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Surfing Rules & Etiquette

   April 18th, 2021   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Surfing Rules & Etiquette

With any traditional sport, you have to know the rules before you step on the field or court and start playing. Surfing is no different. There are surfing rules and etiquette involved to keep people safe and to make sure everyone has fun. But unlike traditional sports, surf rules and etiquette are more like common knowledge that surfers are taught before paddling out the first time. We highly recommend going out with an experienced surfer for your first time because they will be able to explain in detail surfing rules and etiquette. If you don’t have that luxury and you’re going out alone, keep reading and you’ll know everything you need to know.

Safety First

Some people call this the number 1 rule of surfing etiquette: Know your ability. The ocean is very dangerous and conditions can change in an instant. Waves have a lot of power so make sure you can handle the day’s conditions at the break you’re going to be surfing. Big waves can cause traumatizing experiences which can make beginner surfers scared to keep trying. Make sure you know your limits because the last thing you want is to get hurt or to have to be rescued by a lifeguard or another surfer.

Hold On To Your Board

The next part of the safety portion of surfing etiquette is pretty self-explanatory. Surfboards are very dangerous and if you get hit by one it can cause an intense injury and even death. Do whatever you can to not let go of your board. Don’t let it go sailing into the whitewash toward other surfers. This also goes for paddling out. Make sure you know how to either duck-dive or turtle roll with your board to avoid letting it slip away from your hand. If this means taking some extra time in the shallows to learn how to hold your board when a wave hits you, do it! It could save a life.

Who Gets The Wave?

When most of us surf there are usually several other people out there trying to catch the same waves. This can lead to confusion, greediness, and misunderstandings. This is where surfing rules and etiquette come into play regarding who has the right-of-way on the wave.

Closest To The Peak

When waves start breaking there is usually one part of the wave that breaks first. This is known as the peak of the wave. The surfer closest to the peak has priority over the other surfers who are trying to catch it as well.

That means if you are catching a wave to ride to the left but there is someone to the right of you closer to the peak, that person gets priority on the wave. If you are trying to catch a wave to ride to the left and there is no one to the right of you, you have priority and the surfers to your left must let you have it.

Right or Left Communication

Waves that have a true peak often break both to the right and to the left which means there is room for two surfers to ride the wave. If you and another surfer are near the peak gunning for the same wave make sure you call out the direction you plan to go (Left or Right) to alert the other surfer to go in the other direction.

Point Break Lineups

On a point break where the waves don’t have a true peak and break consistently in one direction the rule to follow is to basically form a line. After you catch a wave you paddle back out and get into the back of the lineup and wait your turn to go.

Don’t Miss The Wave

Surfing rules and etiquette tell us that after you try for a wave and miss it you are now in the back of the lineup. You don’t automatically get the next wave. That next wave goes to the surfer who is closest to the peak or the next person in the lineup. You are out of luck until the other surfers get their waves.

Don’t Drop In On Someone

Make sure you are always paying attention to the right-of-way rule to avoid ruining a wave for another surfer. If you drop in on a wave going to the left and there is someone to your right you have successfully dropped in on them. It’s very disrespectful and can lead to tension in the water.

If this does happen do your best to get off the wave as soon as you see someone else riding on it. In most cases, you can get out of the way and back over the shoulder of the wave soon enough to not cause any disruptions for the other surfer. If you do end up dropping in on someone and you can’t get out of the way make sure to say sorry. Apologies go a long way out in the water and most people realize that everyone makes mistakes.

Don’t Be The Longboarder Who Catches Everything

Another part of the surf rules and etiquette revolves around the surfer who is furthest on the outside or furthest from the shore. Some believe they have priority on the waves even over the right-of-way rule. But this can lead to longboarders or paddleboarders who sit much further out simply because their boards allow them to catch waves further out compared to short-boarders. Don’t use this to your advantage on every wave because sooner or later someone will notice and speak up.

Don’t Be A Snake

This refers to the surfer who paddles quickly around another surfer to get closer to the peak and then takes off on the wave. Technically, that wave is theirs but the way they got it was pretty shady. You might see this happen with highly skilled surfers who are out there ripping or locals who are protective over their prized spot. Our suggestion if this happens to you is to try to forgive and forget to avoid any misunderstandings that can lead to something that will ruin your day.

Paddling with Respect

After you have caught the wave and you are trying to return to the lineup do your best to stay out of the way of the other surfers. This means going extra wide to get back out. Try to find the channels and the spots where the waves have ended so you are not getting in the way of the surfers on the prime parts of the wave. If you can’t get wide the best thing to do is to just stay in the white water where you won’t have any interactions with the people who are on the shoulder of the waves. Barefootsurftravel.com has great illustrations of everything that we just went over and many popular surf locations have surfing rules and etiquette signs posted.

Respect The Location

Make sure when you are heading out to surf that you get some knowledge about the location you have your eyes on. Try to figure out the timing of the sets, how big the waves are getting, where people are catching the waves, where to paddle out, and so on. If you need help figuring that stuff out ask another surfer that you see or go to the local surf shop and ask one of the workers. Chances are they will be happy to give you all the information you need and more. 

Local Attitude

It is good to ask about the attitude of the local surfers as well because sadly, there are some surfers who take it way too seriously. It doesn’t happen all that often but there are horror stories of local surfers being confrontational and territorial and doing things to try to intimidate you to leave the spot. If this happens we suggest you leave and find another spot. Again, this doesn’t happen all that often but we wanted to make you aware that it can.

If you follow all of the surfing rules and etiquette above every time you surf you will be well on your way to having nothing but great experiences while gaining respect from the other surfers out on the waves. 

Keep shredding!

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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One Comment

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