Surf Etiquette - Do's and Don't for the new and progressing surfer

December 28, 2019

Surf Etiquette

These tips outline an overall way of approaching surfing with all the right intentions in mind. Here we’ll cover what to look for in finding the right spot for you. We’ll also tell you what to observe once you’re out there.

Location, location, location.

To start, it’s wise to look for a wave that suits your skills and intentions Pick a place that feels the most comfortable. Make an honest effort in observing the characteristics of the surf break. Too often, beginners see an appealing wave only to find out in the lineup that an aggressive wave creates an aggressive vibe in the water. That said, beginners will find that their skills advance much quicker within a lineup that’s relaxed and inviting. That’s not to discourage beginners from paddling out at a good wave, just be prepared to do more second-hand learning until the timing is right to paddle for a wave.

On the flip side, if you’re an intermediate or advanced surfer, bring a relaxed and stoked vibe to a lineup with an easy wave. Encourage those around you that may be less skilled. It’s difficult to feel courageous when a bunch of young rippers take over a relaxed wave and change the vibe to a competitive one.  We’re not saying not to go surf an easy wave if you can surf a better one. We’re saying that when you do, lead by example.

When observing a surf break from land, note the ratio of waves to surfers. Locate the entry and exit points between the beach and the lineup, the direction(s) the wave breaks, submerged obstacles like rocks/reef, the level and variety of surfing skill, the type of boards being ridden and how they perform. These factors will answer “to paddle or not to paddle.” If you choose to paddle, these factors will tell you where to do so.

Now that you’ve noticed where others paddled out, follow suit.  Beach breaks can shift with time so sometimes you’re just looking for a slight channel to make things easier. Most popular waves break in a fairly consistent location. It’s best to paddle out well off to the side and work your way over to the lineup.

When observing a surf break from the lineup, pay attention to overall vibe, is it calm or competitive? Go with the flow. Are the waves breaking in a focused zone or are they scattered among a few peaks? Sit in a safe spot and respectfully work your way into the queue.

A break where etiquette is still respected creates a natural pecking order that rewards those that wait their turn.  Provided that the person that’s waited the longest is in a good position for the next wave, they get priority. If you’re often in best spot, grab one then let a few through. Rule of thumb, share and communicate! 

The situation to avoid - If it seems like everybody is out for themselves, be cautious, that’s not what surfing should be about. Often times, etiquette is thrown away at that point and that’s what causes dangerous situations. I’d go find a different wave.

These are just the basics, it can get technical on occasion. For the most part, if you adopt this creed, you'll find that surfing can always be fun and enjoyable. Take it upon yourself to uphold good etiquette in the water both for yourself and for those around you.

Where to Paddle:

First, like we said earlier, when paddling out to or within a break, it's your responsibility to stay out of the way of riders on waves.

Paddle well behind or well in front of the waves being ridden. Don’t put yourself in a situation where surfers have to make adjustments to avoid you while riding; that’s dangerous. The extra paddle is worth the effort and shows respect. If it’s going to be a close one, take the duck dive instead of trying to get over the shoulder.

Dropping In:

Don't drop in on your fellow surfer.

Dropping in is catching a wave ahead of a surfer who is up and riding or is paddling into the wave. Even if they aren’t in the ideal takeoff spot or don’t look like they’ll make the section, be fair, give them a chance! First surfer up gets priority if they're closest to the breaking wave. If you're first up but you're off the shoulder, for safety reasons, it's your duty to pull off the wave.

Don’t “snake” your fellow surfer.

Snaking a wave is when you paddle across another surfer, that’s in a good position, to catch the wave. Just because you’re now in the priority spot of the wave doesn’t mean it was ok to take that wave from the other surfer. That’s abusing your skills!

Wait Your Turn:

This one is HUGE! Take turns.

Once again, don’t abuse your skills. Often, there are more surfers in a lineup than there are waves. If this is the case, be fair, give others a chance. On the flip side, others should show you the same courtesy. Nobody likes a wave hog.

Respect the locals:

We touched on this already. Respect the vibe.

If it’s relaxed, follow suit. Don’t get agro on every wave just because you can. That will either cause others to get competitive with you, or cause the relaxed surfers to bail early on their session. If it’s more aggressive, it might take some hustle to score a good wave.

Help Others:

Always aid another surfer in trouble.

It’s your duty as a fellow surfer to help others when you have the opportunity to do so. You were there once. If you see a dangerous habit forming, respectfully mention a better way of handling that situation. If they’re a little off, ask them to sit by you and try a wave from the peak. You could change their life and not even know it. If you can save a board from the rocks, do it.

Respect local surfers and their rights and customs without sacrificing your own.

Every break, like any bar, has its regulars. They may have a few variations to these guidelines. That said, respect the law of the land instead of trying to enforce your own. If you feel you’re being disrespected, state the obvious. If they don’t like it, too bad, you’re playing fair. If all else fails, scoot over to your own wave.

Respect other surfers:

Don't take advantage of your fellow surfers.

Just because you know where to sit on every wave doesn’t mean you automatically deserve every wave. Lead by example. Don’t take advantage of outgunning someone. It’s your duty as a respectful surfer to spread the wealth and uphold good surf etiquette.

Be careful with your equipment:

Be responsible for yourself, your equipment and others.

Surfboards can be extremely dangerous. Play safe. You don’t need to land that air right next to their head. Be aware of those around you at all times. If it’s crowded, wear a leash. Even if you’re a hot shot, it takes one time losing your board in the wrong situation to ruin someone’s day or board.


Relax, have fun and share the stoke.

We’re all in it for the same reason; it’s our happy place. Keep it that way. There are many “YEEEW!”s to be had and to be given. “YEW!” at will.

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