Our global population is increasing and surfing is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet. This means, inevitably, that more surfing lineups will become more crowded. Respecting surfing etiquette will help all of us to continue to enjoy this great pursuit into the future.
Understanding and strictly adhering to these basic guidelines will go a long way towards keeping surfing fun and safe for all those who are lucky enough to call themselves surfers. Intentionally ignoring these guidelines (we all make mistakes) not only makes a challenging sport dangerous but also leads to anger and hostility in the water, which destroys the great vibe that surfing creates. Repeat offenders are usually dealt with accordingly.
If you’re starting out, please take the time to understand these guidelines. If you’re a veteran, a refresher in surfing etiquette won’t hurt.
Commandment #1: Right of Way
The closest surfer to the “peak” (the part of the wave that is about to or has just started to break) in on the “inside” and has the right of way. Any other surfer should yield if he or she paddles for and catches the wave. It is possible for two surfers to split a peak that produces a rideable wave in both directions (one surfer goes left, one surfer goes right).
Commandment #2: Never, Ever Drop In
Related to Commandment #1 and arguably the cardinal sin of surfing, “dropping in” occurs when the surfer on the “inside” has the right of way and another surfer takes off in front of him or her.
Dropping in is to steal a fellow surfers wave. Not only is it annoying but dangerous, especially in more serious conditions. The wave is wasted, the surfer with right of way is angry and the offender (should) feels dumb. Don’t do it!
Importantly, it is not okay to drop in just because it looks like a surfer with the right of way won’t be able to catch a wave they’re paddling for or, if they are already up and riding, it looks like they will fall or the wave will outrun them.
Give your fellow surfers the benefit of the doubt and they will do the same for you.
There is no excuse for dropping in and we would all be better off if offenders of this rule would simply acknowledge that they have made a mistake, apologise and not do it again.
Commandment #3: Don’t Be a Snake
“Snaking” a surfer in the line up is to paddle around someone in order to have the right of way. Again, this is stealing. Don’t do it; it is not clever.
Commandment #4: Paddling Out
Don’t paddle straight out through the center of action where surfers are catching and riding waves. In a beach break setup with multiple peaks, use common sense and avoid paddling out where waves are being ridden.
In some cases (e.g., you rode a wave in a set and came off with others waves in the set now breaking directly behind you), you can’t avoid being in the impact zone. Do your best to avoid getting in the way of another rider on a wave by either paddling wide or paddling behind the riding surfer towards the breaking peak or whitewash. Again, common sense will dictate the direction you take.
Commandment #5: Do Not Let Go of Your Board
It is dangerous to others, especially in a crowded lineup. If you can’t hold on to your board when a wave is crashing on you, you should not be out in the lineup.
Importantly, if a surfer is riding a wave towards you, letting go of your board is the worst thing you can do as the riding surfer will have no time to judge where to go and will surely hit you or the board or both. If you hold on to your board and either stop moving or continue paddling at the speed and direction, the riding surfer will have a much better chance of avoiding a collision.
Commandment #6: Know Your Place
If you’re just beginning the wonderful journey of learning to surf, don’t paddle straight into the line up of the best wave on the beach. Leave the best waves for more experienced surfers who have a better chance of appreciating them fully. Your time will come.
Commandment #7: No One Likes a Wave Hog
The best lineups are those where surfers are friendly and respectful, hooting each other into waves and sharing, regardless of ability or craft. It is irritating and rude when a lineup has surfers on more buoyant craft (e.g., longboards, SUP’s, kayaks, which are better positioned to catch waves further out to sea) who think that they are entitled to all of the waves coming through because their choice of craft enables it. Just because you can catch all the waves, doesn’t mean you should.
Commandment #8: Apologies Go a Long Way
Surfers are human; we all make mistakes. You will drop in; you will get in someone’s way while they’re riding the best wave of the day. It happens. Acknowledge a mistake and respectfully apologize and don’t do it again.
Commandment #9: Respect Your Surroundings
Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Do not litter and go out of your way to pick up litter that a careless person has left. It makes you a better human.
Commandment #10: Have Fun!
Don’t forget why we surf; surfing is about having fun! Stick to these guidelines of respectful surfing etiquette and you – and the surfers around you – will have more fun!
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