“Surfing Etiquette” is essentially respect in the water – an unwritten code that keeps yourself and others safe in the water while preventing the development of edgy and hostile atmospheres. To surf any break, every surfer has a responsibility to firstly know and accept their level of ability, their equipment and get to terms with how their local break actually works. Many beginners in particular are not taught about the Do’s and Don’ts in the water, so here is a basic break down:
1. Know your equipment
We all must start somewhere. But while you’re learning, it is important to be conscious of yourself and be respectful to others in the water. Board and leash length are never really highlighted. If you have a 9ft hard board, your leash will be the same length. This gives you an 18ft radius in the water. It is so common for beginners to paddle out and simply bail off their boards when sets come – not checking if anyone is behind them. Again – 9ft board gives you 18ft radius… that board is going to whack someone if you don’t take the time to check before. What can you do? Check before you bail and hold onto the material part of the leash connecting you to your board. This gives you more control and less chance of injuring someone/ ding their board. But more than that, check to see where others are paddling out as sometimes there can be a channel. If you cannot handle your board, you shouldn’t be out there.
2. know your ability
This ties into knowing your board and feeling competent in handling it. Putting yourself in a position where you are out of your depth, such as going into swell beyond your ability, is not only dangerous for you, but can cause complications with other surfers in the water. Surfing is a progressive sport and takes years to get good. So trust your gut, if you can’t make it out back safely, don’t go in. You should always know your entry/ exit points & don’t paddle into the drop zone – you are likely to get in the way and ultimately knock your own confidence. If you see someone coming towards you on the wave, paddle out the way – don’t just sit and stare. It is your responsibility paddling out to get out the way. If you are riding on the wave and you see someone in front of you, stay on your board…if you bail off, your board will shoot forwards and have a much higher chance of hitting them. Ride the wave and try not focus on the person as your body follows your eyes – like looking at a rock and thinking “don’t kick the rock” but kick it because you’re focused on it. The same concept applies in surfing.
A huge part of being respectful in the water is knowing the rules behind priority. If you have just entered the water, don’t expect to take the first set wave. Others have been there longer and patiently waiting their turn. Look around when you get to the line-up, get to know the faces. Once you have settled a bit and positioned yourself well, you will know when it is your turn. But taking the first set wave that pulls through is likely to cause some tension among other surfers if they feel you have stolen their wave. The person that has priority is not always the person closest to the peak, and if you see someone paddling for the wave, unless they shout which direction they are going and you know you can share the wave by going the other way, don’t paddle!
5. Dropping in
When you drop into a wave someone is already on, ruining their line and ultimately their wave…A big NO NO! The biggest cause of grievance in the water. And yes, we’ve all done it. But wait your turn, know your position in the line-up. Once is ok and forgivable. However, if you persist, you will get tempers flaring and tarnish your reputation in the water. You do not want to be known as that guy/girl. If you end up in a position you have dropped in on someone, pull out as soon as you can to let them continue their wave. If you remain on the wave, you bound to get backlash and you are 100% in the wrong.
Another common poor etiquette manoeuvre, and generally done by more competent surfers. This is when you paddle around someone to get yourself in position for the next wave the other person was lined up for. Once or twice is annoying but happens, however, like dropping in, its super disrespectful and will tarnish your reputation if you become renown for it. It’s the same as going shopping and jumping in the front of the line. Again, wait your turn.
7. Under paddling / Blocking
A common occurrence at crowded breaks, this is when you’re paddling for a wave and someone sitting more on the inside sees you, turns around, paddles for the wave and often gets right in front of you, blocking you from making the drop. It causes huge aggravation between surfers and can be dangerous as the surfer may run you over if they refuse to give in, and just poor etiquette/ disrespectful to other surfers. It boils back down to priority – get yourself back to the line-up and wait your turn!
There are several other causes for contention in the water, but if you are new to surfing, these are 6 tips of etiquette to acquaint yourself with and get to grasp. Avoiding these things will already give you a steppingstone to your future in surfing. If you are ever unsure of anything, you can always ask a local. Locals are usually happy to help if you want to learn. So get out there, have fun but respect the line-up, always!