private beach homes to give surf lessons. The school is NSSIA certified, and lead and senior instructors are CPR and first-aid certified.

Dave Werner Surf Lessons
Long Beach Island
Longtime instructor Dave Werner, who also works through Farias Surf & Sport shop in Ship Bottom, offers private lessons starting at $70 for one hour, including board and wetsuit. Lessons are held throughout LBI. Group lessons are offered for up to three people. Birthday or beach-party lessons are available for groups up to 12.

Heritage Surf
Ocean City, Margate, Sea Isle City
Heritage offers private lessons, group lessons and camps. Prices start at $60 for one person for one-hour, $90 for two people, and $130 for three. They guarantee a 3:1 ratio of students to instructors for group lessons and camps.

LBI Surfing
Long Beach Island
LBI prices its lessons by the wave. Private lessons for ages four and up are $75 per person (a minimum of 30 waves will be caught). Semi-private lessons (20 waves caught) are $55 per person. Small-group lessons (20 waves) are $45 per person.

Ocean Outfitters
Wildwood Crest
Surf camps for kids or adults are held all summer long, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. Prices range from $78 for one day to $285 for five days—board and wetsuit included. Private lessons are $65 per hour. Kids’ clubs are held on Saturday mornings in July and August. Lifeguards are present during camp, and instructors are CPR certified.

Primal Surf
This nicely priced surf school is located five minutes from Atlantic City, on Brigantine South Inlet. The inlet location provides gentle waves ideal for novices. Surf lessons are offered daily and start at $50 for 90 minutes, including board and wetsuit. The cost of lessons is refunded if the shop cancels for bad weather. Primal also offers SUP lessons for $75 and full-day rentals for $65. The school starts with new equipment every year.

Hammer Surf School
Spring Lake/Lavalette
Sam Hammer, a professional surfer with several big-name sponsors, has earned a top reputation among knowledgeable wave riders. Private lessons are $70 for 75 minutes, including board and wetsuit, or purchase as a package (five days for $355).

Summa Love Surfing & Yoga
For 15 years, Bryan Zinski has been offering surf lessons and yoga on the Jersey Shore. His 1-½-hour adult surf classes on weekends cost a reasonable $50 and include yoga; they can also include SUP lessons. Zinski also has day camps for children. Lessons are held on Phillips Beach in Deal.

Summertime Surf & Paddle Schools
Multiple locations
This school has been around for 10 seasons and has locations in Asbury Park, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Point Pleasant Beach and on the Shark River Bay. Private surf lessons start at $85 for 75 minutes (or less for multiple lessons or group lessons of up to three people). Summertime Surf also conducts several Women’s Surf Weekends each summer, as well as an Adult Camp Weekend, September 5 to 6 in Asbury Park. The $295 weekends include a light breakfast and yoga on the beach, as well as surf lessons. They also offer SUP lessons and kids’ camps.

Stacey’s Surf and Paddle
As a female surf instructor, Stacey Marchel understands how intimidating it can be for a woman to walk into a surf shop for a lesson. “I can relate,” says Marchel, who started her lessons for moms and groms (beginner surfers). “I was a mom and I learned to surf as an adult, and I wanted to share that with everybody.” She offers surf and SUP lessons and conducts an adult clinic on Wednesdays from 6 to 7 pm. Private lessons are $65 for an hour; semi-private lessons are $100 for an hour for two people. Marchel also offers full-moon paddles for $25, singles SUP nights every Friday, as well as yoga, pilates and CrossFit on paddleboards. And she holds surf camp for kids weekdays and weekends.

Steger Beach Service
Cape May
Owner Steve Steger says his grandfather was one of the first to surf on the Jersey Shore. The family’s decades-old beach rental service offers surf lessons at 8 am—before the lifeguards are on duty. Lessons run just over an hour for $70. The relatively flat surf in Cape May is best for children and true beginners. Steger also offers SUP lessons and tours, in conjunction with East Coast Parasail; the tours cost $50 per person, and include lesson, board, paddles and flotation device. Group rates are also available.

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