While surfing is a universal sport and the ocean welcomes all levels of skill, it’s especially important for the new surfer to keep in mind the unspoken rules of surfing. Surfers follow a code of conduct to keep things safe, friendly, and (most importantly) fun out in the lineup. It can be intimidating paddling out for the first time, but understanding surf etiquette is a sure-fire way to help you feel more comfortable and confident in the water.
Right of Way
Just like in driving a car, there is an established right of way in surfing. The surfer who is furthest out in the lineup generally has priority. She’s most likely been waiting longer than anyone else in the lineup and, thus, has earned the right of way.
When a wave is breaking and you and your buddy are determining whose wave it is, take note of who is closer to its peak. If your buddy is closer to the breaking wave, it’s his. If he doesn’t take it, it’s yours. And if you don’t take it, the wave belongs to whoever is next in line in proximity to the breaking wave.
So, what happens if you’re unsure who is closer to the inside of the wave? Follow the ‘first to feet’ rule, explained by the minds at Surfing Waves. Basically, whoever jumps up to their feet first has the right to the wave. This is a good rule of thumb and proper surf etiquette.
Dropping In and Snaking
Here’s where it can get ugly. Let’s say you and your buddy are out on a wave, and the ‘first to feet’ rule is in place. You pop up to your feet and take the wave. In your mind, it’s yours. However, your pal doesn’t quite get the memo and commits one of the deadliest sins in surf etiquette: he drops in on you. Dropping in is when a surfer who does not have priority goes over the top of a wave and dips down the face of the wave to take it as his own. This sometimes results in a collision and almost always results in frustration. It kills the wave for both surfers and is a big no-no in the surfing community.
Another crime in surfing is snaking. When a surfer spots someone with priority paddling into a wave, clearly focused on this wave, in particular, they should know that that wave is no longer up for grabs. However, when the onlooking surfer still tries to steal the wave, paddling to the inside of the wave and cutting off the initial surfer, he commits the criminal act of snaking.
Both dropping in and snaking can be avoided if surfers keep in mind the rights of way and communicate with one another. It is suggested to yell, “Right!” or “Left!” if a wave breaks in both directions, depending on which way you’re going to take it. This allows other surfers to know which wave you’re claiming, and to steer clear of that wave. If you do, by accident or on purpose, drop in on or snake a wave from another surfer, apologize. Avoid chaos and unnecessary frustration by practicing good manners. Surfing is supposed to be enjoyable, relaxed, and universal. Keep your passion bigger than your ego and don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry if you slip up.
We’ve got some of the major faux-pas out in the open, but there are a few keys to creating a fun and safe surfing experience that often go overlooked. The first of these is paddling etiquette.
To keep it short and sweet: Stay out of the surfer’s way. If someone is surfing a wave as you’re paddling out, it’s your job to paddle behind them. Cutting right in front of them obviously puts you both in danger of a collision, and it ruins the wave for the surfer. If you’re already in front of them before you see them take the wave, quickly paddle over the wave and out of their way.
Don’t Be Greedy With Waves
Another golden rule of surf etiquette is to share the waves. Don’t hog the waves, especially at a beach where you’re not a local. Follow Surfinghandbook.com’s rule: “Give a wave, get a wave” for an enjoyable sesh for everyone.
Keep Your Board With You… Always
We understand as a beginner that throwing your board as you swim under a wave is a lot less scary than trying to duck dive. The problem is, ditching your board is a huge risk for injury in the lineup. It can hit another surfer, come back and hit yourself, or tug you underwater. Plain and simple, it’s just not safe and it’s just not cool.
While this may seem like a lot to remember, it makes a lot of sense when you’re out there. The main takeaway here is to respect other surfers, both those more advanced and those still learning. Everyone is out there to have a good time and no one (minus a few greedy surfers who will drop in now and then) wants to ruin that for anyone. A fair rule to play by when you’re a beginner is to remember that you’re a beginner. Everyone started somewhere, but it’s best to start out strong with an understanding of surfing etiquette.
Understanding surf etiquette is a big part of surfing safely and having a lot of fun. Now that you know how to paddle out smoothly, communicate to determine the right of way, and keep other surfers and yourself from getting hurt out in the lineup, it’s your time to get out there and surf! Tag @StokeShare in your surf pictures and use the hashtag #stokeshareweekend to be featured on our Instagram!