SURF LESSON: Surfing Etiquette 101

Surf Etiquette 101: How to Maximize Your Learning Experience

Learn proper surf etiquette and the unwritten rules of the waves.

When I was a kid, you could only buy a board from a surf shop, and those were always staffed with the best local surfers who were more than happy to share the rules with you before you paddled out.
In the line up, people were quickly sorted out by locals for any violation of these unwritten rules. Painfully so at times. Besides verbal abuse, there was more than one punch thrown at people who burned the wrong local. Things have definitely changed in that regard, but the rules need to be shared so we can all have a good experience in the ocean. So I’m going to give a breakdown of all you need to know.


Choosing the right board used to be a grinding search through surf shop racks looking for the right board at the right price. Let’s be honest; In todays world most people are entering the surf on a Costco Wave Storm soft board. The shape, width and thickness paired with the soft user-friendly foam has made it the best selling board in the world. The downside is there is nobody at Costco to tell the buyer the basics of what to do next. Also read our post on choosing a good first board.



When choosing a beach to learn how to surf at, make sure you find a spot with a “soft” wave with a sand bottom. You’ll be riding the “soup” or white wash at first very close to the beach, so no need to rush to the outside and try to catch open-faced waves. DO NOT go to places that are overly crowded or have rocks or reefs. The reason for this is your safety. You don’t go to the public pool and try to do a gainer off of the high dive…crawl before you walk.




We encourage you to go into your local surf shop after you’ve made your surfboard purchase (hopefully you bought a board from a surf shop) and find the owner or manager so you can ask them for some pointers. If you go to a surf lesson these should be covered right off the bat.

    • How to paddle your board
    • How to navigate through an incoming wave
    • How to lift up to go over waves
    • How to go from prone to sitting
    • How to sit and turn your board around to catch a wave
    • How to enter a wave with out pearling (nose diving)
    • How to stand up
    • How to avoid collisions and being aware of those around you



    Avoid crowds, surfers and swimmers. This means DO NOT paddle to the outside. Stay in waist deep water and get a feel for the power of the waves and learn the basics of controlling your board. NEVER throw your board when a wave comes…ever. This is a huge cause of injuries to surfers and swimmers. Be in control of your board at all times. Learn this before you try to even catch a wave. There will be no faster way to conflict with experienced surfers if you get in their way or hit them with your board because you bailed it.
    When paddling out look for calm water but be aware of rip currents. Always learn near a lifeguard tower if possible. If you’re going it alone, feel free to ask an experienced surf you see for some tips. Most are happy to help.


    Be aware of your surroundings. Learn who has the right of way on the wave. Not sure what that means? Heres a few options to help clarify.



    Closest to the peak: the surfer that is furthest out or nearest the breaking past of the wave. This person has the right of wave if they have been waiting their turn.Never paddle around a person to get to that spot. Thats called “Paddling around” a person and is very frowned upon. Wait your turn and slowly approach that take off area for your turn to be closest to the peak. One person goes and the crowd moves up a spot close to that zone.



    “Dropping in” or “cutting off” is one of the huge insults and violations in surfing that can result in a bad confrontation. If you see someone already up and riding, STOP PADDLING FOR THE WAVE. It’s not yours. Observe the right of way and you will avoid conflict. Repeatedly paddling around others to get into the inside position on a wave is a huge problem. Observe the flow of the crowd and do not cut off or paddle around others if they are waiting.



    Share the waves. Don’t think because you can catch every wave coming in that you should. This will start to offend experienced surfers real fast.  Even if you can paddle furthest outside and catch the waves first every time you reach the lineup, don’t do it. The punishment for this is loss of respect and better surfers will start to cut you off in protest of your ignorance.



    If you drop in on someone, hit someone or bail your board and ruin someones wave, make sure you say you’re sorry. Like anything in this life, good manners are important. Be cool, don’t be a jerk. We’ve all been there and saying sorry goes a long way to make it right.


    Most of all, be safe, smart and be a good steward of the beach. Theres so many people who litter, trash and make the beach not as nice as it should be. Don’t be one of them. Please come into the shop anytime to discuss the rules of surfing so we can help you have a better experience in the ocean.


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