What Level Surfer Am I?

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Your Guide To Surfing Ability Levels

Surfing skills can be categorised into three levels. To learn more about these surf skill levels read on below. Want to determine your surfer level? Jump straight to our What Surfer Level Am I Quiz.

Beginner Surfer Level

Beginner Surfer

Beginner surfers are those who have recently started surfing,

Intermediate Surfer Level

Intermediate Surfer

Intermediate surfers are mastering basic manoeuvres after surfing for a while.

Advanced Surfer

Advanced surfers have years of regular surfing experience and are focused on refining their skills.

With over 25 years of experience teaching surfing, our Newquay Surf School is an expert in judging your surfing level and giving you the best lesson for your ability. Our exceptional surf staff, led by none other than the British surfing champion, Alan Stokes, bring a wealth of knowledge and skills to the table. Rest assured, when you choose us, you’re in capable hands. We are confident that here at the Newquay Activity Centre our 20,000 students return each year because we offer the best tailored guidance in lessons and advice for every level of surfer. 

Knowing your surfing level isn’t important just for choosing the right surf lesson, it’s a vital part of becoming a better surfer, this guide will help you figure out where you fall on the scale of beginner to advanced surfer. We know that navigating surfing levels is daunting, so this guide breaks down the techniques and skills for each level. If you’re still unsure, or just want to skip the reading, take yourself through the What Level Surfer Am I Quiz at the end for a clear pathway guiding you to the optimal surf lesson for your ability.

Beginner Surfer


Never surfed before? A world of excitement awaits you! If surfing is entirely new to you as a skill, a beginner lesson at the Newquay Activity Centre is the perfect place to be. You may be a strong swimmer or have participated in lots of other water based activities, but if you’ve never taken a surfboard into the sea and tried to catch waves, a beginner lesson will teach you the foundations of surfing you need to be safe and have fun on a surfboard.

If you are a confident swimmer, skateboarder or snowboarder, these skills will be helpful later on in your surfing journey, but you will still need to take a beginner lesson to master surfing. Beginner sessions will teach you about the equipment you need for surfing, beach and water safety, how to get your board out into the waves and how to catch small white water (breaking) waves. You’ll be in safe hands with our coaches, over 20,000 people come to learn to surf with us each year, and more often than not come back time and time again to keep learning from the best.

If you have had one or a few beginners lessons elsewhere and have managed to stand up a few times, but struggle with pop-ups, or if you’re still not 100% confident in the water, a beginners session with our instructors can help you improve until you’re catching up to 75% of white-water waves and are progressing to traverse along the white water waves, rather than riding them directly into the beach.


Intermediate surfers can refer to people who have been surfing for a few years to those who have been surfing for ten years! Everyone from learners catching small green waves, to those who have been surfing longer but inconsistently and are catching bigger waves or starting to perform turns, fall under the umbrella of intermediate surfers. 

If it feels like you’ve been in this territory forever – don’t be disheartened! These skills can take years to learn and use effectively and it’s a very common time for people to plateau, this is when a coach’s perspective becomes an invaluable tool. Intermediate can be split into two – upper and lower intermediate. It’s worth mentioning to your surf instructor which of these you fall into, so they know what you’re aiming for and where you’d like to be going with your surf skills.

Lower Intermediate

If you’ve taken a few beginner lessons, are beginning to surf by yourself and have started moving from the white-water to catching small unbroken waves (back and forehand) and are introducing basic turns, then you’re a lower-intermediate surfer. You should be beginning to turn your board, no longer riding the waves into shore, trimming along green waves. Our coaches can help you to build confidence, get you paddling outback on smaller days, learning to duck dive/turtle roll as needed to get out back and place yourself in the line-up, with an idea of surfing etiquette and priority. 

Upper Intermediate

The upper end of the intermediate scale means you’re getting to grips with your board of choice and are starting to confidently make manoeuvres. You’ll be frequently catching larger green waves, and consistently traversing across the face of the unbroken wave both front and backhand.

The specific skills you’ll be looking to improve on will vary if you’re on a shortboard or a longboard, but you should be starting to perform some of the following: bottom and top turns, cutbacks, off-the tops, floaters, hang 5s and hang 10s, and drop knee turns. If you know what these are and are trying them out on waves, you’re into upper intermediate territory.

You may not have perfected all these manoeuvres but you are aware of them and are starting to build confidence in utilizing the critical point of the wave for your skills. You should be able to get outback confidently and position yourself effectively in the line-up, picking appropriate waves for your abilities while also having a good understanding of line-up and surfing etiquette.

An intermediate lesson will be appropriate for you whether you’re in the lower or upper intermediate, but knowing where you fall within it will help you give your coach a better idea of what skills you already have and what you want to be moving forward with.


Advanced surfers are those who have mastered all the foundations of surfing, are able to confidently complete every skill in the intermediate section frequently and consistently. If you are an advanced surfer, you will be able to paddle out into the larger swells with good timing, and navigate surfing waves head high and taller, seamlessly blending speed, power and flow.

You should be able to recognise and consistently choose the best conditions and waves for practicing and improving your skills and manoeuvres, you are frequently linking turns and manoeuvres with precision and are working on making the most of the critical point of the wave.  You will be able to manage your own equipment and choose the right board adapting to the sea’s current condition.

If you’re capable and confident surfing in most conditions solo, are looking to fine-tune your technique and receive the expert opinions of coaches to take your surfing to its peak, our advanced surfing session will be perfect for you. Our coaches can help you to break-through any plateaus, overcome any barriers and unlock the full potential of your surfing ability.

