Surf Etiquette, How to Handle Your Surfboard and NOT Piss Anybody Off.

All around the world the rules of surfing are the same. These rules are known as "surf etiquette". Some breaks (or great surfing locations) have the surf etiquette on signs or plaques displayed prominently before you get in the water. In this day and age of increasing "rage" with everything, there is surf rage as well.

Be respectful of the universal surf etiquette code to save yourself many unpleasantries. No one wants to wear a surfboard in the face. No one wants to wait ages for the perfect wave to have to get off to prevent themselves plowing into someone dropping in or not knowing what they are doing. No one wants to be beaten up in the parking lot for infuriating a local by dropping in (see below for definition) on their wave. No one wants to get their surfboard dinged by some novice who doesn't know what they are doing. No one wants to go to prison for committing surf rage, either.

The rules have been invented to try and keep everyone safe, and also to make it fairer. Some surfing breaks enforce the rules more than other places. If you are at a new break take a minute to observe the locals.

Right of Way. The surfer on the wave who is closest to the breaking edge has right of way. This means that the wave is theirs. Unless they fall off their surfboard, or pull out of the wave, they have priority, or right of way. To put it simply, if there is already a surfer on their feet on their surfboard closest to where the wave is breaking, you can't surf that wave. The wave is already taken.

Dropping In. Never, ever, drop in on another surfer's wave. This is considered the most heinous of surfing crimes. If there is someone on the wave already you cannot just hop on the wave in front of them. This is what is known as dropping in. Committing this surfing crime could result in your surfboard being banged up, the other surfer surfing over the top of you, the surfer having to pull off his wave, causing major fury, and more often than not, you having to endure surf rage. If you do not want to be abused physically or verbally do not drop in on another surfer, ever. When you drop in on another surfer all the other surfers can see you and they will all have a terrible impression of you. There is no excuse, ever. Dropping in on another surfer has resulted in flat tires, broken windscreens, and in some locations in Australia, the perpetrator's surfboard has been smashed and hung from the highest tree.

Getting Back Out. When you are paddling back out to the break (where the good waves are), you need to keep out of the way of surfers. Other surfers do not want to lose their wave so as to not ride their surfboard over the top of you. You need to paddle behind where they are surfing and not get in their path. You will be paddling through more white water, but everyone has to do it.

Sharing. Some surf breaks have more aggressive local surfers than others. Locals have a right to surf their own break. Visitors should respect any local customs as well as the universal surfing etiquette. Visitors are entitled to surf the waves as well, but care should be taken to not antagonize the locals. Sharing and respect will result in you being accepted by the locals and having a more pleasant surfing experience.

Control Your Surfboard. An out of control surfboard can create a lot of damage, both to yourself, other surfers, and their surfboards. When you are paddling out to the break you need to hang on to your board. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly, so as you don't injure anyone paddling behind you, and secondly, you will get out the back (where the good waves are breaking), quicker if you maintain control of your surfboard. You will only be forgiven for letting go of your surfboard if it looks like you will meet your death being wiped out otherwise. Only self centered dorks ride a surfboard without a surfboard leash in crowded environments. Remember, respect in the water goes a long way. Treat the other surfers how you would like to be treated yourself.


Garek Hurt
Garek Hurt

Author



11 Comments

Dave
Dave

May 07, 2014

Thinking of buying the NexGen 9’6", was wondering, when you hit the whitewater getting to the lineup, do the longer boards duckdive as well as shorties or do i need to turn it upside down, like in the old days?

Luc Stokes
Luc Stokes

May 07, 2014

Being in the white water, the only time you will have the right of way will be if nobody is on the wave you’re wanting to paddle for.

Cat An
Cat An

May 07, 2014

Hello.
At my usual surf spot(point break) waves can get pretty big, like +6ft.
On days like that I prefer surfing in the white-water section. Most surfers are waiting a little further out at the breaking section.
The question is, when do I have right of way?
Please answer & have a nice day

Caleb Wechsler
Caleb Wechsler

May 07, 2014

Great article!

