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Surf Etiquette 2.0

May 20, 2021

Surf etiquette for beginner and intermediate surfers

Recently we reviewed some of the basics of surf etiquette, it’s time to take a deeper look at the topic. We all know the surf is getting more crowded and the powers that be are not building any artificial reefs, jetties or piers to create new spots for us (one can only dream). So, with more of us added to the lineup and a finite number of surf spots, it’s important to make a few adjustments to maintain the stoke. Here are a few tips from someone who’s been surfing the North county since 1976.

Pick a spot that is right for you. If you’re beginner, paddling out at a crowded reef break, or a dredging low-tide sandbar, will likely end up in a frustrating session. And if you’re riding a standard shortboard, paddling out at a mushy reef full of longboarders will likely mean a low wave count and less than satisfying rides on the few waves that you do catch. We all want the best waves possible with the least amount of crowd; think clean, overhead, low tide Swamis with just one buddy to join you. But that’s not realistic. Neither is paddling out at an empty beach break with nothing but hopeless closeouts, expecting to get a long ride, with slashing turns all the way to the sand. 

So, here is the key. Enjoying your surfing is not solely about your wave count. What? Really? Let me say that again. If you base your level of surf stoke purely on your wave count, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and you could be causing disappointment for all the other surfers around you. Let’s face it, the number of incredible sessions where it’s consistent for the entire go out and you catch every wave you want, get in a rhythm, snag a ton of barrels and throw big spray on every turn is rare. I’ve witnessed grumpy surfers dominating a lineup and catching amazing waves but screaming and cursing because of the one wave they fell on, or the one wave they had to pull back because someone was in the way.  Meanwhile, the beginning surfer next to him is chatting up the lineup and grinning ear to ear because he got one to himself and pulled off a decent lip bash.

So what is the answer? It’s paddling out with the right attitude. If your goal is to get wet, rinse off the stress and enjoy some healthy exercise and fellowship in God’s creation, while you get a couple of fun ones, you are likely to succeed. But if your goal is to go out and monopolize the lineup, taking off on every wave that comes near you and ripping the heck out of each one, anything less will cause you to feel like a failure. And how many people are you frustrating in the process?

If the most important aspect of the session is always your wave count, then backpaddling, shoulder hopping, intimidation, localism and all of the dark, negative aspects of surfing are likely to follow and the sheer joy of being the ocean and sharing the experience with like-minded people is probably being overshadowed by selfish desires. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit  but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).” He was saying that focusing only on yourself is a sure way to be miserable. Who wants to be friends with someone who is selfish and doesn’t give a darn about anyone else? And who wants to surf with someone who thinks that way?

I know what you’re thinking – if I’m too nice to everyone else, how am I going to catch a wave? But you already know the answer: position yourself strategically in the lineup, be aggressive enough to catch waves but not so aggressive that you have tunnel vision and only think about yourself, and pay attention to the people around you. Is there a guy or girl who hasn’t caught a single wave and had to pull back for you on the last four sets? What about hooting them into the next one and watching them paddle back out with a huge smile. The joy of giving a couple of waves away and passing the gift of stoke to others can really be intoxicating. It’s refreshing and encouraging for the recipient and it feels really good for the giver; sort of like giving flowers to your wife or girlfriend as a surprise, even when it’s not her birthday or a holiday. 


And what about the wave count of those around you? Just because you can paddle deeper doesn’t always mean you have to. I’ve witnessed people waiting for a wave patiently for a long time and just as one comes right to them, a guy who just caught several, backpaddles behind them and says “hey, hey, hey,” as he grabs that one also. Now, we know the best surfers usually get the most waves and can often take off deepest. But that doesn’t mean they have to compete with and ignore everyone else in the lineup. And getting a ton of waves while alienating yourself to everyone else is an empty feeling. All it takes is a little awareness of surfers besides yourself and making an effort to add to their stoke, while still getting your fair share. Then everyone can come in with a smile on their face.

Written by Paul Ambrogio