Re: How to use Surf Reports to decide which beach to go to?
1)Tools - totally depend on where you are. Magicseaweed or windguru are best for Ireland (IMO). However, a lot of Americans swear by Surfline which is absolute rubbish for here, but may be good over there. You need to look at Swell height, period and direction, and wind direction mostly (offshore good, onshore bad). Each beach will react differently to different variations of each of these. A swell height of 6ft may make a 6ft wave on an exposed beach but do nothing on a protected spot or like where I live (there's quite a large continental shelf in the way, we need over 6ft to start making a wave). The height is no good if the period isn't there to back it up. This is basically the wavelength measured between the peaks of a set. You are generally looking for periods of greater than 10 seconds. The longer the period, the more punch a wave will have, but also (here anyway) the longer the wait between sets. Also longer period waves tend to wrap around obstacle (headlands etc) better, so a long period groundswell will get in to protected spots more easily. The overall effect on a particular beach can only really be learned through experience of that beach, and even then it's not an exact science, much like the weather. Check surfcams if there are any, before you go. You can often have a good idea of what beaches without cameras will be like from checking a nearby beach that does have one.
Tides - tides can create slightly bigger waves on "the push" as the tide is rising. This will depend on the range (height difference between high and low tide). A large range will have more push than a small range. Some areas are more tidal than others. Whether a beach is good on high or low tide, is again down to experience of that spot. Guide books like Wavefinder or Stormriders Guide will tell you what conditions some spots need.
Can't do anything for you for number 3. I would highly recommend surfing at a place with lifeguards when you are learning though. Find a long beach with loads of peaks and surf one of the less crowded waves, even if this isn't quite as good as some of the others. You'll get more practice that way.