Share the Waves: 6 Courtesies Every Surfer Should Observe

surfer etiquette


Surfers know that a session on the waves is a chance to forget petty concerns and find harmony with natural rhythms. But in order to keep this good vibe flowing, everyone needs to observe some basic courtesies.

Know the Right of Way
The general rule gives the right of way to the surfer nearest the peak of the wave. There’s a certain amount of flexibility here, though. In one scenario, a surfer has been sitting outside the pack for a while, waiting for the perfect ride and giving up smaller stuff to the rest of the crowd. When a sought-after wave rolls in, this surfer can, in good conscience, go to the head of the class despite not being squarely “in line” for the ride.

Don’t Drop In
Surfer Jane has the right of way. As she catches her wave, Surfer Joe takes off at the same time, cutting to the front like a bully in the cafeteria line. Bad form, Surfer Joe. Not only is this maneuver unsporting, it’s also potentially dangerous. But is this an acceptable move under any circumstances? There’s some debate as to whether you can ever legitimately pull it off, but some skilled surfers suggest that more experienced shredders have a bit of leeway here if a newbie is splashing around making a mess of what could be somebody’s good ride.

Paddle Out Right
Don’t paddle out through the break to get to the peak. Walk up or down the shoreline a way. It’s all about keeping the line going smoothly. You want second helpings, you get in the back and work your way up again. If it’s busy out there, be judicious in turn-taking. If you’re on the shoulder, let the inside rider take the wave. Be cool. Show basic civility.

Nobody Likes a Wave Hog
When you’re riding a longboard (or a standup paddle board), you’ve got some advantages in your paddle out and hence the potential to snag a whole bunch of waves while the shortboard set is still making its way out to catch the next ride. Just because you can get out there faster and snag every wave doesn’t mean you should. As in any crowded area, it’s all about taking your turn.

Know Your Skill Level, Act Accordingly
While some beaches are great for even the newest of newbies, others are famously gnarly. If you want to hang with the big kids, you need to know the rules of the game and have the skills to participate at a high level. Especially at beaches famous for their huge breaks and advanced-level rides, make sure you have the capacity to handle whatever you choose to take on. If not, you put yourself in a position of danger and might muck up good rides for more advanced riders.

If You Screw Up, Own Up
It can take some time to learn the rules, and when you’re a beginner focused on mastering the fundamentals, you might commit a faux pas or two. It happens. But when it happens, remember the most important rule of all: apologize when you make a mistake. Conversely, if somebody else messes up your ride, be forgiving. It’s just not worth losing your chill over.

Be respectful, keep learning, and enjoy yourself. There are plenty of waves for all.


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