Surfing brings out your truth.
No matter your skill level, how you surf and interact in the water says a lot about you, and surf etiquette is the basis of it all my friends.
So, when acting on instinct: Do you express your joy? How about your fear? Do you hesitate or charge? How do you problem solve? Are you smooth? Calculated? Spontaneous? Do you move gracefully or do you shred?
How you surf is as intricate as you are.
Because surfing is a culture, paddling out without knowing proper etiquette is like going to a new country without speaking the language or knowing what’s expected. Being ignorant of a culture is bound to lead to some faux pas, so I’ve got your back!
Surf Etiquette, like localism, evolved out of a communal desire for safety; but it’s also what makes surfing dynamic and sophisticated.
A couple of common examples:
If you excel at the sport aspect of surfing and break the rules, you come off as arrogant and greedy. You might get away with it for a little while, but eventually the rules will get turned around on you: people will block you and take your waves.
If you are novice and break the rules, you don’t stand a chance at catching waves. People will decide you are a “kook” and treat you as buoy to weave around.
Though in either situation, if you own up to your offense and fix any damages, all will likely be good.
So, are you someone who hesitates and lets others have all the waves?
Do you smile and communicate as you split the peak?
Or do you dominate?
Who you are as a person and how you are feeling that day will show, so your best bet is giving respect to get respect.
The Basic Rules:
- DON’T DROP IN and DON’T BE A SNAKE
Dropping in is when the person with priority, closest to the peak, is paddling into the wave and someone else further down the shoulder (even a tiny bit away) pops up in front of them. Think cutting someone off on the highway. It’s the rudest thing you can do and you risk colliding.
A Snake is a person who steals a wave. So when the person closest to the peak, with priority, is paddling for a wave and another person paddles around or in front of them to “snake it” they are being a major jerk.
Sometimes people violate these rules because they are being a wave hog, other times it’s to send a message to said wave hog, or its locals letting you know that you are in their town. Not very Aloha.
Dropping in or snaking a wave just because you can, is a quick way to build enemies, Especially if you blow it and wipe out.
Doing so unwittingly sends a message to the entire line-up that you’re a Kook, someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. So look both ways and communicate your intentions. -If the wave has an open left and right, then call it: “going right!” so the other person knows to go left.
When in doubt, remember, the best thing about the ocean is that there’s always more waves, so there’s plenty to go around.
- KNOW YOUR ABILITIES
Paddling out somewhere beyond your skill level is dangerous. You put yourself and others at risk. If you can’t get to the outside deepest waves on your own, or if you don’t know how to turn and go down the line yet, then stay on the inside with the smaller whitewash waves.
That’s not to say “don’t push yourself.” If you are new to a break or surfing the outside, then don’t sit at the peak, the highest point of the wave that breaks first.
Instead, sit on the shoulder, further from the peak where the wave is smaller, and wait for unoccupied waves.
Not only does this keep you out of the way, but it’ll give you the opportunity to observe the break and other surfers. Learn from them both!
As your skill grows, you’ll get to know the way the waves move and you’ll get a read on the other surfers. When you’re ready, you can start making your way to the peak via the line-up. As the most skilled surfers take waves, move in towards the peak, eventually you’ll end up with priority and have your turn.
Once there, use everything you observed to be decisive and committed. Hesitation is surf sabotage.
- PADDLING OUT
Rather than paddling straight for the peak, go wide and paddle around to avoid being in the way. The most important thing to keep in mind while paddling out, is that the person on the wave has the right-of-way. So, if someone is surfing towards you, go behind that person, Not in front of them! Paddle towards the crashed whitewash, not the open face.
Also, Never Ditch Your Board!
The majority of surf injuries come from getting hit by a surfboard; whether that’s from losing control of your own board or getting hit because someone else can’t control their equipment.
Learn to Duck Dive or Turtle Roll rather than throwing your board aside.
If you wipe out, do your best to catch your board as you fall, or recover it and get back on to start paddling as quickly as possible.
- BE FRIENDLY AND RESPECTFUL
When paddling out, smile and say “hi.” When someone gets a super rad wave, tell them. Bringing a good vibe and Aloha Spirit will make the session fun and people will be more likely to welcome you.
If you mess up, apologize. If someone else messes up, accept their apology.
If you ding someone’s board, exchange info so you can pay for the repair.
The simple act of owning your mistakes can go a long way.
Lastly, respect the beach. Don’t litter, pick up any trash you see in the water or the sand.
~When I was learning to surf, I’d pick up trash everywhere I went, locals noticed and it’s one of the ways I started to earn their good graces.
- KNOW THE BREAK
If you are new to a surf spot, take some time to observe before you get in the water.
Sit in the sand and watch how and where the waves break. Observe what the other surfers are doing and how they are interacting. Notice any channels that might help you paddle out. Pay attention to what the currents and riptide are doing. Note landmarks that can help you identify these things, and lastly, be kind, chat with any locals hanging out, they might have some good tips for you!
Thanks for joining me in the lineup,
Have fun out there, be safe, and bring the stoke!