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A Guide to Surf Etiquette
With surfing being a free, unjudged, and unruled sport, how can surfers maintain a shared level of equality and respect for one another in the water?
Surf etiquette exists to do precisely this. It's an unspoken list of surfing rules that we, as surfers, have a responsibility to follow with diligence. In doing so, we create an environment promoting good vibes and positivity.
Surfing is gaining popularity, and crowded lineups constitute an even greater need for surfing etiquette to be understood and followed by all who choose to share the waves. So if you're learning how to surf or teaching your groms how to surf, here's a rundown on all things surf etiquette, your guide to the unspoken rules of surfing.
What is Surfing Etiquette?
Surfing etiquette is the proper way to carry yourself at the beach and in the lineup, the unspoken but shared rules of all surfers. These rules help to promote safety as the primary importance, followed by respect for each other and nature.
Surfing etiquette curates a positive experience for everyone, ensuring that waves are shared, there is organization in the lineup, and the stoke is maintained for all. In a world that needs equality and fairness above many things, it's one of those ideologies we can carry into every aspect of our lives, and it presents the perfect teaching lesson for your surf grom(s).
The Unspoken Rules of Surfing
Here's exactly what these surfing rules are and how to follow them, my salty people.
1. A General Aurora of Respect
I like to start with respect, as in the end, respect is why we choose to follow these surfing rules so passionately, and surfing isn't just about respect for one another. It's also about respect for our beloved ocean and in more than one way.
Respect other Surfers
Always do your best to respect other surfers in the lineup, especially when you're not surfing your local break. Do as you want to receive, and really, just be a kind, good person towards others!
Provide advice, accept advice, give a 'yeww' of appreciation to someone's shwack, and never forget to smile! It goes a long way in curating an experience that everyone can enjoy, synonymous with nothing but positive vibes for all.
If you surf a non-local break, be mindful that you'll have to earn respect, which means practicing extra of it on your end, even if you initially do not receive the same level back. Give locals their right to the waves, and eventually, an open one will come your way.
Respect for Nature & The Ocean
Surf Kids Require Miniscule Conditions to Safely Catch a Wave.
The respect we must share with the ocean is equally essential to surfing etiquette. It might be a playground of joy and pure stoke, but at the end of the day, it's a dangerous one. Luckily, there's plenty you can do to negate these dangers and enjoy surfing safely, without worry, and it's a big deal to share this with your groms as they age into their own surfing endeavors.
- Never Surf Above your Skill Level
The ocean can be unforgiving. Never surf conditions well outside your skill level, and always surf with a buddy. You don't want to put another surfer or a lifeguard in danger to save you from an avoidable mistake, so remember that.
Some spots are better for beginners than others, and there's no need to crowd a lineup meant for the experienced, so learn which spots and conditions are ideal for these beginner stages.
I actually talk about some of these ocean-intricacies in my blog "How to Read a Surf Report", so give it a read to work towards gaining an understanding of how to read the conditions.
- Consider Ocean Elements
Always take time to observe. Watch the wave height and set intervals, and try to pinpoint any possible dangers before paddling out, such as shallow sandbar, exposed reef, and currents. Also, consider the weather and any potential changes throughout the day, such as lightning, a tide switch, or growing swell, and never underestimate them.
Use a surf forecasting app, such as Surfline, as professional guidance to these ocean intricacies.
- Leave Her Better than you Found Her
There is no surfing without the ocean, and we can all agree that we don't want to surf with cans and chip bags in our barrels, do we?
As a surfer, don't just leave no trace. Go the extra mile and look out for your mama ocean by picking up a few pieces of trash or bike to your local spot to reduce carbon footprints. Really, anything environmentally positive you do, whether at home or the beach, is a huge deal and a part of surfing etiquette you can use to look after our seven seas.
Teach your groms these same ideals to raise eco-friendly surf kids with shared passions for a green & bright blue planet.
