Although you’d love to rock up to your best surfing spot, seek out the first available break and dive right in, that’s not how things work. Whether there’s one other surfer out with you, or fifty one, there are a series of unwritten rules that must be followed when it comes to the lineup.
For those not familiar with this concept, the lineup refers specifically to the area where the waves will begin to break – the spot where surfers sit and wait for an opportunity to ride one, essentially. Beginners may not know, but there’s a certain way to behave when you’re in the ocean’s waiting area.
Your primary concern is this: whichever surfer is out furthest and has been waiting longest should always get first dibs on riding the next wave. After them, it is the surfer who is waiting closest to where the wave breaks – if there’s multiple riders waiting there, then it’s every man for himself and whoever gets up first can go.
Let’s put that into context: if you’re paddling to a wave on the right and there’s a surfer on your left who is closer, you must allow them to take the wave instead. If two surfers are on either side of the peak, however, you both have right of way and can take off from both directions – unless there’s nobody on the other side, try and avoid taking off behind the peak.
So, that’s rule one – wait your turn. When it’s time for you to ride a wave, be sure you’ve found a suitable spot that is appropriate for your surfing abilities. This will make the entire experience a lot more enjoyable, your riding will be more successful, and most importantly, yourself and everyone around you stays safe.
Do not “drop in” to or try to take over the same wave as another rider – this is not only selfish, but stupid and dangerous. Have a little patience! On the same hand, you should also avoid hogging the lineup’s takeoff point, and make sure everybody gets an equal opportunity to catch some waves.
Surfing Rules and Etiquette
As with the lineup and how you ought to behave there, you’ll also come to find there is an inherent etiquette when it comes to surfing more generally. Gradually, you’ll figure these things out yourself with time and practise, but it’s always good to start off with some idea about what to expect!
Communicate And Look Out For Each Other
The easiest way to hurt yourself or another surfer is to be ignorant and only pay attention to yourself. In surfing, you need to keep an eye on your surroundings, your fellow surfers and the water at all times.
As well as looking out for them and being sure to shout if you spot anything untoward or dangerous, you should also listen out for others offering you the same courtesy. If you’re paddling out towards a wave and someone else is going too, ask them “Right or left?” or at least tell them where you’re heading!
Some days, there will be more surfers out in the lineup than others. Especially when you’re a beginner, or when you’re surfing with locals, you need to learn to wait your turn. Remember – whoever has been waiting longest further out has the right of way, and after that, anybody who’s closest is free to take a shot.
Of course, don’t let people walk all over you and push you out – you need to have a bit of confidence and be brave enough to jump in when the time comes, rather than worrying about everybody else. This is a difficult balance, but you’ll learn with time.
Respect Local (And Other) Surfers
When you’re heading out, be aware that especially in popular destinations (or even hidden spots you are sure nobody else knows about) you’re likely to encounter local surfers who are very territorial and not that receptive to newbies.
Be sure to have your wits about you and be sure to observe the practises of locals – if you notice they aren’t being particularly generous with waves, it may be best to move on and find yourself a quieter spot just to avoid conflict. Otherwise, be prepared to put up a fight, as locals usually tend to stick together and defend each other!
Keep Hold Of Your Board
Unless you’re wearing a leash – and even then you ought to be incredibly careful – you must never drop or throw your board on purpose. It could seriously injure or even kill somebody, particularly on a busy day with many surfers in the lineup.
This is even more important for beginners, as their surfboards tend to be bigger and heavier, and therefore more likely to cause somebody a serious injury. You need to learn to push through, turtle roll or duck dive beneath a wave, all whilst holding your board. A leash certainly helps in this regard, especially if you’re prone to wiping out!
Stay Out Of The Way
Not literally, but nobody likes an obstacle in the shape of a human. If you’re struggling to surf successfully in a particularly crowded lineup or a busy point break from the same spot, with plenty of riders all fighting for the best spot, it makes sense to relocate.
Only those with the confidence to take the waves when it’s their turn – avoiding, of course, dropping in or snaking somebody else’s waves – are safe to surf in more congested spots. If you’re in someone’s way, then you’re going to get hurt, even if it’s an accident. Try to move and give people space the same way you’d like to be treated.
Keep The Beach (And Ocean) Clean
This is imperative, and more of a “not being an asshole” thing than a general rule for surfing, but still. The beach and the ocean are sites of glorious fun for surfers, so why pay Mother Nature back for this by dumping all over her and failing to clean up after yourself?