Definitely hits the key points of surf etiquette…

I myself am classified I guess as a “local” at most surf spots in South San Diego..most notably Blacks. San Diego through Huntington are known quite well for our loud mouthed locals, so I thought I’d share a few tips:)

1. EVERYONE is new to a break at some point in time. Period.
2. Get to know the locals, it earns respect if you come and talk to us while paddling out, don’t just surf the break and leave.
3. Surf etiquette goes a long ways, and if you do drop in, intentional or not, a sincere apology usually gets the job done. No harm, no foul.. believe it or not, we apologize to new guys all the time.
4. Don’t get in verbal arguments with locals… as much as you may be right, there are more of them than you, and coming back to a break where you have a bad reputation is not fun. Believe me, when I first surfed lower trestles, I got mad for someone dropping in… Now everytime I go back there, I get verbally abused. Sometimes its better to kiss ass.

I understand this may sound conceited, but locals are a centralized breed of surfer, so respect goes A LONG ways.

Don
Don

May 07, 2014

Hey Luc, I’m enjoying all of your articles and photos.
I just saw ‘Riding Giants’ for the first time ( a neophyte grom for sure,
not to be confused with a neoprene grom ).
I was blown away by it. It was very inspiring.
Much like your website. For someone starting out,
there are a lot of forks in the road, and you’re helping
me to make sense of it all. Again, if The Surfing Gods
Decree that I win…a NextGen Ultimate Longboard,
I will abide.

Luc Stokes
Luc Stokes

May 07, 2014

Good thoughts Rob. Thanks for sharing.

Rob
Rob

May 07, 2014

I have to interject about ‘locals’. Surfing has never been about ‘locals’. And there are a few breaks where ‘locals’ antagonize themselves (Anyone ever surf Huntington Peir up in OC?). Everyone starts out as a kook, and everyone drops in on someone, paddles out in front of someone, and fails to yield at some point in their career. As long as it’s unintentional, it should (and usually is) let go with a grain of salt. Surfing isn’t about elitism, it’s about the smile on your face. Dana Brown once said that the best surfer in the lineup is the one having the most fun. I firmly believe that is the paramount means of determining how much a surfer belongs in the lineup. I don’t care how good you are, if you are paddling around angrily, you don’t belong out there. I’ve been surfing Socal for over 6 years now, and have rarely seen any notable problems, most of which have all been in tourist breaks, where the ‘locals’ get a bit big for their britches.

And a story tying that soapbox to having a leash:

I was surfing Huntington Pier last week, and caught a fun little backside left. A ‘local’ (I have been surfing HB daily since I moved up here in July) dropped in on me, and I had to run so hard so fast to not plow him over that I threw myself off of my board, and my board ended up ankle biting him and we both got washed in. I wasn’t mad about the drop in, and wanted to make sure he was ok, so I started paddling in towards him when he flipped me off and swore to ‘beat my ass’ when we went in, and told me to ‘go back where I came from’. Now, it was at this point that I noticed not only was he not surfing with a leash, but he also probably got what he deserved. I stayed out until hi tide, and he waite din the parking lot for me. When I came out of the water, I must have looked a bit bigger than I did with only my shoulders out of the water out in the lineup, because he promptly left without saying a word.

It’s been my time and time again experience that the surfers who consider themselves ‘locals’ give the rest of us a bad name.

And if you surf without a leash I hope a shark eats you. Someone could get killed by a loose board hiding out in the whitewater.

Pretty good article though.

Luc Stokes
Luc Stokes

May 07, 2014

You’re gonna need to role it unless you’re really heavy. I’ve seen it done, but at 180lbs I don’t have a chance in… well you get the idea. :)

Laura
Laura

May 07, 2014

I appreciate all the tips.
I am a new surfer and quite honestly am so crappy that its hard to focus on anything but staying on the board.
I always pick areas where there is no one or very few people in the water to try and stay out of everyone’s way, but when better surfers get in the water after me it is hard to keep track of what I am supposed to be doing with regards to them.

I don’t want to get discouraged- being a 33 year old woman trying something new in the water with a bunch of 18 year old boys is hard enough. I just hope people remember that being in the water is great for everyone, and we all didn’t know what the hell was going on when we started. It’s a big ocean- when someone doesn’t know what’s going on, just help them out or give them a break!

Gladys
Gladys

May 07, 2014

Excellent post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

Luc Stokes
Luc Stokes

May 07, 2014

@Caleb- Good words. Thanks for your contribution.

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