Surfing Etiquette: An Overview

In recent years, the surfing scene has undergone a dramatic transformation, driven by a surge in interest during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, alongside this popularity boom, the waves have become more challenging to navigate. To address this, an increasing number of surfers are advocating for the importance of surf etiquette, a set of unspoken rules and guidelines that seasoned wave riders swear by.

Jamie O'Brien Surf Experience in Waikiki.
In response to the growing interest, many have embraced picking up soft top surfboards, enrolling in surf camps, or taking daily lessons. However, the laid-back image associated with surfing dissipates when confronted with a crowded lineup.


Observing surf etiquette is vital not only to prevent injuries but also to make the waves safer and more enjoyable for everyone. While these rules may differ from break to break, there are some fundamental principles that every surfer should grasp:


  1. Know Your Ability: Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a newbie, always assess your skill level in relation to the surf conditions. If you’re new to surfing, consider taking lessons from reputable surf schools. Lack of knowledge and inexperience can pose risks not only to you but also to others in the water. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of caution and refrain from paddling out.


  1. Understand the Break and Conditions: Environmental factors such as tides, currents, wind, and the type of surf break can significantly impact your surfing experience. Stay informed about these variables, as they can change rapidly depending on the specific surf break. This knowledge helps you choose the safest entry point and ensures you don’t paddle out in front of breaking waves or into precarious areas.


  1. Observe and Respect Others: Whether you’re a local or a visitor, respecting fellow surfers is paramount. Surf lineups often resemble queues at an amusement park ride, with surfers waiting for their turn. Consequently, it’s crucial to show consideration for those nearest to the peak, those taking off on waves, and those struggling to catch them.


  1. Take Turns and Respect the Right of Way: The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. Do not drop in or cut off another surfer’s turn. The thrill of catching a wave can lead to tunnel vision and territorial behavior, but it’s essential to share the waves courteously. Always check for other surfers before paddling for a wave.


  1. Communicate and Offer Help: When it’s your turn to ride a wave, communicate your intended direction to the lineup by calling out “going left” or “going right.” Poor communication can lead to accidents and injuries. Additionally, be ready to assist fellow surfers in distress or struggling to navigate the waves. A friendly smile can go a long way in making newcomers feel welcome.


  1. Be Open to Feedback: Seeking pointers and being receptive to constructive feedback is crucial. If you inadvertently break a rule or upset another surfer, taking responsibility and resolving conflicts amicably is the key to maintaining safety in the water. 


  1. Don’t Ditch Your Board: Before paddling out, learn how to handle your board in powerful surf conditions. Techniques like the turtle roll or duck dive can help you navigate through white water without losing control of your board. A loose surfboard, regardless of its size, poses a danger to both you and others in the water. Wearing a leash does not guarantee safety, so master the art of holding onto your board with your hands.


In conclusion, prioritize safety and respect when entering the waves. And remember, above all else, surfing should be fun.