Surfing Etiquette 101

Surf Etiquette

From the Azores to Mexico, China to Finland, just about every country with a coastline has a community of surfers. You'll recognise them by their bleached hair, unusual wetsuit tan-lines and strange lingo. But with so many people in the water now, you've got to wonder how it all works? If you look at the waves at Snapper Rocks on Australia's Gold Coast, there are literally hundreds of people jousting for the same waves at the same time. This starts to make the art of surfing seem a bit more like dodgems, and less like the ancient pastime of Polynesian kings.

In this month's magazine, we brought you the guide on How To Learn To Surf, so we thought it necessary to back this up with a lesson in basic surfing etiquette for crowded days. If you're learning to surf this summer read on.

The Inside Rule

The 'inside rule' states that the surfer sitting closest to the breaking part of the wave (the 'whitewater') has the right of way. It is this surfer's right to take the wave and surf it for as long as possible. Everybody else paddling out or past him/her must get out of his/her way, as it is not a riding surfer's responsibility to make room for 'pedestrians'*.

If you take off on somebody else's wave and get in their way, this is called 'dropping in'. Ninety per cent of all surfing confrontations take place because somebody dropped in on somebody else. It's a big no-no, and if you do it to other surfers you can expect to get pointed towards the beach.

* Although this is the rule, most people will not cold-heartedly ride someone over if they cannot avoid getting in your way. But if you do get in someone's way, an apology is in order.

The Snaking Rule

Each surfer should generally have to wait his or her turn for a wave. This means allowing surfers with the 'inside' to take their waves before moving closer to the priority zone. If you paddle over into someone's inside, you are 'snaking' them and jumping the queue. It's just as tactless as doing it in the line at Tescos and highly frowned upon.

The Pecking Order

The pecking order at a particular surf spot will override the above rules. If you are an accomplished surfer who is a regular at a localised surf spot, you will get more waves than other people. It's not necessarily the fairest way of doing things, but it is how the surfing world works. Locals will paddle over to the inside before non-locals and drop-in on other people who jump the queue. In a way, locals are the custodians of a surf break and take responsibility for enforcing the rules, while breaking a few from time to time.
Learn some surf lingo below so you don't sound like a kook.

Surf Slang

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Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.