Simpler Way to Learn Surf Etiquette
You will likely hear frequent mention of surf etiquette, and the need to abide by the rules of said etiquette. Fear not, the rules of the surf zone are actually quite simple, and quite logical once you get your bearings.
If you know how to behave in automobile traffic, and you know how to behave in a coffee shop, you’ll do just fine in the surf lineup.
Except, in this case the coffee shop is situated in the middle of a major intersection. You’re simultaneously trying to read the room socially, avoid getting hit by cars speeding in every direction, ordering a simple cup of drip from a sometimes snooty barista, and finding a comfortable place to enjoy the coffee without taking someone’s seat. Yep, this is most likely how your first-year sessions are gonna feel. But don’t worry!
A few tips:
Time your paddle-out with the lull.
Just like crossing a busy street, you wouldn’t blindly barrel into traffic against the red hand of Don’t Walk. You wait for the welcoming gesture a green light brings. It’s the same in the surf. Don’t paddle out during a set with waves rolling in and surfers up riding left, right, and center.
Wait for the waves to die down (the lull). This isn’t always easy, because you can still get surprised by the next set everyone’s waiting for, but when you see everyone either sitting or paddling back to the peak, Go. The more experienced you become, the more times you choose to paddle-out at the wrong time, the easier this gets.
Even the best surfers spend most of the time in the water waiting between waves. Take advantage of the lull in the action and reward yourself with a drama-free paddle out.
And remember, even Kelly Slater still takes waves on the head from time to time.
Don’t paddle for a wave when someone is already coming down the line.
Just like turning right on a red light, you know you’ve gotta be absolutely sure there isn’t someone coming from your left before you pull into traffic. When it happens in a car, and causes a wreck, you are at fault.
When it happens in the surf, the same applies. If you are out on the shoulder and someone is already up and riding, the wave is theirs. If you blindly paddle in front of them, they will get angry. If you get up or attempt to get up, and cause a wreck, you guessed it, you are at fault. And they will most likely demonstrate their anger to you in one of a few ways for potentially the rest of the session. Trust me, it’s not worth it.
Wait for a clear, wide open wave before turning to paddle.
Know where safety lies.
When negotiating a busy intersection, reaching the sidewalk means you’re safe (for the most part). When negotiating a busy lineup, especially if you feel uneasy or out of your element, just get yourself to one of the 2 nearest safe zones: the shoulder or the outside (which is anywhere beyond where the waves break). It’s also great to use these zones when you’re tired (which will be often), as it keeps you out of the way of the more experienced riders and the trouble that brings.
When it’s finally your wave, GO!
Do. Not. Hesitate.
This is where most of the issues in first year surfing occur. You haven’t surfed quite long enough to be confident, but now’s the time to fake it. Push through the doubt, quiet your insecurities, and do the best you can. No joke, taking this approach could cut your learning curve in half. You’re still required to observe the nuances of the lineup (ALWAYS look behind you on the wave First), but if you pause, you fall. When you don’t pause, you dramatically increase your chances of success.
And this is to say nothing of everyone’s expectations around you. If someone calls you into a wave, or your friend excitedly spouts, “paddle, paddle, paddle,” then others around you are expecting you to go. Hear this now, the way the world works in the lineup, you must go.
Have you ever sat behind someone at a light when it turns green, and they inch forward still looking left & right to make sure it’s safe? Yikes, you don’t want to be that guy.
Best you can, take the temperature of the lineup.
Try to be aware of yourself & your surroundings. Everyone is there to have a good time.
Is anyone sitting near you who hasn’t had a chance at a wave in a while? Are you talking loudly like someone on FaceTime in a quiet coffee shop? All the same social rules on land extend to the water. This isn’t to say don’t have fun (Please have Fun), just remember you’re sharing the most beautiful environment in the world with fellow appreciators.
Don’t abandon your surfboard.
Do everything humanly possible not to let go of your board in the water.
Surf like you aren’t wearing a leash even when you are. The leash is far from a fool-proof damage-avoiding accessory, and plenty of surfers wearing leashes still injure themselves and others. That may even mean letting a perfect set wave pass you by if people on the inside can’t get out of the way.
Think of the leash like a seatbelt in a car—you only want to rely on it when you have to.
Just remember, if you behave like you would in traffic or how you would in any other social setting, you're probably on the right track. People love to make a big fuss about Surf Etiquette, but it's really quite simple—don't cut people off, don't get caught where you won't be able to get out of the way, and plan your moves before you make them. Missing out on a wave isn't the end of the world—there will always be more waves.
A Note for the Seasoned Veterans of the Lineup:
For the more advanced surfers who are reading this, try to consider how meaningful a wave might be to a kid or a beginner. You may have caught thousands of waves in your life, but to the eager person waiting on the shoulder, this wave could be incredibly memorable and formative.
This is an excerpt from our Almond's Guide to Your First Year of Surfing. Stay tuned for more educational content for surfers of all ages and stages.