Surfing Etiquette

Learn & Memorise Surfing Etiquette

Surf Etiquette is the most important things you MUST learn before you set foot in the water for the first time. The etiquette of surfing is a set of rules that all surfers must abide by in order for all water users to get along, have fun, stay happy and reduce the risk of injury.

People who repeatedly break these rules are often given the stink-eye, a stern talking to, yelled at with obscenities, or just flat out beat up.

Don’t worry, if you accidentally drop in on someone once they aren’t going to beat you up. However, there are rules of the road out there and this is the real world. If you’re constantly stealing waves or not being respectful, you’re going to have a run in.

With the growing popularity of surfing, the number of people in the water is on the rise and unfortunately surfing etiquette is gradually eroding away.

New surfers should memorise these rules, and even veterans should take a refresher course now and then. This might seem like a lot of stuff to remember, but in time it will become second nature. Most surfing etiquette rules are common sense anyway

Typical Surfing Rules

right of way rule surfing
Right of way rule

The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if you’re paddling for a wave breaking to the right, and a surfer on your left is also paddling for it, you must pull back and let him or her have the wave.

splitting the peak rule surfing
Splitting the peak

A-Frames or Split Peaks: If two surfers are on either side of the peak, they each have the right of way to take off on their respective sides. It’s not generally accepted to take off behind the peak unless there’s nobody on the other side. These surfers should split the peak and go opposite ways. If a surfer riding a wave gets closed out with an impossible section or wipes out, the next surfer down the line can take off. If you’re a beginner and not very confidant just yet, hold off on doing this until you have a bit more experience.

surfers approaching each other - what to do
2 Surfers approaching each other

If a wave is breaking towards itself (a closeout) and two surfers are taking off at each other, both surfers have the right of way but this is a perilous situation and it’s advisable to kick out early to avoid a collision. Better to be safe than sorry in these situations.

the don't drop in rule of surfing
Don’t Drop In!

This is related to Rule #1. This is probably the most important part of surfing etiquette. Dropping in means that someone with the right of way is either about to take off on a wave or is already riding a wave, and you also take off on the same wave in front of him or her. This blocks his ride down the line, and is extremely annoying, not to mention dangerous. If you're tempted to drop in remember this: (a) no matter how good the wave is, if you drop in on someone you will feel bad for doing it. (b) The other surfer will be beyond annoyed at you and quite rightfully so (c) You wont make any friends if you drop in on people and you will have a pretty bad reputation in no time at all. And (d) If you do drop in on someone the wave will be ruined for everyone and no-one is a winner. There are no excuses what so ever for dropping in. Just Don’t Do It! If you do find yourself in a situation where you have dropped in on someone and you honestly did not see them and it was an accident, kick off the wave as soon as you possibly can and then when the person paddles back out after the wave make sure you apologise to them and let them know it was an honest mistake! The next time you're in priority for a wave It's a nice gesture to let the person who you dropped in on have your wave to make up for your earlier mistake.

the paddling rules of surfing
Paddling Rules

Some common sense surfing etiquette rules that people don’t seem to realise are important. Don’t paddle straight through the heart of the lineup where people are surfing. Paddle out through the channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing. Sometimes at spread out beach breaks this is hard, but usually there is a less crowded area to paddle through. When paddling back out, do NOT paddle in front of someone riding a wave unless you’re well, well in front of him. You must paddle behind those who are up and riding and take the whitewater hit or duckdive. You’ll appreciate this the next time you’re up on a wave. The main thing to remember here is do all you can not to be in someone's way even if it means more work for you by having to duck dive or get thrashed around by the wave. Sometimes you’ll just end up in a bad spot and won’t be able to paddle behind a surfer. It’s your responsibility to speed paddle to get over the wave and out of his or her way. If you don’t do this, he or she might just run you over!

Don’t ditch your board

This is important, especially when it gets crowded. Always try to maintain control and contact with your board. Surfboards are large, heavy, and hard. If you let your board go flying around, it is going to eventually hit someone in the head. This means if you’re paddling out and a wall of whitewater is coming, you don’t have permission to just throw your board away and dive under. If you throw your board and there is someone paddling out behind you, there is going to be carnage. This is a hard rule for beginners, but if you manage to avoid picking up the habit of throwing your board you will be a MUCH better and well respected surfer.

Don’t Snake

“Snaking” is when a surfer paddles around another surfer in order position himself to get the right of way for a wave. He is effectively making a big “S” around a fellow surfer. While not immediately hazardous to your health, this is incredibly annoying and heavily frowned upon. You can’t cut the lineup. Patiently wait your turn. Wave hogs don’t get respect in the water. Also, being a local doesn’t give you permission to ruthlessly snake visitors who are being polite.

Beginners: Don’t paddle out in to the middle of a packed lineup

This is kind of open to interpretation, but it still stands: if you’re a beginner you should try to avoid paddling out into the middle of a pack of experienced surfers. Try to go out to a less crowded beginner break. You’ll know you’re in the wrong spot if people start starring at you giving you dirty looks.

Don’t be a wave hog

Just because you can catch all the waves doesn’t mean you should. This generally applies to longboarders, kayakers, or stand up paddlers. Since it’s easier to catch waves on such watercraft, it becomes tempting to catch them all, leaving nothing for shortboarders on the inside. Give a wave, get a wave and earn respect from your fellow surfers in the process.

Respect the beach

Don’t litter. Simple as that. Pick up your trash, and try to pick up a few pieces of trash before you leave even if it’s not yours.

If you mess up?

Nobody really mentions this in surfing etiquette lists, but if you mess up and accidentally drop in or ruin someone’s wave, a quick apology is appreciated, and goes a long way to defusing tension in crowded lineups. You don’t have to grovel at their feet (well, unless you did something horrible). Honestly, if you drop in on someone and then ignore them, it’s pretty stupid and will only cause friction in the lineup, and its usually aimed at you.

This might seem like a lot of stuff to remember, but in time it will become second nature. Most surfing etiquette rules are common sense anyway.

It dosnt matter if you're the best surfer in your area, if you don’t have common surf etiquette no-one will look at you as a good surfer, just a disrespectful unpleasant person who is too selfish or unwilling to obey a few simple rules that will enable everyone to get along better.

Have fun in the water!