Not all rules of surf etiquette are obvious. Here are the good ones to follow:
Rule 1. RIGHT OF WAY
The first person up on a wave has right away. Generally speaking, this rule of surf etiquette means that the person closest to the peak will have right away, but not always. Look right and left before you commit to a wave. If someone is clearly going to get on a wave before you, wait for the next one.
Rule 2. DROPPING IN vs PARTY WAVE
If you are invited to the party, its a fiesta. If not, don’t drop. If you do accidentally drop on someone’s wave, kick out at the first place it is safe to exit. A quick exit after a drop-in means you did your best to make up for breaking this rule of surf etiquette.
Rule 3. LINEUP ROTATION
If you have just taken a set wave, don’t paddle past the lineup straight back to the peak. Wait for some rotation to make your way back to the top of the lineup. If you have just missed or messed up a set wave, you have also lost your turn in the rotation, so don’t paddle past the lineup straight back to the peak. Either way, wait for some rotation to make your way back to the top of the lineup. Line-up rotation is one of the harder rules of surf etiquette to grasp as it is partly perceived understanding.
Rule 4. PADDLE OUT SAFELY
Use channels and the shoulder to paddle out around the peak. DON’T paddle out or sit right in front of the lineup. Also, don’t paddle out right next to someone or right behind them. You never know when a board may come loose, so keep a safe distance. A 10 foot board with a 10 foot leash could hit you from 20 feet away, keep your distance!
Rule 5. DON’T BE A DEER IN HEADLIGHTS
You are in a bad spot between the wave and a surfer coming down the line. Make eye contact with a surfer riding in your direction. Its your responsibility to move, so please move. That means if you can safely paddle in front of the surfer’s line on the wave, do it as quickly as possible. If not, go behind the surfer and take the breaking wave on the head. Spending a few moments in the white water is better than a fin to the dome.
Rule 6. HOLD ONTO YOUR BOARD
Don’t throw your board unless this is absolutely your only possible option. To be clear, if you cannot hold onto your board in 3 foot conditions, don’t be out in 3 foot conditions. Before you throw, make sure there are no other options such as: turtle roll, duck dive, or boogie back to shore. If you have to throw, dive deep. Perhaps the most obvious rules of surf etiquette: Never throw your board at other surfers or near someone riding a wave.
Rule 7. RESPECT EVERYONE IN THE LINEUP; DON’T BE A KOOK
If someone screws up, notify them politely the first time. If you screw up acknowledge it and learn from your mistakes. If you have an accident, make sure the other surfer is OK. Generally speaking, if you cause an accident, you should offer to help with a repair or medical cost.
Rule 8. COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Follow the 7 rules above and communicate with the surfers around you. If you are planning to catch a wave, let the lineup know. A whistle or a hoot usually does the trick here. If you are going to let a wave pass, let the lineup know. Sitting up on your board, a head nod or saying, “Take this one, you go,” lets the rest of the lineup know its their turn and you don’t give up your spot for the wave behind. If you are going to ride an A-Frame right, say, “Going right.” If you are unsure what a surfer in the lineup is doing, ask! Communication is key because the lineup cannot read your mind. Also, if you are in another country, learn how to communicate before paddling out.
Rule 9. WHEN IN DOUBT, DON’T PADDLE OUT
If you are unsure of wave conditions, assess. Watch at least 20 minutes to see a set or two. Make sure the size of the wave and competitiveness of the lineup is to your ability. If you cannot safely manage yourself and your equipment; Don’t paddle out. If you get caught paddling out and can’t break the impact zone, go back to shore or the channel. Further, if a seasoned surfer politely informs you that conditions are not at your ability, please take head. At least stay on the shoulder for a few sets to make sure you are safe.
Rule 10. LOCAL vs TOURIST
We live in the time of surf travel. If you are a local, act like one. True locals don’t need Localism. If you are a visitor, act like one. Visitors should be hyper aware of rules 1 -9 before choosing to paddle out. Smile, stay wide on the shoulder for a couple sets, converse with other surfers from the shoulder, be friendly, find out if there are surf spot specific hazards or dickheads in the water before making your way to top of the lineup. You could save yourself a ruined session, ruined day, ruined board or ruined trip simply by maintaining the highest level of courtesy to all surfers at all times.
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