Surfing Etiquette

Surf etiquette is something that all surfers should have a knowledge about, it isn’t just applicable to top surfers or surfers in America or Australia but to all surfers and all waters. The first point to understand is that the beach/sea is for everyone to enjoy and no one particular activity should overwhelm another. So the best thing is to try and get along with your fellow water users – especially fellow surfers!

So below I’ll try give you the run down on the basic principles of surf etiquette with 10 simple points!

#1: Right of Way
The surfer closest the peak of the wave (where the wave starts to break) has the right of way. So if the wave is peaking to your right and a surfer is between you and the peak they have the right of way. however, there are a few variations to this rule:

If someone is riding a wave don’t take off between them and the white water – if you do you could get in the way of their cut back.

If a surfer wipeouts or if the wave closes out then another surfer can attempt to catch it down the line if the original surfer is off it.

Sometimes a wave can break both left and right; sometimes called a split peak. If there are two surfers going for this wave in different directions they both have the right of way, both surfers should not try the same direction they should split the wave.

If a wave closes in on itself from both directions and two surfers are riding from both sides towards each other they should try to straighten towards the shore or pull off the wave to avoid collision!

#2: Don’t Drop In
If another surfer with the right of way, is either about to take off or is actually riding the wave, do not even think about trying to catch that wave. This is a quick way of getting in trouble with fellow surfers. No matter how good the wave is you just have to let it pass by. Dropping in on someone will not win you any friends and in some locations you may get a hostile reaction.

#3: Don’t Snake

Snaking is when a surfer is in the line-up and paddles around another surfer in order to position themselves to get the right of way for a wave. This is ok if the other surfer doesn’t seem to be interested in the waves coming in but continuously doing this to surfers who are interested in the waves is a big no no. You can’t cut the line-up and this goes for everyone – even locals! you will not get a good reaction from fellow surfers if you start snaking!

#4: Paddling Out
Don’t paddle through the line-up or where surfers are catching waves. Paddle either side of the line-up where the waves are not breaking. It’s easier to paddle through unbroken waves than white water, however if your paddling out and someone is on a wave then paddle side ways to where the wave has broken to get out of their way. Do not paddle in front of the surfer unless there is definitely no where else to go. If your caught in front of the surfer try paddle your hardest to get over the wave before they reach you or else it could be a smack on the mouth for you!

#5: Don’t Hog The Waves
Even if you can catch every wave in the line-up don’t do it. You have to give other people a chance to get their fair share. If you continuously catch the waves ahead of others they will soon get annoyed and may end up dropping in on you. This especially applies to longboarders and kayakers as its easier to catch waves on these.

#6: Be Aware If Ditching Your Board
Try and keep control of your board especially if your getting smashed by waves. If a large wave is crashing on you and you have no alternative but to ditch your board and dive through it, firstly take a quick look around to see if there is anybody that might end up getting your ‘ditched’ board in the face! Don’t ditch if there is someone close to you that could get hit by it, try and learn to turtle roll or duck-dive and only ditch your board as a last resort!

#7: Respect The Locals And The Beach
Whatever surf spot you go to there will probably be locals that surf there most days. Give respect, where it is due, to these people. If your visiting a surf spot for the first time acknowledge the other surfers out there already with a friendly nod and maybe ask if there are any dangers to be aware of. Respect the other points made in this post.

Don’t litter or vandalise the beach – it’s just not cool.

#8: Do Apologise
Everyone messes up at some point or another but if you happen to accidentally drop in on someone or paddle in their way give them a quick wave of apology… it goes along way and try not do it again! Obviously if you dropping in, snaking, etc. all the time apologises will not get you anywhere!

#9: Help Others In Distress
If you see another surfer in trouble or difficulty help them as much as you can. Surfing can be pretty dangerous so it’s always nice to have someone about if you find yourself in difficulty. Also if you see beginners who are really struggling or caught in a rip help or advise them if its appropriate.

#10: Surf Spots That Suit Your Ability
Don’t start off surfing slabs or reefs! Surf spots which suit your ability and gradually move up the scale. It’s not safe to surf a lot of locations if you are inexperienced. Along with putting yourself in danger you will probably end up annoying other surfers by getting in their way, wiping out badly or dropping in on them.

I hope the above points help you when you hit the water next and hopefully they’ll keep you out of trouble. As an Australian surfer once said: “Get out there, it’s Fun“!

Colin Cooney
Surfer, Amateur photographer and Garden Designer. Co Owner of Surf Around Ireland….need to know more, get in touch!


  1. Anonymous

    nice one man! A lot of surfers should have a good long read of this. Great info for beginers too! good work.

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