As a beginner learning how to surf, learning the etiquette is as critical to the sport as is the techniques and skills involved on the board.
Proper etiquette is how you show respect to the sport, the ocean, and one another (especially locals and/or more experienced surfers).
It is also essential to stay safe and keep others safe in the water!
Jumping the gun and going out alone before learning the proper etiquette is a sure way to be an unwelcome guest and make it less fun for you and others. In this sense, surfing is very similar to driving — Imagine getting behind the wheel before learning the rules of the road!
And just like you learned growing up, having good manners and etiquette is very important! There are the beginner surf etiquette tips!
1) Don’t drop in.
This is the holy grail of surfing rules — don’t drop in.
For many beginners, it can be confusing to recognize which surfer has the right of way. It is always the surfer closer to the peak.
If you are paddling for a wave and it is a left-breaking wave, it will be the surfer furthest to the right — since he or she will be traveling left. And vice versa. For a right breaking wave, it is the surfer furthest to the left.
The simplest way to tell, however, is to do a head check before taking off.
If you catch a wave, look both ways left and right, and make sure no one is up and riding or about to take off.
Typically, the person closer to the peak will have caught the wave before the person on the shoulder, so if you see someone up on their board — do not go! Follow the beginner surf etiquette!
If you do accidentally drop in, always try your best to kick out and off of the wave along the shoulder. Apologize to whomever you dropped in on. This is common courtesy in the water.
2) Don’t snake
Now that you understand right of way, “snake” is a term in surfing that means when you continuously paddle around someone and jock them for a priority position, closer to the peak.
You might hear someone say: “I got snaked!” While priority is in part determined by who is deeper, or closer to the peak, you don’t want to be rude and go out of your way to steal the wave from someone else.
Chances are there are enough waves to go around, so if someone is in position don’t try and paddle around to get to a better position. Respect and learn the beginner surf etiquette!
3) Move out of the way
Typically, if you are on the inside, you want to paddle towards the shoulder to get back out to the lineup, away from where the waves are breaking.
This will make it easier for you to get back out because you won’t be stuck in whitewash, and it will also keep you out of the way from the point where surfers are catching the wave.
Sometimes you will just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If this happens, and there is someone taking off close in front of you as you’re paddling back out, you want to paddle away from the direction (either left or right) that the person will take.
This might mean you have to get through some whitewash, but at least you will be clear of the person on the wave and not paddling in the same direction so he or she will have to dodge you.
4) Don’t be an obstacle
Surf spots can get crowded no matter where you are!
“Don’t be an obstacle” means paying attention to where the wave breaks and exercising awareness at all times.
If you are not paddling for the wave, then you don’t want to be right in line with where the wave breaks, sitting and cruising on your board, staring up at the clouds and completely zoning out.
Try and move away from the peak, towards the shoulder as the wave rolls in. This creates space for people who are paddling for the wave and you avoid being an obstacle. Implement the beginner surf etiquette tips!
5) Keep your board in sight
Everyone wipes out — it’s inevitable!
Make sure when you do, you try to recover your board when you come back up.
Always wear a leash when you go out and make sure it is fastened securely to your ankle (or calf, if it’s a calf leash).
If you do wipeout and get tangled up with another person, always apologize, check to see that the person is safe and unharmed, and see if the person’s board is damaged.
Make sure that you’ve checked these three boxes before you paddle back out to the lineup.
6) Be respectful
If you are not native to the area, you always want to respect the locals wherever you are surfing. They have been surfing there longer than you have and to many this is their home.
Be mindful that some more territorial surf spots observe a pecking order and newcomers have to “earn their place,” so to speak.
This is why it’s always recommended to start out at beginner-friendly spots that are more accessible for those who want to learn this amazing sport!
Everyone starts somewhere, so don’t be discouraged if you do have a not-so-great experience with someone in the water. Always exercises humility and respect. It’s simple: treat others the way you want to be treated!
As a final recap, safety and etiquette and two sides of the same coin! Many of the “rules” in surfing are in place to ensure that everyone has the best time possible in the water.
As surfers, we are in a shared arena and subject to the forces of nature, thus, common courtesy and awareness are critical to the sport.
Check out this HOKALI blog post — 14 terms every surfer should know — for more references and terminology.
If you want to learn some mistakes beginners should avoid read this!