Surfing Tips | More Essential Surf Etiquette Rules

Proper surf etiquette: it's the key to safe and peaceful coexistence in the line-up

You’ve read ‘Basic Surf Etiquette’, presumably, a guide to surf etiquette tailored to the needs of beginner surfers. But there are more surf etiquette rules you need to be aware of and to abide by, particularly as you progress beyond the white water and take your place in the line-up.

Don’t snake

“Snaking” is paddling around other surfers and towards the peak, thereby jumping the queue and stealing priority. It is in most cases the moral equivalent to dropping-in, but is sneakier and less flagrant. You will still go to hell, Lucifer being the original snake.

A standard surf etiquette sign of the kind found at many beaches.

Don’t be a wave hog

Take turns. And if you ride a longer board or SUP, which enables you to catch waves much earlier than shortboarders can, and to navigate the line-up much faster, don’t abuse this power. If you’ve just paddled out at a spot and there are other surfers already in the line-up, consider yourself back of the queue.

Priority dilemmas

There are lots of different types of wave, some of which throw up interesting etiquette questions. If the wave is an “A-Frame” for example, ie. it peels in both directions, and there are two surfers on either side of the peak what do you do? Well, the generally accepted rule is that the polite thing to do is to “split the peak”. The two surfers thus keep to their respective sides and go opposite ways, as opposed, say, to the surfer in position for the left paddling for the right and causing the other surfer to go without. In these sorts of situation, always try to communicate your intentions.

These two chaps have just split the peak at California’s Huntington Beach. Photo: iStock

If a wave peels towards itself, meeting in the middle, and there are two surfers heading straight towards each other, neither surfer has right of way (unless one surfer was up and riding long before the other). It’s essentially a game of chicken, and the most sensible thing to do is “kick out” of the wave early to avoid a collision.

Try not to get in the way when paddling out

Wherever possible, paddle around the side of the peak to get out into the line-up, rather than straight through the middle of it where people are riding waves. If someone is surfing straight towards you along the open face as you’re paddling out, alter your course towards the white-water and take the beating, unless you can be sure of making it over the wave before the surfer reaches you.

“Paddle towards the white-water and take the beating”

Inconvenient though it may be, this surfer should paddle towards the white water to avoid the oncoming surfer, rather than towards the shoulder, unless he is sure he can get there in good time. Photo: iStock

Don’t take off right in front of someone

Common sense dictates that if there’s a surfer right in front of where you’re about to catch a wave, you should let the wave go unless you have complete confidence in your ability to avoid the surfer in the way.

Don’t bring a rent-a-crowd

The fewer surfers you go to the beach with, the better. Turning up at the beach with a car-load of surfers, or even worse, organising a fucking convoy, is just rude.

A car stacked with surfboards turning up at the beach – not a welcome sight. Photo: iStock

Similarly, at an uncrowded beach with multiple peaks, try and find a peak to yourself; certainly don’t paddle out in a big group to an already occupied peak when there are other peaks nearby going unridden.

If you know about about a secret spot…

…for God’s sake keep it to yourself. No bragging, no hints, no photos or videos with identifying landmarks, no careless spreading of the word.

Don’t waste waves

There are two main ways you can waste a wave when you have priority. One is taking off unrealistically “deep”, ie. so far behind the peak that you’re unable to get around onto the open face. The other is paddling for a wave and then either pulling back at the last moment for fear of falling, or simply failing to catch it. In both cases you commit to the wave and thus prevent other surfers on your outside from taking it, and in both cases you can expect to join the back of the queue. If you realise when paddling for a wave that you’re either too deep or too far out or too scared to catch it, shout “go!” to the surfer on your outside with as much forewarning as possible.

If you simply fall on a wave, having taken off with priority and from a reasonable position to make the wave, that’s entirely different — although in a competitive line-up your stock will begin to fall, and if you do it again other surfers may see fit to drop in on you as a matter of course. Which brings us to…

Localism and hierarchies

The standard surf etiquette rules are complicated greatly by the various power structures that obtain to some degree in the vast majority of line-ups. Whether you agree with the principle or not, local surfers — those who’ve dedicated years, often decades, to surfing a particular beach or stretch of coast — tend to enjoy greater rights than non-locals. Some will be warm and generous provided you come in a similar spirit, others will snake you to begin with and take longer to soften, others still will resort to violence or other unsavoury tactics. Some beaches have a particular reputation for localism and these should be avoided by beginners.

When surfing a new beach in a new area, don’t immediately join the pack that’s sitting on the peak, but wait to the side, catch a few smaller waves, prove yourself to be respectful, and you will begin to gain their respect in return.

Even worse than the aggressive local or the disrespectful traveller is the composite of the two, who is openly hostile to outsiders surfing his own home break but takes his sense of entitlement with him when surfing abroad.

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