As in many other sports, surfing has its own etiquette, that is, unspoken rules of conduct on the water.
However, it is in surfing, due to the peculiarities of the sport, namely the natural conditions for doing it (waves on the spot), to know and follow the etiquette is a must. In particular, it will help you in overcoming such a phenomenon as surf localism, as well as in general in your attempts to learn and master this sport.
For those who are already in surfing or just planning to start it, here are some short and simple rules of surf etiquette to read, remember, and follow, including the one from the top surfer Seva Shulgin.
When the waves are good, competition for waves can be steep. Typically only one surfer will ride a particular wave. That’s why it’s important to learn proper “right of way”. If more than one person is paddling up to a wave, the one closest to the peak — or furthest inside — gets wave priority. If two people are approaching the same wave but from different sides, each surfer has the right to ride the wave in his/her respective direction.
Popular beginner surf spots typically have less strict rules and more than one surfer is allowed to ride a particular wave. So, if you’re looking for more practice, your best bet is spot designated for beginners.
Arguably the most important rule to observe is not cutting in on another person’s wave. If another surfer has wave priority, it is unacceptable to try to steal the wave by paddling ahead and then taking off and riding the wave in front of him/her. Wait your turn.
Snaking is when you paddle around another surfer, effectively creating an “S” shape, in an attempt to get into a position that gives you the right of way. In other words, it’s just another way of trying to cut the lineup.
While you may find yourself with the right of way time and time again, you should take a step back and allow other surfers on the beach a chance to ride.
Avoid trying to paddle up to the wave through the middle of the lineup. Paddle up on the outside, avoiding the wave breaks and those currently riding a wave. It’s also important not to let your paddling interfere with a surfer’s ride. Paddle behind, not in front, of other surfers.
Take care of the beach. Just like the ocean, the beach was meant to be shared. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that it’s clean and surf friendly. So don’t litter and always pick up after yourself.
Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how experienced they are. That’s ok. Just make sure to say you’re sorry if you do accidentally drop in or interfere with another surfer’s ride. A good surfing community is a respectful surfing community.
Top surfer Seva Shulgin: "Of course, it is difficult to give in when the truth is on your side. For example, you are riding a wave, and a local turns out to be in your way — it is against the rules, you don't want to smile. Still, it's not a reason for conflict. Maybe you're just being checked out.
If the local apologizes, accordingly, he settles the conflict himself. If you start to argue that the local started the conflict on purpose, then you can forget about riding. You will no longer be allowed on the wave, facing constant interference."
Grabbing a surfboard is like purchasing a ticket to another world. While there’s a lot to learn and numerous pitfalls and mistakes to avoid, most longtime surfers would agree: there’s no experience like it. So, if there’s just one rule to remember, it’s to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you should probably be doing something else.
Learn more about how to read the surf / swell forecast in a special Windy.app presentation with examples and tips from professional surfers with many years of experience of riding the biggest and best waves on the planet.
Cover photo: Jonathan Borba / Unsplash