Choose the Right Spot
The ideal beginner's surf spot is the oceanic equivalent of the kiddie pool. It's a straight, sandy shoreline, free from hazardous rocks and reefs, with a few strategically placed sandbars. What makes this arrangement advantageous? Think of waves as energy plus water, just as a log fire is energy plus wood. In the same way a fire dies down when it runs out of wood, waves die when they run out of water. A sandy, gently rolling bottom gradually reduces the water available. It also creates friction at the base of the wave, slowing the water beneath the surface and allowing the water on top to catch up. The wave thus gains height, but not much: A wave's crest at its height is equal to the depth of the water below it, or less. In the shallow zone described here, waves might build to about 3 feet (1 meter) high.
Veteran surfers bypass these feeble waves, called "crumbly" or "mushy" because they break up quickly. That's fine: You can learn and make mistakes in relative safety, without feeling self-conscious or pressured. And anyway, surfers can be very territorial. They sometimes look at newcomers as a nuisance and a danger, and sometimes they're right. (That's why they're also the best people to ask when looking for a spot for beginners.)
For safety's sake, however, never surf alone. Even if you become a master of the waves, make sure there are always at least a few other people within hailing -- and helping -- distance.