Surfing Etiquette: 10 Rules Every Beginner Should Know
1. Choosing the Right Spot and Conditions
There's a reason they say, "If in doubt, don't paddle out."
Surfing can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life, but you need to be honest with yourself about your abilities. Since this sport takes place in the ocean, it can be very dangerous if you find yourself in conditions that are beyond your skill level.
That's why it's essential to choose a surf spot that matches your skill level. Some spots have powerful, barreling waves, while others have smaller, gentle ones. The type of wave depends on both the spot's characteristics (bottom structure) and the conditions on any given day.
For a novice, selecting a spot and reading the surf forecast can be a challenging task.Ideally, for your first surf sessions, you should go into the ocean with an experienced friend or a surf instructor.
Powerful, barreling waves are suitable for advanced surfers. These waves require experience because they break very quickly, releasing a significant amount of energy. Getting caught in one of these waves as an inexperienced surfer can be very hazardous.
Gentle, smaller waves are suitable for beginners. These waves are much slower and break with much less force. Falling off such a wave is generally much safer.
2. Don't Drop In "The surfer closest to the peak has the right of way."
After you've practiced popping up on whitewater and started catching "green waves" farther out in the ocean, it's highly likely that there will be other surfers around you on the same spot, waiting for the same waves as you.
As a novice, it may not always be easy to discern which waves you should paddle for and which you should let pass.The basic rule here is that the surfer who has the potential to ride a wave the longest has the right of way. This means that the surfer closest to the peak (the point where the wave begins to break) has the right to that wave because they have the chance for the longest ride on it.
For example, when you (Surfer B) are paddling to catch a wave with the intention of riding it to the left, and Surfer A to your right is also paddling for the same wave, Surfer A has the right of way. You can only paddle for that wave if Surfer A misses it or falls off their board. If someone is paddling for the wave on your left, they must wait and see if you catch it before they paddle for it.
Dropping in is considered bad etiquette because experienced surfers want the opportunity to surf in a specific section of the wave to practice maneuvers or tricks that are not possible on the steeper, more critical part of the wave. In the described situation, surfer A cannot do that because they risk colliding with surfer B.
1. Options and Exceptions:
1.If another surfer has already stood up on their board and is riding the wave, but you are closer to the peak, do not attempt a late takeoff between that surfer and the peak. Even though you are closer to the peak, and your ride would be longer, the surfer who stood up first has the right of way.
2. If you are 100% certain that the surfer who took off from the peak will end up in the whitewater and won't be able to exit it due to the section collapsing in front of them, you can theoretically claim that wave.
2. How to Avoid Dropping In:
You're likely to accidentally drop in on other surfers at least a few times in your life; it happens to everyone. Here are three tips to help reduce the number of these unpleasant incidents:
- Look at the Peak: Every time you paddle for a wave, be sure to look towards the peak to see if anyone else is already on the wave with priority. If "looking at the peak" is too hard to remember, try "looking in the opposite direction of where you intend to go." For example, if you're planning to ride left on the wave, look right when paddling to ensure no one with priority is already on the wave.
- Be Observant: Listen to other surfers. You might hear someone shouting or whistling at you. Keep an eye on what's happening around you.
- Pull Off the Wave: The moment you realize you've dropped in on someone, it's not too late to correct your mistake. You can paddle out of the way behind the wave, and if you do it quickly enough, you might not interfere with the surfer who had priority.
3. Don't Snake:
Snaking is often perceived as even more disrespectful than dropping in. This is because experienced surfers are often the ones who snake, and they do it intentionally. It's rare to snake someone by accident, but as a newcomer, it's good to know what it means.
Snaking works like this: Surfer A is in the priority position and waiting their turn to paddle for a suitable wave. Surfer B (the snaker) waits for Surfer A to start paddling, then sneaks closer to the peak, positioning themselves with priority over Surfer A. If both surfers catch the wave, it appears that Surfer A dropped in on Surfer B, even though it was rightfully Surfer A's wave.
Note 1: Most surfers in the water can tell who's snaking and who isn't.
Note 2: There's nothing wrong with dropping in on a snaker, but keep in mind that some of them can be quite aggressive.
Note 3: At some spots, "locals" (local surfers) may believe they have priority on any wave. See rule 7, "Respect the Locals," to understand what this means.
- Return on a Wide Path and Avoid Crossing Paths with Other Surfers Since you're paddling out to the lineup with the intention of catching and riding long waves, you should also make every effort not to hinder others from doing the same.
