What Is The Difference Between A Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Surfer?

Although experienced surfers will have a good idea of whether they themselves and others they surf with are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced surfer, there is no definition of what level you are at as a surfer.

The question of ‘what level am I surfing at?’ actually strikes at the heart of what surfing is as a sport. Is surfing a sport to be judged, something to be done, or can it be both?

The main reason there is no set definition of surfing levels is likely because it is such a complex activity. Many veterans who are confident surfers have no interest in pulling off tricks we see from pro surfers. At the same time, even an intermediate surfer with natural talent could pull off an impressive move now and again.

These variables make surfing challenging to analyse, and the sport may be better compared with martial arts where there is no peak, but many levels of skill.

At Surfing Croyde Bay when we have students starting to take surf lessons in Croyde, or have been casually surfing for some time, they may wish to know how they are progressing. Below, we set out the indicators for each level of surfing to help you understand what makes a beginner, intermediate, advanced or even pro surfer.

What is a beginner surfer?

Surfing is demanding, and it can take a long time to get past the beginner stage. You should consider yourself a beginner when:

  • You have just had your first surf lesson or tried surfing under the supervision of someone else for the first time
  • You have tried paddling on a surfboard and after a few hours can keep your balance on the surfboard
  • You can stand and balance on the board while catching some whitewater waves in the prone position
  • You only know the basics of the sport


If you are an advanced beginner, you may be able to catch a wave, stand on the surfboard and ride the breaking wave towards the shore while staying in a straight line.

Generally, a beginner cannot yet successfully paddle out on their own and cleanly catch a wave, riding it to a conclusion. However, if you are an advanced beginner, you may be able to catch a wave, stand on the surfboard and ride the breaking wave towards the shore while staying (mainly) in a straight line.

What is an intermediate surfer?

You should consider yourself an intermediate surfer when:

  • You can successfully paddle out alone in a location you know
  • You can catch waves and ride them to the logical conclusion both frontside and backside
  • You can confidently use the three most basic surfing turns – cutback, top turn and bottom turn
  • You can angle the board and smoothly take off on a wave of roughly shoulder height
  • You can maintain a linear trajectory on the surf line and duck dive
  • You can safely bail when required without hurting yourself or any others around you
  • You can read and understand a surf report and plan your surfing session accordingly.



The bottom turn is the most fundamental move in surfing. It allows you to ride the open face of a wave, and mastering this technique is a vital part of intermediate level surfing.


The cutback can be considered the second most crucial move of the intermediate stage. Mastering this technique allows you to put yourself back at the energy source of the wave, without ending up in the shoulder of the wave (the slowest part)

What is an advanced surfer?

If you are an advanced surfer, it is likely you already know what sets you apart from beginners. However, to make it clear what makes an advanced surfer, we have set out some indicators below.

You should consider yourself an advanced surfer when you can:

  • Confidently paddle out alone to a surf spot you have never visited before
  • Assess the line-up
  • Catch and ride the waves you choose
  • Make the most of the open face of a wave gaining speed, moving up and down the roller and managing transitions of weight from rail to rail
  • Perform off-the-lips, floaters, roundhouse cutbacks, close-out
  • Choose your finish
  • Get barrelled in medium surf conditions
  • Confidently use a broad range of surf techniques and styles
  • Cultivate your own distinctive and effective surfing style
  • Always stay in sync with pocket zones and the curl of the wave

Of course, arguably the stage beyond an advanced surfer is a pro surfer who performs in their distinct style for a living. At this level, the surfer can pull out all of the tricks the sport has to offer.