Surf Etiquette | The Rule Book

Surf Etiquette | The Rule Book

Etiquette is surfing’s unspoken language; a set of guidelines understood in the water all over the world. When the line up gets hectic, these help to keep the peace and will also build your confidence. More waves, more stoke, fewer injuries.

Win-win-win, hey?

1. Surf waves that suit your ability

Improving at surfing requires some gumption. But it’s also ok to pick your moments for pushing boundaries! If the conditions look too big, super crowded, rocky or more of an advanced spot, it’s probably best to sit this one out. Until you can understand surfing etiquette and navigate quick, busy lineups, it’s best to stay on beginner-friendly beaches with lots of peaks and plenty of space. Always surf at a lifeguarded beach and in between the black and white flags. Surfing beyond what you’re capable of can not only be dangerous to yourself, but to others too, so ask the lifeguards for advice if you’re not sure.

2. Don’t drop in

In simple terms, this means you should ‘give way’ and not take off if there is already another surfer on the wave. The surfer who is closest to the breaking part of the wave (the peak) has right of way, so let them continue their ride without you getting in the way. What’s the best way to avoid this? Look both ways before you start paddling.

Surfer on the right has ‘dropped’ in - fine if you’re friends, naughty if you’re not


No one likes a surfboard flying towards their face, plus fins are really sharp! Don’t ditch your board when you’re paddling out or kick it away when you fall off or finish your wave. Remember to always wear a leash and hold onto your board as much as possible to prevent injuries (even with a leash, it’s still a long distance it can travel!)

4. Snaking is a no no

Snaking is when a surfer intentionally paddles around other surfers to get closer to the peak and gain priority on the wave – you might see more of this in a crowded line-up. It’s like someone jumping the queue in front of you when you have been patiently waiting, it’s super annoying! Try to be patient (sometimes easier said than done) and other surfers will respect your wave choice when you do decide to go. If someone is constantly snaking you, move to another peak – this may be frustrating but it’s the best way to keep your good vibe!

5.Choose your route to avoid getting in the way

You should always let the surfer on the wave enjoy their ride. So when you’re paddling back out to peak make sure to paddle wide enough to not get in the path of the surfer. If this is not possible, paddle towards the white water. We’ve all had that ‘deer in headlights’ situation when you’re paddling in panic as the surfer shreds towards you. So by heading to the white water you won’t be paddling in their path – although  this seems like a less appealing option if you paddle to the green wave, it’s likely someone will be surfing this part. Try to turtle roll your board, even if it’s unsuccessful you’ll have hold of your board.

6. Don’t hog all the waves

Sharing is caring right? Don’t paddle for all the waves, give someone else a chance and share their stoke when they catch a steamer.

7. Communicate and if you’re wrong, say sorry

Be vocal with other surfers. If you’re surfing along a wave and you see someone paddling, just give them a shout – they might not have seen you. Also, let people know which direction you’re surfing so you can share A-frames, everybody wins! And most importantly if you drop in on someone, pull off the wave and apologise. Learning etiquette is all part of your surfing journey and everyone understands that. We all make mistakes, just say sorry and let it go. The ocean is for everyone to enjoy and we surf to escape the dramas. So don’t let an accident demotivate you, go catch another wave! 

8. Respect the locals 🖖🏽

This is a bit of an old school rule but it’s just about being respectful. Put yourself in a local’s shoes… you’ve been surfing this one spot your whole life, it’s your second home! But it’s getting busier and busier and now you don’t have those fun swells to yourself and your mates anymore – you have to share them with 50 others! Let’s face it, no one likes a crowded surf, so be polite – you’re kind of in their garden. 

And that’s it, we’re done being all serious now! Don’t be put off. When you’re a beginner people are extremely forgiving and don’t expect you to know everything. We’re all been there, everyone still occasionally and accidentally breaks the rules. When you encounter someone who ignores them entirely, you realise why these guidelines are important. It’s just good to be conscious of what’s really going on around you and the result will be better, safe and stoke-filled surfs! 

Want to know more? Sign up to one of our Surf Academy Programmes, we go in-depth with each of these points to make sure you’re in control and have ultimate surf etiquette skills!

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