15 Surfing Quotes That Completely Define The Sport

'Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear' - Buzzy Trent

surfing quotes that tell the story of surfing

Ambrose Bierce, the great American satirist, said that Quotation was the act of repeating erroneously the words of another. And while he may have a point, he definitely was no surfing fanatic.

For surfers don’t just ride the waves, they are also natural storytellers. These surfing quotes can be either a link to our past or a lesson for the future.

Or sometimes just some funny shit a surfer once said. In any case, here’s a list of some of the most famous surfing quotes and a little bit of context on just why there are still being repeated.

1) “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”

Phil Edwards

Photo: Leroy Grannis / Swell

It turns out that this most quoted of all surfing quotes is both a misquote and not even attributable to Phil Edwards. The Encyclopedia of Surfing’s Matt Warshaw found that the quote comes from a foreword by Edward’s biographer Bob Ottom.

The real quote was, “Surfing is for kicks, not crowds. It is for the individual neat it can bring. It is an all-grabbing, watery psychiatry in this over-organized world. To find the champion, you should hook them up with electrodes at all their vital points, take a reading, and find out who is having the most fun.”

This is a little clunky though, and with the abbreviated sentiment of the misquote remaining true, we’re sticking with it.

2) “Out of water, I am nothing.”

– Duke Kahanamoku


The Duke was sublime in the water, a five time Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer and the man who popularized surfing in mainland USA and introduced the sport to Australia.

Of course his achievements out of the water were far from inconsequential and the quote is a more reflection of his modest nature.

He starred in several Hollywood films, saved numerous lives as a lifeguard, served as a military police officer and was a successful businessman. He is also the only surfer to have his own stamp.

3) “It’s a cakewalk, when you know how.”

– Gerry Lopez


A Cakewalk (referring to either a simple carnival game, or uncomplicated dance) is known for being easy and effortless.

It is not surprising that it this quote that has stuck to Lopez for 40 odd years, as no one has yet to surf Pipe with Lopez’ grace and style. It is also only Gerry that could deliver this line with a total absence of ego or arrogance.

4) “The fact is that when you are a young emerging rookie from Australia or South Africa you not only have to come through the backdoor… but you also have to bust that door down before they hear ya knocking.”

– Rabbit Bartholomew

Photo: Merkel /

When Rabbit wrote this line for an article in Surfer magazine in 1977 he had no idea it would land him isolated and beaten on the North Shore the following winter, or come to define both Bartholomew, a pivotal schism in professional surfing and Hawaiian localism.

Rabbit’s book Bustin’ Down the Door has the whole saga in complete detail, but for a more concise, and hilarious take, check out Comedy Central’s Drunk History titled the Aussie Invasion.

5) “My passion for surfing was more than my fear of sharks.”

– Bethany Hamilton


Hamilton provided an equation or pure eloquence that says more about surfing than perhaps all the rest of the words in this post.

6) “It’s not tragic to die doing something you love.”

– Mark Foo


Foo’s line, uttered a year or so before his death should, in theory, provide some solace to those that mourned his death.

In reality Foo’s death at 36 years of age in 1994 is hard to describe in any other words than a tragedy. One of the world’s best ever big-wave riders was still at the peak of his powers when he died on his first wave at California’s Mavericks.

7) “I’m just a surfer who wanted to build something that would allow me to surf longer.”

– Jack O’Neill 


Surfing’s version of “necessity is the mother of invention,” all surfers can be thankful that O’Neill’s modest take on the origins of his business resulted in the modern wetsuit, allowing every other surfer to surf longer too.

8) “No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.”

– Miki Dora


Pure Dora in its embrace of the cowardly, idealist, nihilistic and humorous. A quote that sums up one of the enduring myths and most engaging characters surfing has ever seen.

9) “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”

– Buzzy Trent


At the time Trent said this in the early 1960s, very few surfers had experienced the increments of fear that he had.

He was surfing’s first ever big wave rider and it is this eloquent surfing quote that still sums the attraction, be it as a participant or spectator, that surfing big waves provides.

10) “First of all, I’d like to say, and the ASP are going to fine me, ‘cuz I don’t want to be a part of this dumb fucking wannabe tennis tour. All these pro surfers want to be tennis players.”

– Bobby Martinez

Photo: Jason Childs /

Said live on the webcast after a post heat win in New York, it was this outburst that effectively ended Bobby’s competitive career.

And while the pro tour lost one of its smoothest surfers and most volatile characters, it also gained one of the best quotes about the commercialization of surfing.

You can only imagine what he had said if he had lost the heat.

11) “I could not help concluding this man had the most supreme pleasure while he was driven so fast and so smoothly by the sea. 

– Captain James Cook


The first written documentation of Hawaii’s surfers as written by the English explorer in the 1778. Cook was the first European to visit Hawaii and he neatly summed up the joys of surfing. He ended up visiting three times, but was killed by locals in 1779.

12) “I took off on a wave, went down the side, popped out the other end, and went, shit, I’m still alive!”

– Greg Noll


Noll talks about his first ever wipeout at Waimea. His survival meant a big wave door had been pushed wide open.

13) “I could say, but I won’t say.”

– Michael Peterson

Photo: Merkel / A-Frame

That was Michael Peterson’s response to Tracks magazine when asked how he’d managed to stay unbeaten between 1972 and 1975.

However it could actually be MP’s response to most questions, his battles with schizophrenia coupled with drug use meant he didn’t say much to anyone and he famously hid in the bushes at Bells after his win in 1975, rather than collect his winner’s cheque and talk to the crowd.

14) “Charlie don’t surf.”

– Lt Col William Kilgore

Photo: United Artists

One of the most famous lines in 1979’s Apocalypse Now, it is spoken by the actor Robert Duvall, as justification for taking a beach at the Mekong so the GIs could go surfing.

15) First of all, that was a really bad call for the comp. We waited like 10 days, we extended two days [to] get waves like this and I think K.P. [WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow] didn’t do a really good job, but I hope he can get better. And second was the interference. One day I will try to understand this new rule. The third is, next time Glenn say ‘fuck you’ to me, I’ll teach him some…”

– GabrieMedina


One of our longer surfing quotes, but just as great. The new world champion’s interview after he had scored a loss after an interference in the recent Quik Pro, Gold Coast was unfortunately stopped short by the interviewer Pete Mel just as the Brazilian was getting going.

The outburst was generally considered to be either a rare honest, passionate opinion or the case of a spoilt brat being unable to process a loss. Either way it was probably the most interesting thing that happened the whole event.


Which of these surfing quotes was your favourite? Share your thoughts!


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