If you’re heading out to surf, consider taking a bag with you and taking home extra rubbish you see scattered around, as well as being sure to pick up after yourself and take all of your belongings home with you. Sure, you’re not responsible for other people’s littering, but it always helps to keep the beach cleaner than you found it, and ultimately keeps the animals that inhabit the sea a whole lot safer.
Not a rule, just a fact! If you’re going surfing, you want to enjoy yourself – head out with a positive attitude, chat to other surfers out there with you and have a good time! There’s no point going surfing if you’re gonna be miserable the whole time, as this will not only impact your ability to go for it and try your best, but will also rub off on those around you.
If everybody out in the lineup has a huge smile on their face and is participating in the group camaraderie, you’ll all have a whole lot more fun, it just makes sense!
Key Surfing Terms And Their Definitions
Aerial – a motion which involves propelling your board above the lip of the wave and taking it into the air – this is an advanced move for serious surfers only!
Barrelling wave/Getting barrelled – a barreling wave is when the lip of a wave curls over to form a hollow cylinder, with the act of getting barrelled referring to when a surfer is completely covered by a barrel, the ultimate achievement for any wave rider
Backhand – having your back to a wave whilst surfing – the opposite of this would be a forehand, where you’re facing the wave
Bommie – a slang term for bombora, an Aboriginal term which refers to a submerged rock or reef shelf far out from the shore
Bogging – describes when the surfboard nose lifts up, because the weight of the surfer is distributed too far back
Closeout – this happens when a wave does not peel in sections as normal but instead breaks in one long line, offering no wall to surf on and therefore rendering them unrideable
Cutback – a surfing move wherein you carve on the open face, then arc your surfboard back around, so you bounce off of the whitewash – this can be performed even on the flattest part of a wave, so beginners will pick it up pretty quickly
Dawny – a very early surfing session, usually at the break of dawn or first light, hence the name
Duckdive – quickly plunging your board under water, so you can dive underneath a wave that’s coming, same way a duck would to hunt for fish
Drop-in – attempting to take off on a wave whilst a surfer is already on it, preventing them from completing their ride. Whether intentional or by accident, this is very much frowned upon in surfing circles; as well as being rude and annoying, it’s also potentially very dangerous!
Kook – anybody surfing who doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore surf etiquette; not a beginner, as anybody of any surfing level can be a kook whatever their skills may be
Leggie – the leg rope or leash that connects to your ankle, preventing your board from drifting away and hurting somebody in the event that you wipe out
Lineup – the area at which waves begin to break, where most surfers will sit on their board and wait for the next ride – occasionally also called the take off zone
No Man’s Land – an unfortunate spot for surfers to be in, namely in between the shoreline and several oncoming breaking waves which can make paddling back to the shore difficult. Sometimes called a white zone, crash zone or being “caught inside”
Onshore/Offshore – referring to the wind’s direction, and whether that makes a particular break easier or more difficult; an onshore wind blows out towards land, making surfing more difficult, where an offshore wind is blown in the direction of the sea, which actually makes waves easier to ride
Quiver – a collection of multiple surfboards
Ragdolled – being forcefully dragged around under water by a wave after you have wiped out, removing any control over your body
Ramp – the position at which a surfer will attempt to perform an aerial, usually the lip of a wave
Reformer – when a wave appears to have broken from the back, but the whitewash pulls back and gives the wave less power, bringing it closer to the shore and more appropriate for beginners to attempt
Set – big waves that arrive in pairs or more, typically the most sought-after amongst all surfers because of their power and the chance for a longer ride generally
Shoulder – a section of the wave that comes after the pocket, which offers less power but generally provides more room for tricks and lateral movements
Shorey – a wave that breaks on the shore, also known as a shorebreak, which can be difficult to move through when trying to get to the lineup
Swell Period – how long it takes for two waves to successfully pass through any given point – the quality of waves in a surfing location will be determined by, primarily, this time period
Surfer’s Froth – the excited, anticipatory period that comes before surfing or trying something new, for instance someone might say “I’m frothing to get out and surf in Hawaii next weekend.”
Thruster – a specific kind of surfboard that has three fins, invented by Simon Anderson back in 1980 – this is a particularly popular design in modern surfing – Anderson’s book Encyclopedia of Surfing is also well worth a look!
Twinny – slang for a surfboard with two fins, though thrusters tend to be a lot more popular these days, with twinnys becoming more of a novelty
Wettie – a colloquialism for your wetsuit! Pretty much self explanatory.
Wipeout – as the popular song suggests, this simply refers to falling off your board mid-surf, which as a beginner will happen a lot!
Whitewash – the section of the wave that breaks, which has less energy than a pocket