For surfers and for people starting to surf, it’s very important to know the basic surf rules, also called surf etiquette. Although surfing in general is quite a mellow sport, it can be very dangerous if the rules are not followed, especially since the lineups have become more and more crowded.
The surf rules below have been developed for the safety and respect of everyone. Make sure you know and apply them!
The first surf rule: The surfer closest to the peak has priority
The person closer to the peak (the part of the wave that starts to break) has the right-of-way, which means that this person can decide to take or not take the wave. Other surfers need to wait their turn. In order to avoid misunderstandings, communication is very important in this matter especially in a-frame type of waves (waves breaking both to the left and right).
The second rule: Don’t drop in on another surfer
If the surfer with priority takes off on the wave, it’s his/her wave and you should not try to catch the wave. There can only be one surfer on a wave! If you continue to paddle for a wave that belongs to someone else you can ruin the wave for him. If you catch the wave of someone else and start surfing in front of the other person, this is called dropping in. Dropping in is strictly forbidden and can be very dangerous. Make sure you look both ways before you take off on a wave!
What to do if you accidentally drop in one someone?
If you accidentally drop in on someone because you didn’t see him or her (which should not be possible if you look good), make sure you get out of the wave as soon as possible. If you are unable to kick out, don’t simply fall off your board with the risk that your board will hit the other surfer, but try to aim your board towards the shoulder of the wave. Dropping in is a crime in surfing, so make sure you apologize to the surfer you justed dropped in on.
The third rule: Paddling surfer yields to surfer riding the wave
When you enter the water, don’t paddle straight into the heart of the lineup but paddle out away from the breaking waves! A good way to do this is by using the channel (the part where the water floats back into the ocean). Waves don’t break so much in the channel, because the current out to the sea blocks the incoming swell. It will make it easier for you to reach the lineup and by doing this, you won’t be in the way of other surfers. But channels can also be dangerous, so take care and make sure you know how to use the channel. If you accidentally happen to be in the way of a surfer, always aim for the whitewater. Although it would be easier for you to paddle over the shoulder of the wave instead of getting hit by the whitewash, the risk of being in the way of a surfer is more important than your own comfort.
The fourth rule: Never throw your board
Before paddling out without teacher in a lineup; you should be able to control your surfboard at all times. Surfboards are weapons and can do serious damage to you or other people if not controlled by the surfer. When a wave or whitewater is approaching, you should never jump off your surfboard. Don’t rely on the leash, because leashes can break anytime. Learn to duck dive or turtle roll so you don’t have to ditch your surfboard. Once in the lineup, make sure there is enough distance between you and other surfers.
The fifth rule: Don’t snake
A snake is someone that paddles around you in order to gain priority on a breaking wave that you were already paddling for. Being a snake or aggressively trying to position yourself in the lineup is considered very rude and can get you in big trouble. Wait your turn!
Besides the five surf rules as described above, there are a couple of unwritten rules that should be taken into account when surfing. The most important one is to respect the locals. Don’t go straight to the peak if you just entered the water. Start on the shoulder and work your way up if the locals allow you. In some spots, it’s impossible to surf the peak as this is owned by locals. By showing respect you usually earn some too!
And always make sure you only surf breaks that match your ability. This way you don’t get yourself (and others) in trouble!