By Randy Redmon
To the casual observer, watching surfers out in the water looks a bit disorganized, but for surfers, it is anything but. There are actually unwritten rules out in the water. These rules are called “Surf Etiquette” and if they are respected, you will see that everybody will get their fair share of waves.
Every surf spot throughout the world has its own special vibe (rules/etiquette). There are, however, some rules of surf etiquette that all must respect and the quicker you learn them, the less drama you will encounter during your surfing experience.
So, what are some of the common universal etiquette rules? Well let’s frame them as “things that you shouldn’t do”:
- Probably one of the most important things to remember: never show up to a new surf break with a group of surfers and paddle out all as one group. This is considered rude. If you must travel in a group, break up into small groups of 1-3 and paddle out in intervals.
- Read the room! It’s easy to see who the dominant surfers are (a.k.a. local surfers). These folks deserve respect and get the right of way. Remember, this is their turf and you are a visitor. Take the scrap waves and don’t insist on the set waves. This will go a long way in gaining the respect of the locals. Yes, this may take some time, but once you have gained that respect, they might possibly invite you to the sweet spot of the takeoff.
- Don’t snake! Snaking is where a surfer will paddle out and maneuver in and around the group of surfers that have already been waiting, to try to get into position before the rest. Some try to do this nonchalantly, but pretty much everybody knows what they are doing. So be patient. Take your spot in the back of the pack and wait your turn.
- Do not paddle out into the drop zone. Watch the waves and the surfers getting into position and take a wide berth to stay out of their way. Always keep an eye out for incoming surfers.
- Do not drop in on other surfers. The surfer who’s closest to the peak has the right of way. What’s the peak? That’s where the wave is starting to break, so watch for this and your surrounding surfers. If you are dropping in, always look to the way you’re going to ensure this is actually your wave and that you are not dropping in on someone else. Yes, accidents do happen and you may drop in on someone, but a simple apology goes a long way. Learn from your mistake, but don’t do it twice in one session.
- Do not be obnoxious. Be friendly in the lineup! That does not mean being overly friendly, but a genuine smile goes a long way! A word of caution: eyeballing or scanning your fellow surfers can give off the wrong signal, even if you don’t mean it to. Surfing is a selfish sport and everybody is out for their own wave and pleasure. On the flip side, however, it’s important to be conscious of other surfer’s situations around you. Everyone needs to watch out for the others because when things go wrong, it can go wrong real fast. This is especially the case in bigger surf.
The bottom line: if we all remember basic surf etiquette and observe the local “vibe,” you will have done your part to add to a surf environment that’s friendly and not hostile. And this is true even before you hit the beach. Respect the surrounding community.
If we all do our part, we are supporting a beautiful and healthy sport that can be life-changing. All it takes is getting that one good wave that you’ll remember for the rest of the night and beyond. So make sure that happens with the support of your fellow surfers and without any hard feelings.