This study tested the hypothesis (H1) that surf swimming involves a quantifiable experience component. Sixty-five beach lifeguards with (n = 35) and without surf experience (n = 30) completed: a best effort 200-m swim in a 25-m pool, a calm and a surf sea; an anthropometric survey; maximum effort 30-s swim bench test; 50-m pool swim (25 m underwater). In both groups, time to swim 200 m was slower in calm seas than in the pool and slower in surf than in either calm seas or the pool (p < 0.05). Calm sea swim times of the two groups did not differ significantly, but the no experience group was, on average (Sp-pooled variance), 49 s (62) slower on the 200-m swim in the surf conditions (p < 0.05). A stepwise regression identified surf experience as a predictor of surf swim time (R² = 0.32, p < 0.01). It is concluded that there is a significant and quantifiable (18 %) experience factor in surf swimming. This limits the usefulness of pool swim times and other land-based tests as predictors of surf swimming performance. The hypothesis (H1) is accepted.