Don't be a kook, plus other basic surfing etiquette

August 26, 2016                 3m read time
Jeff McElroy


Surfers operate by a set of unwritten rules—don't be that person out in the water. 

Remember that "Seinfeld" episode in the Chinese restaurant where everyone keeps cutting in front of George and he finally screams, “We’re living in a SOCIETY!”?

Just because surfing happens out there in the deep blue sea—where neoprene wetsuits replace business suits—doesn’t mean you’re exempt from society’s codes of conduct. In fact, the Surf Tribe has its own established code that would make Hammurabi throw a shaka. Honor it and your sessions will be all the sweeter. 

1. Be nice.

Be nice - Surfing etiquette Viktoria Gavrilina

Be nice - Surfing etiquette

Viktoria Gavrilina

 

Always remember that, hey, you’re surfing. You’re not in the hospital. You’re not on the freeway. You’re not at work. You’re paddling freely through the ocean with dolphins. If you’re lucky enough to be surfing, you’re lucky enough.

2. Share the swells.

Share the swells - surfing etiquette EpicStockMedia

Share the swells - surfing etiquette

EpicStockMedia

 
Sharing and respect are the only things that matter in the lineup.
 

The waves belong to everybody and nobody. No entitlement. No seniority. Sharing and respect are the only things that matter in the lineup. Smiling goes a long way, too.

3. Watch the waves.

Watch the waves - surf etiquette Joshua Stearns

Watch the waves - surf etiquette

Joshua Stearns

 

If the whole Zen-dude-sipping-tea-on-the-cliffs thing isn’t your style, at least pay attention to the sets whilst stretching into your wetsuit and waxing your board. You just might see that triple-overhead cleanup set wash through the bay. Which leads to…

4. Know your skill level.

Know your skill level - surfing etiquette BarryTuck

Know your skill level - surfing etiquette

BarryTuck

 

If the waves are too big and the break is crowded, don’t paddle out. If you do, you could hurt yourself, others or both. Take a walk or drive down the beach and find the break that matches your skill level. Hint: Most point-breaks are heaviest at the top of the point. As the wave works its way down the point, you’ll usually find that it calms into a cove.

5. Ease into the lineup.

Ease into the lineup - surfing etiquette Clarkography

Ease into the lineup - surfing etiquette

Clarkography

 
Find delight in seeing other surfers having fun. Hoot for them as they pass you. Don’t worry, you’ll get yours, too.
 

You know that person who gets on the freeway and immediately cuts through four lanes of traffic to get to the fast-lane? Don’t be that person. Paddle humbly into the lineup. If you need an excuse, call it a warmup. Let a few waves go by. Watch a few rides. Find delight in seeing other surfers having fun. Hoot for them as they pass you. Don’t worry, you’ll get yours, too.

6. The surfer closest to the breaking wave has priority.

Closest priority - surfing etiquette Kevin N. Murphy

Closest priority - surfing etiquette

Kevin N. Murphy

 

If you take off in front of this surfer, you’ve committed Surfing’s Cardinal Sin: The Drop-in. How to avoid this? Look down the line before you go. If someone is paddling for the wave (and is closer to the whitewater), or if they’re already riding the wave, back off. I know what you’re thinking: What if the surfer falls or ends up missing the wave? If you’re still in position, go for it! If you miss it and the wave peels to shore unridden, well, Duke Kahanamoku has the best advice: "You know, there are so many waves coming in all the time, you don't have to worry about that. Take your time—wave come. Let the other guys go; catch another one."

7. Take one for the team.

Take one for the team - surfing etiquette trubavin

Take one for the team - surfing etiquette

trubavin

 

So you’re paddling out and a set comes through. You see a surfer riding one of the waves. Only if you’re 100 percent sure you can paddle fast enough to make it over the wave, go for it. If you have any doubt, let the surfer pass and take that wave/whitewater on the head. It’s not cool to mess up another surfer’s wave.

8. Ignore the Kooks.

Ignore the kooks - surfing etiquette Anchiy

Ignore the kooks - surfing etiquette

 

It’s inevitable that, even if you abide by all the rules, you’re going to come across a Kook. Kooks come in many forms: the MMA-wannabe local, the frustrated weekend warrior, the cocky kid taking too many waves. They’ll get in your face, splash water at you (which is funny, because you’re already wet), put their new wetsuits on backwards, ditch their boards when they're about to get pummeled by a wave, spend more time instagramming onshore with their board...the list goes on. Don’t engage. Be the bigger person. So long as you’ve followed all the rules and shown respect, you have nothing to worry about. Calmly paddle on, smile, and enjoy your session.

Even in a sport with counterculture currents, rules of conduct have their place. Respecting the code results in a better session for everyone out on the water. 

Feeling inspired to hit the waves? Check out surf lessons on ZOZI! 

Visit our Surfing Collection for more activities, escapes, stories and inspiration:

Jeff McElroy

Jeff McElroy is the author of surf-noir short story collections CALIFORNIOS and CALIFORNIOS 2. CALIFORNIOS won 1st Place in the 2014 Independent Publisher Awards (IPPYs) for Best West Coast Fiction. An avid surfer and backpacker, he splits his time between the Sierras and the sea with his wife and Jack Russell Terrier.

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