To the untrained eye, a surf break lineup can look like a disorganised chaos with every man, women and child for themselves - fighting and jostling for waves.
A lawless, testosterone filled pack with no rules.
But, the reality is quite different…
In fact, there’s a real order to the way a line-up works and a set of surfer rules that keep things fair, safe, and organised.
These rules lead to our very own surf etiquette, rules which will govern line-ups all over the world.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY SURF ETIQUETTE?
Surf etiquette is a set of rules (or guiding principles if you like) that are enforced to maintain a level of safety, organisation, and fairness out in the water.
These surfing rules are present in all lineups the world over.
WHY IS SURF ETIQUETTE IMPORTANT?
Surf etiquette is important to maintain a fair order out in the water so that everybody can catch their own waves - without risk of injuring themselves and other surfers.
And, as line-ups across the world get more and more crowded by the day, surf etiquette is increasingly important to avoid conflict and injury and keep things fun.
SURF ETIQUETTE: THE RULES OF THE LINEUP YOU NEED TO KNOW
Alright, so there’s some good and some bad things about surf etiquette which many people disagree with, but they are the rules and if adhered to they actually really work.
From the outside in, and to newcomers of the sport especially, these rules can seem unfair at times because as you’ll see in a moment the rules are not the same for every individual at every line-up around the world, instead there is a hierarchy at each break which needs to be respected.
But don’t worry, it’s kind of common sense and I’ll break it all down for you below:
LINE-UP HIERARCHY: HERE’S EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Ok so you can break down the hierarchy of a line-up in the following way:
Here’s what that might look like in real life:
THE RULES OF SURFING
So we’ve covered hierarchy which is super important, but there is also a set of rules that govern surfing too.
These rules are our way of knowing:
And a lot more.
Lets look at all these surfing rules in more detail below:
RULE 1. CLOSEST TO THE PEAK, GETS THE WAVE
The peak of a wave is the destination where the wave will curl over and break first.
The surfer closest to the peak of the wave dictates who gets priority on that wave without interference.
RULE 2. THE DROP IN RULE
If a surfer is closer to the peak than you are, that is their wave and you must not take off on that wave. If you do, this is known as a drop in, and this is the most disrespected manoeuvre in the whole sport.
Why is it so bad to drop in?
Firstly, it’s damn dangerous as you’re putting the surfer with priority in danger with your board potentially hitting them, and secondly, you’re ruining their wave.
Dropping in is something that can be easily avoided by simply being aware of what’s going on around you, and looking left and right before taking off on a wave.
Now if even after all of the above you still drop in on someone by accident (which does happen of course), then the right thing to do is go out of your way to apologise, this should diffuse any confrontation pretty quickly.
RULE 3. DO NOT SNAKE
Snaking is when you paddle around another surfer who has been sitting and waiting in position, to manoeuvre yourself closer to the peak than them in order to gain priority for the next wave.
This is the same thing as jumping a queue in a supermarket, and it’s not the done thing in surfing.
If you did want to paddle deeper than the other surfer that’s fine, but when that next wave comes it’s not yours to take (even though you’re closest to the peak), but theirs. Stick to this etiquette and you’ll be sweet.
RULE 4. DON’T GET IN THE WAY
This rule is for when you’re paddling out.
If a surfer is riding a wave and you have the option of:
A) Paddling to the shoulder of the wave to avoid getting smashed (but in the meantime ruining someones wave).
B) Paddling into the impact zone and getting smashed (but not ruining someones wave).
What option should you take?
The answer is B.
You as the surfer without priority must do everything you can to let the surfer on the wave enjoy it without impediment.
Sure, this doesn’t always work out perfectly so don’t get too hung up on it, but it’s an important one to bear in mind.
RULE 5. DON’T BAIL YOUR BOARD
Alright, well I’m not saying don’t bail your board ever, but what I am saying is don’t bail your board if there is someone behind you.
So the proper thing to do is to always look behind you FIRST before you ever decide to bail your equipment.
If the coast is clear go nuts and ditch your board, if not however, you must hold on to your equipment in whatever way possible to protect anyone behind you.
RULE 6. DON’T BE A DOUCHE
Most of the above is pretty self explanatory and makes sense. Be kind, be respectful, have respect, and...
...don't be a douche
WRAPPING IT UP
So this is a high-level overview of surf etiquette to fill you in on all of the basics for keeping yourself and others safe in the lineup and avoiding any agro or confrontation.
All of the above will serve you well.
Occasionally though (depending on the spot you’re surfing) the above rules will be a little more nuanced, so it pays to get a feel for the do’s and don’ts of any new lineup you’re surfing before competing in the pack.
Anyway, what do you think about these surfing rules and surfing etiquette as a whole?
Should they be changed and updated, or do they work just fine as they are?
Leave your responses in the comments below 👇
Ex WQS warrior, and all-round frother - Loz is the technical coaching queen at the House of Surf.
She is also a mindset and life coach and has a habit of living in her van way too much.