Any clueless wannabe can flop into white water on a longboard and struggle to his feet for a second or two. But how to glide across the smooth shoulder of an unbroken wave? “Have a game plan,” advises Santa Cruz surf pro Richard Schmidt. “Don’t just park and paddle out.” Schmidt ( www.richardschmidt.com), who instructs about 1,200 newbies a year, recommends using a soft board, about 9 feet long, in slow-moving surf at spots such as San Onofre State Beach, Palos Verdes Cove, Ventura’s Pitas Point or Cowell’s cove in Santa Cruz. On land, practice popping from your belly to a balanced crouch, he says. Also, study the surf for 15 minutes to ensure there are no sporadic monster swells, scout where the best ones are breaking and eyeball any hazards. Follow Schmidt’s tips to experience the thrill that has derailed a million careers.
-- Steve Hawk