4. Don't paddle straight to the lineup from the impact zone.
Don't paddle to where most waves are breaking and where other surfers are starting their rides.
Instead, paddle out to the lineup widely, through a channel where waves aren't breaking.
Sometimes, this can be challenging at a beach break where waves break almost everywhere. However, even there, you can find places with fewer surfers where you can paddle out without obstructing anyone's ride.
Try not to get in the way of a surfer who is riding the shoulder of the wave. When you paddle back to the lineup, you may encounter a surfer who is gliding along the wave just above you. You should try to avoid their trajectory, either by moving into the breaking zone or further down the wave if possible. You don't want to paddle into a wave where it's already almost breaking just to disrupt the ride of a surfer who is already on it.
Of course, experienced surfers will do everything to avoid colliding with you, but you should also do your best to stay out of their way. This is for the safety and enjoyment of everyone involved in surfing.
5. Observe the lineup order.
Spots with a defined take-off zone, such as reef breaks and point breaks, allow surfers to take turns. "Taking turns" means surfers wait for their chance and let others catch waves, essentially riding one after another. The one who has been waiting the longest sits closest to the peak and will be the next to catch a wave without any objections from other surfers. A surfer returning from the breaking zone also shows respect for other surfers and waits on the edge of the lineup for their turn.
Spots like beach breaks have multiple take-off zones, and each zone has its own lineup, so be careful when changing your position in the water.
When spots are overcrowded, as is often the case these days, lineups can become chaotic due to the large number of people in the water. In this case, the only working rule remains the rule of not dropping in.
- Don't be a greedy longboarder. Because it's much easier to paddle a big board, it allows you to catch waves earlier and farther out to sea than shortboard surfers. Just because you can catch waves farther out doesn't mean you have the right to take all of them. If you don't respect the lineup order, someone will surely point it out to you.
- If you paddled for a wave but didn't catch it, you should go back to the end of the lineup. You patiently waited your turn, the wave came, you paddled for it but missed it. All that waiting was for nothing! Unfortunately, this doesn't give you the right to catch the next wave since you just "used up" your turn. No matter how your attempt ends, it's not the problem of other surfers.
. You should communicate with other surfers. When many of them are paddling for the same wave, ask, "Are you going right or left?" Communicate your intentions when necessary.
Also, signal to other surfers paddling for the same wave you are already riding with a shout or whistle that the wave is already occupied to avoid collisions.
7. Respect the locals Respect to earn respect.
A surfer is usually considered a "local" if they have a long history of surfing at a specific spot. Pay attention to how things work when you surf at a new spot. While the fundamental rules outlined in this article apply to almost all surfing spots worldwide, locals may have their own version of surf etiquette. For instance, in some rare places, locals may believe they have priority on every wave. Take your time, observe the differences, and accept the peculiarities of the rules at that spot. If you don't, an unpleasant surprise may await you!
8. Hold onto your board Don't throw your board
It can injure other surfers, especially when the lineup is crowded. When a wall of whitewater is coming at you, there might be a temptation to toss your board and duck underwater. Your surfboard can strike someone who is paddling behind you.
If you're a beginner, this is even more important since you're likely riding a big and heavy board that can seriously harm another surfer if it hits them. It may not be easy to do, but you should learn to push your board through the whitewater, do a turtle roll, or duck dive if you're riding a shortboard. Ultimately, holding onto your board will make it easier and faster for you to get back to the lineup, ultimately making you a better surfer.
9. Apologize if you mess up .
Usually, this rule is not part of surf etiquette, but it's good to know. In most cases, experienced surfers can tell you if you did something wrong deliberately, like dropping in on them. If you accidentally drop in on someone, just apologize – it really matters and can reduce tension. Most surfers will likely say, "No worries" (at least if you make an effort not to repeat it).
As mentioned earlier, some surfers, like some people in general, are dissatisfied with life in general and may start cursing at you... Well, that's life!
10. Be a good person: enjoy, be patient, and have fun As with everything else in life, maintain a positive attitude and savor the moment.
Here are a few things you can do to make your experience and the experience of those around you even better:
- Don't litter and even clean up after those who do.
- Help other surfers if you see they're in trouble.
- Be patient and share waves. You'll be surprised how quickly "it's your wave, go for it!" can come back to you with more waves.
- Keep a positive attitude.