2. Learn Where and How to Paddle Out
There are good and bad ways to paddle out, and learning how to approach your journey to the lineup is an integral aspect of surfing etiquette.
First off, you need to identify the best area to paddle out, known as the channel. This is the easiest zone to paddle, and it's the safest for yourself and other surfers.
To look for a channel, try to locate parts of the impact zone where the waves do not break as aggressively (or at all).
Sometimes there is a clear channel, but some spots don't offer such a definitive opening, and you'll have to time the sets based on the swell period and duck dive your way to the lineup.
When paddling out, do your best to avoid other surfers riding a wave.
This surf spot has a clear channel to paddle out without interfering w/other surfers.
If a surfer is riding towards you, paddle in the opposite direction in which they are riding. Never ditch your board unless it is an absolute final effort to get under a big, dangerous wave, and look around you to ensure there aren't other surfers in a ditched surfboard's path. If you have to, talk to a lifeguard to discuss where the best place to paddle out is or if they have any advice, and always wear a leash to prevent losing your board.
3. Never Drop in on Someone
Surfer A is closest to the peak and the first one on the wave, and therefore has priority on this right. Surfer B has wrongly dropped in on Surfer A, clearly taking a wave that is already claimed.
Dropping in on someone refers to the act of paddling into a wave that is another surfer's priority or that they are currently riding. It's not only dangerous, as you'll put yourself directly in their path, but it's a total sign of disrespect and a clear break in the rules of surfing.
I just wrote about how to determine priority in surfing, so I highly suggest checking it out to ensure you never break this critical piece of surfing etiquette.
4. Don't You Dare Snake!!
Snaking is somewhat similar to dropping in, in the sense that you purposefully execute an action to take someone else's wave that is otherwise their priority.
Snaking looks a little something like this:
Surfer A is in position for a wave and has current priority. Surfer B, who is further away from the peak, decides to paddle themselves around surfer A aggressively. In doing so, they have taken the position of priority and therefore take the wave.
It's okay to adjust your position in the lineup to catch better waves, but intentionally doing so several times when another surfer is clearly in the better position will eventually grant you some disgruntled stares.
5. Don't be a Wave Hog
It might be because of skill or a better board choice, but some surfers simply catch more waves than others, and that's all part of the game. But at the end of the day, it's a big sign of respect and a super kind gesture to let a few waves go by if you're the star of the lineup.
Allow others to have their turn every so often, and let a few sets go by if your wave count is well above the others in the lineup.
Want to Learn More about Surfboards for Kids?
Communication and surfing etiquette go hand in hand. When you're in the lineup, do your best to utilize communication to help other surfers navigate their following choices.
For example, holler out that you're planning to drop in left so another surfer can take the right, or if you feel yourself not locking into a wave you are paddling for, tell another surfer to 'go go go!' so they can take the opportunity. If another surfer drops in on you, it's not ideal, but instead of pushing them off their board, give them a warning shout that you're already on the wave.
Part of this communication is also about apologizing if you break one of the rules of surfing. If you drop in on someone or get in their way, own up to your mistake and offer a genuine apology.
7. Be Someone Else's Safety
And hopefully, they return the favor as yours!
We have an unspoken job of looking after each other in the water, whether concerning ocean animals, a rude surfer, or a dangerous situation. Offer advice and help where needed and applicable, and if someone is in danger and you can help, such as if their leash breaks, make the judgment of whether you will do so.
8. Just Have Fun!
The biggest rule of surfing? Have fun! Surfing etiquette keeps us safe and the environment conducive to positivity and good fun for all, which is a massive part of why we surf!
Be a beacon of stoke in the water and recognize that we are all there for the same adrenaline-induced reasons. Share your salty smiles with others and your grom(s), never take a wave for granted, and you're the best surfer in the water.
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Live rad, stay salty.
- Ash, Dev & The Salty Shreds Fam.