Scott Borthwick's career-best 135 defied the best efforts of Chris Tremlett as Durham reached 309 for five in LV= County Championship Division One clash at the Emirates Durham ICG.
With South Africa's Hashim Amla making his debut, struggling Surrey put Durham in and Tremlett struck in the second over on his way to claiming all the wickets on day one.
Tremlett bowled in short spells until he took three wickets in seven overs with the second new ball to finish with 5-51 from 22 overs.
Borthwick was at the crease to face the 12th ball of the day and batted until five overs from the close, when he was lbw aiming to play through midwicket.
Durham's season had faded badly in recent weeks, but head coach Geoff Cook was back for this match after a two-month absence following his heart attack.
He would have been delighted with Borthwick's third-wicket stand of 183 with Will Smith, who made 87 before he was lbw to Tremlett's first delivery with the new ball. It was the third time he had struck in the first over of a spell.
The other seamers were out of luck on a pitch which offered some movement. They all beat the bat and Zander de Bruyn had a very confident shout for lbw with Borthwick on 13 - but the only chance the 23-year-old all-rounder gave was to Gary Wilson at first slip on 131, which was promptly dropped.
He showed great maturity, combining patience with high-class strokes, in compiling his third century of the season off 199 balls with 16 fours.
On his return to the side following his suspension, Gareth Batty's decision to field first looked like being vindicated when Mark Stoneman pushed forward to Tremlett's fifth ball and edged to wicketkeeper Steve Davies.
Durham were 23 for one after 11 overs, but Keaton Jennings and Borthwick took 20 runs off the next three, bowled by Tim Linley and de Bruyn.
Jennings proved adept at working the ball behind square on either side of the wicket and also played a couple of nice drives before falling for 35 on Tremlett's return in the 28th over.
The stand was worth 68 when Tremlett hit the right spot with his sixth ball and an edge carried low to de Bruyn at second slip.
Smith had nine fours in his 98-ball half-century, only his second of the season, but once he had gone Michael Richardson swiftly followed, taken down the leg side by Davies.