Just like everything in Life, there are rules. Surfing is part of Life, so rules apply here as well. If you learn them, practice and follow them, then in surfing you can expect to be safer in every session, avoid potential injuries to yourself and others, but most importantly in my view, create a harmonious sense of flow, trust, respect and alignment in the lineup with other surfers. So heed these 5 Golden Rules of Surf Etiquette the next session you paddle out.
1. When you’re learning to surf, a newbie, it is vital that you spend lots of time watching the waves and how surfers position in different wave conditions. This can be done sitting on the beach, if it’s a bit too big for you to practice your pop-ups, or while you’re paddling back out in the white water (inside break) watching the surfers on the outside break.
Pay attention to how surfers take turns and notice who is in priority to the wave peak. Imagine a wave breaking both to the right and also to the left (opposite of the beach goers perspective). In this situation, you would have two surfers, one on each side of the peak who would be in position for the next decent wave. When the next decent wave comes, they can either go for it, or paddle out further for the next one in the set. In this case, the second surfer next to them could take that first wave. In another scenario, if the surfer in priority drops in on the wave and wipes out on takeoff, then either the second or third person in position can go. Another scenario would be if the surfer in priority misses the wave, maybe too far outside or too deep on it, then the second surfer in position has the right to go for it.
Paying close attention to where you are and where the lineup of surfers are in relationship to the peak of the wave, is a skill that comes with much practice and awareness. Watching, paying attention and then only paddling for a wave when it’s your turn are a key part of surf etiquette’s first rule.
2. Keep control of your surfboard, in the white water as a newbie and always in the lineup with surfers on the outside break. You are attached to your board at the ankle with a leash, which makes retrieving it way easier than the early 70’s when there were no leashes and surfers swam after their boards. Just because you have a leash on, isn’t a reason to be negligent or “cocky” and recklessly shoot out your board on wipeouts, ditch your board when ducking under waves paddling out, or go without a leash on crowded surf days; which can put kids and beginner bodyboarders on the inside, swimmers and vacationers getting wet in the ocean at risk of your surfboard projectile. As soon as you lose your board, it is your responsibility to retrieve it as soon as possible.
3. In most sessions, there will be a mix of surfers in the lineup, with varying skills in surfing. When the surf is good, sharing waves is how everyone out there gets along and respects one another, by taking turns. Everyone wants to get some of the killer wave action. Sure there will be a few surfers some sessions that just rip and they could easily take every wave practically coming through, but even they don’t want to be known as a “wave hog”. Don’t be a “wave hog”. Share waves and even give waves to others to create flow and fun out there.
4. A good general etiquette rule, until you become a skilled surfer, is to always paddle towards the impact zone, that place where the wave has already broken, instead of paddling across a surfer’s path whose riding on a wave. Not only can this action be dangerous, you could get run over by the surfer, but they may also have to bail on the wave to prevent hitting you and sometimes their board will projectile at you, and may even hit you.
By paddling towards the impact zone of the wave and looking the direction you’re paddling towards, it lets the surfer riding the wave know your intention and they won’t have to give up their wave. You may even get a head nod later in your session from that surfer, letting you know you did the right thing and they are acknowledging it.
5. Fifth rule is to always remove more litter off of the beach than what you brought to it. Bring a recycled plastic “one use” bag in your backpacks, and use it after your session to fill it with beach marine plastic and garbage.
Keeping our Oregon and NW beach environments clean is one of the best actions we can all do to prevent plastic and garbage from entering the ocean, poisoning and threatening ocean species; from whales, to dolphins, to seals and sharks, to fish and right on down the ladder to the smallest krill. Acting local and thinking global is a surfer’s mantra.
6. Last mentioned but definitely not least important of the surf etiquette rules is to respect the locals. It’s imperative that you get to know who the respected local surfers are, if you too want to be respected one day by the surfing community, where you now live or frequently surf. They have paid a lot of “surfing dues” in that area to be considered local, so give them due respect.
Even when you travel somewhere for a vacation, hanging back in the lineup or observing from the beach for awhile before paddling out, can inform you and help you to recognize who the locals are. It’s not always the most ripping kid surfer out there either, many times the old white haired guy or woman on the longboard is the true local. They may have surfed that break that’s relatively new to you for three or more decades. By giving respect, you also open up opportunities for inclusion, connection and deep friendships with them. The stories you’ll hear alone are worth your effort to get to know them.