Assessing Your Surf Ability

Assessing your surfing ability, especially when you’ve been surfing for a while is easier with the help of trained coaches. Our instructors will always chat with you ahead of a session about your previous experience, to build a better picture of your surfing ability. A surf assessment is a great place to start, but there’s other ways to help you evaluate and analyze your own surfing that you can continue even after your sessions.


Honesty is always the best policy, and that rings true for surfing as much as anything else, gauging your own ability is always tricky; it’s easy to remember the big wins and forget about the failures. Be honest and realistic about your capabilities with yourself and your coaches to make the most of your time with them.

Surf Assessment

A short surf assessment is the best way to accurately gauge a surfer’s abilities. At the beginning of our lessons our coaches will start with a surf assessment during a free surf which allows the instructor to see first-hand where your strengths and weaknesses are and helps them examine your technique to better help you improve.

Surfing Video Footage

The best way for an instructor to determine your surfing ability is by watching clear videos of you surfing, the second best is if you supply some photography. Storing footage of you surfing and re-watching it with analysis, particularly before your next surf, will be an invaluable tool in helping you to improve. Our private surfing video package allows you to have 1-1 tuition with our expert team led by Alan Stokes, and go-pro footage of your sessions that you can go back to again and again to help you progress.

Choosing The Right Board

We understand the temptation to grab a sleek shortboard as quickly as possible but try to resist! Rushing onto a smaller board too soon can have a negative impact on your surfing ability and may even stunt your progress. Stick to surfing on bigger boards until you have mastered the basic skills and are 100% going to benefit from being on a smaller board. Trust us when we say that building a rock-solid foundation on that foamie is going to benefit you later.

Surf Fitness

Just like with any sport, as a surfer the fitter you are, the faster you’ll learn. Being active and having good cardio means keeping fatigue at bay while you’re in the waves, which means more time on the board, more waves caught, and more chances to hone your skills, it’s a total win-win. By integrating surf-specific fitness training into your everyday life, you will start seeing improvements in the sea in no time.

Surf Fitness

Communication With Your Instructor

Discussing your aims for the lesson, what your previous experience has been and being open and honest when talking about your ability and experience will allow you to be taught as an individual. Even if you are in the same lesson as pupils that have slightly different abilities to you, our coaches will tailor the session so you will still make the most of it.

Choosing The Best Waves

Not all waves are created equal, when learning to surf you’ll quickly discover that every time you paddle out, you’ll have a totally different experience. There’s a huge range of factors why, but they boil down to different types of waves. 

Some waves are easier for learning to surf when you’re a beginner, but as you progress, you’ll be looking for waves that are bigger, steeper and better for manoeuvres. As you become more advanced, you need a certain standard of wave to achieve certain moves.

Choosing the correct beach at the perfect window of swell, tide and wind is something that your instructor will do as a reflection of what you’re working on. Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor why they chose this beach at this time, understanding will help you to gain insight not just for the day’s lesson, but for finding the perfect waves solo in the future, apps like Surfline are designed to arm you with the right information to help you to make this decision.

What Factors Might Affect Your Surfing Ability?

Plenty of factors can affect your surfing ability, from life getting in the way of the waves, to injuries, work commitments and just not enough time getting into the ocean, but the key to success, as with anything, is repetition and consistency. The more you surf the better you’ll get!

Our coaches can help you make the most of your time on the waves, coaching input enhances your experience and ensures that you don’t fall into any bad habits that can make your progression more difficult later. 

Surfing Levels

So, what is the difference between a beginner, intermediate and advanced surfer? It’s time to determine your level of surfing ability. Once you’ve read through the descriptions and completed the surf level quiz you will be ready to choose the ideal surf lesson and embark on a surfing journey that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

es! During the beginner stages, while being a strong swimmer is a bonus, it won’t directly impact your ability to surf waves. You will still need to learn the proper techniques for surfing in a beginner’s lesson.

Yes! While experience being stood on a board is helpful, there is so much more to surfing than the actual act of standing on a board, it’s not until much later in the progression process that being able to turn and move the board becomes relevant. It is then that other board sports can hold solid benefits.

Maybe. Competent is a difficult word as it means different things to different people. It’s tricky for an instructor to gauge where you are in your surfing ability. Use the flowchart below to think about the skills you have and discuss what you’re hoping to learn with our instructors to choose the best for you. 

Yes, but nothing set in stone, the levels here are a rough map to guide you to knowing which surfing sessions and holidays will be appropriate for your abilities. 

Pretty tiring, surfing is a very physical activity and the higher level of fitness you have, the quicker you will be able to progress, that’s not to say you can’t surf if you’re not an athlete, beginner sessions are open to all and can be adapted for everyone to enjoy.

A grom! Groms or grommet are the terms given to young surfers.

How long is a piece of string? This is all dependent on what you consider to be a ‘good surfer’ if you’re happy to be standing up on waves, then you’re a good surfer! That said, the more time, effort, and determination you put in, the quicker your skills will improve.

Get in touch! Give us a call or an email and we would be happy to discuss the best session for your abilities.

What's Your Surf ABility Level

Now you are equipped with a clear understanding of your surfing level, ready to push your boundaries with our beginner, intermediate or advanced surfing lessons. While you get started on the quest for your perfect wave, never forget the reason you started in the first place, whether it was the excitement of a new challenge, getting active in a new way, or embracing the fun and enjoyment of getting out in the ocean, consider this guide your compass, leading you to the right tools and support to optimise your surfing experience.

Remember, there are no exams or assessments here – just boundless opportunities to grow and thrive in the waves. So, paddle out with an open mind and let the ocean be your teacher.

Are you ready to take the next step in your surfing journey? Get booked into one of our Newquay surf lessons now and let our expert coaches show you the way. 


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