What is surf style?

You may hear people talk about surfers that have amazing style, and you might ask yourself, what does it mean to have style? Keep reading to know what is surf style!

And in fact, there may not be only one right answer; style may have different meanings depending on who you ask.

Wave riding

Wave riding is as much of an art as it is a sport and athletic endeavor. And good surfers have recognizable surf styles, in the same way that artists do. It is part of how, as a surfer, you can bring your own flare and qualities and make it your own. Think of style as a surfer’s stamp or signature—what makes the way one surfs uniquely one’s own.


Style is the intersection of solid technique, personal flare, and willingness to explore and get creative. Style is also a way of honoring iconic surfing of past generations, along with board and fin selection.

Depending on where you live, style is also the collision of the region’s culture, community, music, and the selection of waves signature of the area.

Although surfing has evolved in many ways in the last 50 years, there are key timeless elements of surfing, one of them being style. California, for example, has a lot to say when it comes to style because of SoCal’s roots in traditional California long board surfing, or logging.

Girl surfing

There are also many other examples of particular surf styles, exhibited all over the world, that are noteworthy. This includes Hawaii, South Africa, Australia, and even less documented countries like Cote d’Ivoire.

Surfing is more than just a physical activity. It is a way of life.

Many surf destinations share a similar surf culture, despite vast differences in language, food, and customs.

In many places where surf is abundant, locals embrace a free spirited and hospitable way of life, forming tight-knit communities with a mutual passion for nature and active living. All of these factors, beyond purely the physical movements portrayed on a wave, are aspects that can be used to define surf style.

You may be wondering: what are the concrete criteria that are used to understand and assess style? There are some things we can all agree upon when it comes to style: surfing looks effortless.

Surfers exercise complete control on the wave, whether it be knee high or 20-foot faces. To use long boarding as an example, many people compare the flow and effortlessness exhibited by long boarders to a dance. A professional long boarder will look like he or she is flowing with grace and rhythm – cross stepping, moving up and down the board, and positioning oneself in the pocket, or powerhouse of the wave.

Hopefully, by now you are more familiar with the concept of style and can spot surf styles that you resonate with. Your favorite surfers are probably not your favorites simply because they can throw huge spray and hit the sections (although these are certainly key factors).

Your favorite surfers probably are thrilling to watch because of their unique personal style – how they use all parts of their board, where they set up maneuvers down the line, and the interconnectedness of every movement.

Man surfing on a sunny day in the Bay Area


The main goal of a beginner surfer, of course, is to have fun! Style will inevitably come later as you get better at surfing and discover your own strengths and potential areas of growth. However, if you are interested in knowing more about how to consciously impact and level up your own surf style, read on!

It is important when learning how to surf to ride the wave first, before attempting other fancier maneuvers. This applies to both long boarding and short boarding.

Do not try and force any fancy tricks—remember that you are operating in a harmony with nature and just let the wave be your guide. The next time you pop up on your board, pay close attention to the sensation when you’re riding the wave and what the force of the wave is compelling you to do. Are you speeding up in certain sections or slowing down? What happens when you shift your weight forward or back?

Surfer riding a wave

But what do I do with my hands?

Believe it or not, hand placement is an important detail when it comes to style. It is perhaps self-evident that rushed, unsure, and incorrect footing and weight distribution on a board will result in an erratic, awkward appearance on a wave.

In the same way that these lower body movements will look unpolished and not clean, flailing hands and arms will also be detrimental to your style. For short boarders surfing front side (i.e. going right if you surf regular and left if you surf goofy-footed), concentrate on keeping your hands low and in front of you, in line with your hips. Avoid one arm failing behind you as this will not only slow you down by adding surface area, but will also look less controlled. Similarly, for long boarders, observe what you think looks good! Maybe having hands down straight at your sides, or tucking your hands behind you as you lean back, or pointing your arms down the line, in front of you as you crouch low. Observe what stands out as looking super stylish!

How do I know what I look like? do i have surf style?

This is of course a very common quandary among beginner to intermediate surfers. Unless you are a pro, you are not always going to have surf photographers aiming cameras at you!

Unlike land sports, ocean sports are obviously much more difficult to capture. If you book a surf lesson, oftentimes you can pay for a photographer, or bundle the service with your lesson!

Second, if you have a friend who has a GoPro or waterproof camera, you can as him or her to go out with you and capture some pictures or videos of you on the wave (provided you find an experienced person who understands the safety and etiquette).

You can also check out apps like Surfline – if you subscribe to Premium, you can access cam rewinds and re-watch the footage (tip: it helps if you look at your watch when you come off a wave to know where to look in the archives).

Lastly, you can practice your hand and foot motions at home in the mirror to build muscle memory.

Hopefully, you have learned something new from reading this about style! Who are some of your favorite surfers and what about their surfing stands out to you?

Wanna know more about surfing? Check out this blog post!

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