Surf Etiquette Explained
Now it’s time to get into the thick of it. Surf etiquette, as it is commonly known, begins the moment you enter the water. It is broken down into a series of rules, often posted at the main beach access points for popular surf breaks. It might look something like this:
THE BASICS OF SURF ETIQUETTE
Closest to the peak and first to feet has the right of way.
Don’t ditch your board in danger of others.
Help other surfers.
Note: These rules are not the same everywhere you go! For this, you can’t beat local knowledge.
Easy, right? As much as these sign boards are useful additions to a popular surf beach, I often witness them causing more confusion than actual education.
Each rule needs to be understood, as well as in the potential “gray areas” where it might not be so sure what the right choice is. Here we go!
1. Closest to the peak and “first to feet” has the right of way.
What’s the peak? This is the part of the wave that breaks. It will generally be the steepest, most powerful part. On the peak you will find the the “take-off zone” will be where surfers catch the wave. This is where the lineup begins.
Grey area: It is sometimes possible to paddle for a wave and be “first to feet” before the surfer closest to the peak. In this event, the proximity to the peak takes precedence and the surfer on the shoulder should respectfully “kick-out” (exit the wave on the shoulder without interfering with the other surfer’s ride.
2. Don’t “drop-in”
A drop-in occurs when a surfer catches a wave that another surfer is already riding along, thus interfering with their ride. The drop-in is one of the most contentious actions in surfing because it is dangerous and because it ruins a potential ride for the surfer in position.
When learning to navigate crowded line-ups, I began to use the highway analogy for incoming waves: Shoulder check, anyone there? Lane is clear, okay, go! Or, wait there’s someone already riding, let’s wait for the next one.
Grey Area: You can use your discretion to determine whether a surfer up and riding is in fact too far behind the breaking section of the wave: They won’t make it, and so you may be in a position to “drop-in” without causing any interference. Be careful with your use of this though as you want to be 100% sure before you go.
3. Don’t Snake.
To understand this rule, you must have an understanding of the “line-up” in surfing. This is a queue system. Snaking is as simple as jumping that queue by paddling around one of the other surfers in the line up.
Grey Area: There are very few “flawless” waves in the world. Many breaks have some “peaks” scattered around an area like a headland, reef, or beach. Not all waves break in the exact same spot, either. Sometimes the surfer sitting in 1st position in the lineup will miss or pass up a perfectly good wave, or you may see an opportunity to surf a peak where no one is sitting. Again, use your discretion here to catch more waves, but avoid snaking someone.
4. Don’t ditch your board in danger of others.
The advent of the leash has meant that surfers can wipeout, lose their boards, and then regain them after the wave has passed. While this has allowed for progression in many ways, it can also be a source of danger. It may cause people to opt for ditching their board when it is not necessary, causing that board to become a hazard in the line-up.
If you find yourself in a position where you are frequently ditching your board in a crowded line-up you may want to train your “duck-dive” (shortboard) or “turtle roll” (longboard) skills to be able stick to this rule.
Grey Area: The impact zone (where the lip of the wave lands) in expert surf spots can often be too heavy to duck dive effectively. In this instance, ditching your board and diving down underneath the lip can be effective. Check for surfers behind you before ditching.
5. Help other surfers.
Look out for one another. Be kind. Be patient. We all make mistakes. Be humble, take responsibility for your actions, and bring the good vibe to the water.
Grey area: None.