what is surf etiquette?

Before you step foot in the sea with other surfers, you should ensure that your surf etiquette is up to scratch. Although there is no formal etiquette associated with surfing, years of experience has created some unwritten “rules” for surfers to follow when in the water.

Surf etiquette is largely based around keeping everyone safe and happy, so following the unwritten rules of surfing means that you show consideration for others around you and care about their safety, as well as your own. The sea is a dangerous place and much of the etiquette surrounding surfing reflects this. 

If you repeatedly fail to follow the unwritten surfing protocol, expect to be on the receiving end of some very angry surfers. By following these simple etiquette rules you’ll be more likely to make friends in the water instead of enemies. If you’re unsure ask a friend, another surfer, or take a surf lesson it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

The right of way

Just like on the road, there is a right of way for surfers in the sea. The right of way is given to the surfer that is closest to the peak of the wave. This rule is designed to prevent collisions, which can be pretty nasty. Also, if you see someone riding a wave, never attempt to takeoff late between the surfer and the whitewater. This is known as “backpaddling” and is very much a “no-no” in the world of surfing. 

The exception to the rule is when there is a split peak. In this situation, if there are two surfers on either side of the peak then they are both considered to have the right of way and are free to ride the wave in opposite directions, right and left.

Although this may sound complicated, it is common sense. If you think there’s even the smallest possibility that you’ll collide with another surfer, then you shouldn’t paddle into a wave.

Don’t be tempted to drop in

As stated above, you should avoid doing anything that could cause you to collide with another surfer. This includes what is known as “dropping in”. Dropping in means cutting in front of another surfer when they are either about to take a wave or are already riding it. This is not only dangerous but it’s also a very rude and selfish act. Dropping in will likely result in you making someone very angry, so don’t do it. If you are unsure ask your local surf school and they can explain exactly what dropping in is.

Have control over your board

Surfboards are heavy and can cause serious injuries when thrown around by waves. It is your responsibility to maintain control over your board at all times, so don’t let it fly around and become a hazard for other surfers in the water.

Considerate paddling

Although this should be something that most people would do automatically, many people fail to use their common sense and paddle responsibly. What this means is paddling through a separate channel of water to where other people are surfing. You should paddle through the area where the waves aren’t breaking and always be sure to paddle behind surfers if you come into contact with them. If you find yourself in an area where it is impossible to paddle behind someone that is already on the wave, then it’s your responsibility to paddle as fast as you can and get out of their way.

No snaking

Snaking means paddling in front of another surfer and essentially stealing their right of way. This is massively frowned upon and will likely make you a few enemies if you continue to do it. If you accidentally snake someone, you must own your mistake and apologise to your fellow surfer.

Don’t hog the waves

Just like snakes, wave hogs also have no place in the water and will likely anger those that encounter them. This means leaving waves for others and not just catching every wave because you can. Give others a chance to share the waves and they’ll do the same for you.

If you’re a beginner, stay in the “beginner area”

Although there isn’t an actual beginner area, you’ll be able to tell which surfers are experienced and which are beginners. Don’t try and join the area where the experienced surfers are paddling as you’ll likely be a hindrance and won’t be able to keep up with their pace.

Treat the beach properly

The beach is equally as important as the sea itself and that’s why so many surfers are against polluting beaches, the sea and surrounding areas. Respect the area where you surf and don’t leave any litter on the beach or anything else that may be seen as anti-social.