Rules To Surfing, Learn Or Get Burned

Like every sports, there are rules to surfing.  Rules, which prior to the internet and books about surfing, were unwritten and basically passed down from father to son/daughter, friend to friend, mother to daughter/son, mentor to pupil, etc.  These rules, like most rules, were created to increase safety and to bring some order to what could otherwise be chaotic.

Rules To SurfingI’ve always associated surfing with a laid back, easy going attitude and with 60s hippie movement (e.g. make peace not war, harmony with nature, artistic experimentation, etc.), too many Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies.  For you youngsters, these actors were involved in a lot of corny B movies that revolved around, what Hollywood thought, was surfing and the surfing culture (e.g. Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, etc.).

The thought of rules for surfing just did not fit my idea of this activity.  However, I was sorely mistaken and luckily for me, the person who taught me to surf also taught me about the rules to surfing.  The rules to surfing are referred to as surf etiquette, and you should try to learn as much about surf etiquette as you can, before you get yourself in an unpleasant situation.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines localism as: “affection or partiality for a particular place,” but it’s much more than that when applied to surfers and how they feel about a particular surf break.  Unreasonable, should be added to the beginning of that definition, because some surfers will become territorial and violent when it comes to their favorite surf break.

Because these surfers, or their fathers or fathers’ fathers, have been surfing a particular surf break for years if not generations, they believe they are entitled to a certain amount of respect and dibs to the best waves.  They will react, sometimes violently, to new surfers who come to what they consider their break and do not give them what they believe is their due.

Rules To SurfingThere are many recorded and unrecorded instances of surfers damaging vehicles and surfboards.  If you go to YouTube you can view videos of these surfers acting irrational aka fighting (physical altercations) over a perceived slight.

The best way to deal with localism, is to get to know a break and the surfers that frequent that place.  If you haven’t been to a particular surf break before, be respectful and don’t just paddle out and try to catch all the waves.  Wait for your turn and share the wave.

Don’t fight, it’s not worth it and law enforcement has been cracking down on irrational surf behavior.   If you must, just leave the surf break and find a more positive place.  I surf for fun and enjoyment, I don’t want to deal with negative attitudes or behavior and I’m pretty sure you feel the same.

What You Should Do

As a beginning surfer, you should stay out of the line-up.  Learn to surf off to the side and away from the more experienced surfers, your time will come.  Think safety, you don’t want to hurt others and you don’t want to be hurt.  Take things one step at a time and don’t get ahead of yourself.

Start off surfing the white wash, and when you can stand-up easily and on a consistent basis, move on to catching waves before they break.  When you can catch waves before they break and Rules To Surfingare able to turn left or right at will, then you’ll be ready to try the line-up.  At this point you won’t be a danger to your fellow surfers, because you’ll know what you’re doing.  Every surfer has gone through this period.  There is no shame.

Get to know your break and the surfers surfing that break.  As a beginner or any surfer, you don’t want to go to a place that could be dangerous and is not friendly, it will definitely ruin your surf session and surfing experience.

What Not To Do

The easiest way to know what not to do, is to just think about what you wouldn’t want done to you.  Don’t drop in, dropping in, is getting on the wave when some is already on the wave.  Don’t snake, snaking, is paddling in front of another surfer who is already paddling for the wave and trying to catch that wave.

Don’t be a wave hog, I’ve been guilty of this, especially when I used to surf a stand-up paddle board.   Share the waves, other waves will come, and you’ll feel better for doing so.

Don’t be a deer caught in the headlights and freeze, at least make an attempt to get out of the way.  When paddling out, it is your responsibility to avoid the surfer who is riding the wave.

Don’t litter and pick-up after yourself and your guests, respect the place you surf.  Don’t be a jerk, respect your fellow surfers and you’ll receive respect.

Don’t try to surf spots that are beyond your ability, know your limits.  Surfing breaks that are beyond your ability, could get seriously hurt or killed and more importantly you could hurt someone else.

Don’t sit directly behind another surfer.  If a wave was to come, would the surfer in front of you, be able to stand-up in time to avoid you, if not, you’re sitting to close.

In Conclusion

Like most activities, especially sporting, surfing has rules both written and unwritten.  Get to know the rules and abide by these rules, it will make for a more pleasant surfing experience for you and the surfers around you.

In an activity that is fun, people can act irrationally, just check YouTube to see how irrationally people can act over surfing, don’t be one of these fools.  If you follow the rules to surfing aka surf etiquette, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Check out my “Getting started,” page for more information for surfers just starting their surfing journey.

Thanks for dropping in and should you have any questions or comments, please post it in the comments section of this page.

4 thoughts on “Rules To Surfing, Learn Or Get Burned

  1. Interesting article, I really ignored this rules that you developed in your article. I always have found surfing as a really amazing activity, unfortunately not everyone are as good as we want, but now that I’m reading your articles I could say that I know more information about, so that’s really amazing, you’re sharing good information of something I can see that you like so much.

    • Hi Alfred, I’m glad you found my post interesting, informative and helpful. I don’t want others to make the mistakes I’ve made in my surfing journey and I like sharing my knowledge.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  2. Hi Stuart

    I’ve just moved to the Gold Coast in Australia from New Zealand and about to get into surfing! Thought this post was great for beginners like myself.

    Might still go ahead and take some lessons to learn the basics and go from there.

    Good tips on how not to get everyone angry with you haha… might need these.


    • Hi Mason, I’m glad you found my post helpful, you may also want to check out my page on “Getting Started.” Some surf breaks in Australia are known for their localism so make sure you follow the rules.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

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