Surf etiquette

By Rebecca Heller

Girls and get away with a heck of a lot more than the boys out there simply by being so darn cute! But it pays to be neighborly and know the rules of surfing. Check out the following often unspoken rules and etiquette so us surfers, especially beginners, can keep our squeaky clean image in and out of the water.

Don’t drop in.The person furthest out from shore and closest to where the wave is breaking has the right of way. If you are further out on the shoulder and the person on the inside is catching the wave, pull back. As a beginner, pretty much consider anyone up on a wave having priority over you.

Queue up.At point or reef breaks where there is a centralized take-off area there is an unofficial line. Kind of like Disneyland, wait for those who were there before you to go, then it is your turn. Once you have taken a wave, or even attempted a ride, give those closer to the peak a chance. Let a couple waves go by before you try again. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.

Paddle straight outat a beach break, avoiding the peak of the wave and the take off zones. This is easier said then done, since the take-off spot at a beach can shift around. This also means you may have to paddle out through the white water rather than the unbroken sections. If a surfer is coming down the line as you are paddling out try to gauge your speed and paddle behind them. At a point or reef, try to paddle around the break.

Location. Location. Location.Stick to spots that support your ability level (i.e. beginners, don’t paddle out at Pipe). Surfing at spots that are too difficult put you in danger as well as those around you. That being said, more advanced surfers shouldn’t get pissy with those trying to learn at well-known beginner breaks.

Don’t ditch your board.When you are turtling or duck diving hold tightly onto your board. Don’t just let it go haphazardly with the wave as you will knock out surfers behind you. Remember you have a ring of destruction around you equal to the length of your leash! If you can’t hold on – let’s be honest sometimes the wave will rip the board out of your hands – try and yell “Board!”

Beginners are invisible.When more advanced surfers see beginners flailing around looking like they don’t have it all under control yet, they will ignore you. Thankfully they will avoid you, but they will also ignore you. Meaning, they will take off when you are going for a wave assuming that you are unable to catch it. Don’t get upset, you probably weren’t going to catch it anyway. Hopefully, when they see you catch one they will pull back and give a cheerful hoot!

Respect your elders.They have probably been surfing the break you are at since before you were born. Give ‘em some space and their fair share of waves; hopefully they will do the same for you. Don’t be afraid to ask advice, more surfers than not will be flattered and eager to tell you what they know. Plus, they have a lot to teach you; if they give you some advice (kind or unkind) take it.

Support others.Help others, give encouragement, and don’t drop in on them. Beginers are the minority out there so give a little love to the others out there. Give ‘em a smile when they paddle out a hoot when they catch a good wave. Compliment them. There is no greater buzz than someone telling you, “Nice ride.”

Share waves.Once you get good enough to catch most of the waves your try for, share, especially if you are on a longboard as you will be further out than the shortboarders and able to catch more waves. Let others have their turn, especially those who aren’t as good as you. Even if you were snaked all the time when you started, don’t return the favor. Surfing shouldn’t be a hazing process.

Localism sucks.But unfortunately, it does exist. Know something about the surf spot where you are going out. It is best to go with someone who has surfed there before. Sadly there are spots where locals will pester you, throw things, break into your car and go as far as beating up other surfers. This gross behavior should not be condoned, but should be avoided, especially by the beginning surfer.

Surf with Aloha.If you are a beginner, or even a veteran surfer, have the right attitude. It’s all about having fun, communing with nature and goofing around. Leave any grudges or bad attitudes at home and surf with aloha, peace and love.

Pick up after yourself.And finally, the best etiquette is always to leave the beach as you found it. Don’t litter whether you are on the beach or on the street. Join an ocean conservation philanthropy like Surfrider Foundation. We only have one ocean so treat it with respect.

Click here for illustrations.

Rebecca Heller is a freelance journalist and keen surfer.
She publishes some of her work at and from time to time.
Rebecca may be contacted as follows;-
Rebecca Heller

Copyright - Rebecca Heller/WahineSurfing

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