Learn the Lay of the Land
Getting to know your home beach's geography will not only make your sessions safer and more fun, it may win you points with the locals. For instance, take sandbars. We've already explained how sandbars help produce good beginner waves. But sandbars can also help produce strong, seaward currents called rip currents. Surfers can wear themselves to exhaustion trying to paddle against these currents to return to the beach. The safer course is to work out of them by paddling parallel to the shore. Rocks, coral reefs and jetties can also contribute to rip currents.
It's also helpful to know when high and low tide occur. Water level affects wave height and where waves form in relation to the shore. You can find local tide tables in area surf shops and newspapers. Tables for the United States and other countries are available at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Web site and elsewhere online.
Learn to recognize and respect the native plants and animals and their habits, and know whether they're a threat to you. For example, rays tend to settle in sandy shore bottoms. They aren't aggressive, but their barbed spines secrete potent venom. The deadly box jellyfish swarms near some Hawaiian islands during certain phases of the moon.