Surfing Etiquette And Rules Everyone Should Know


Surfing is one of the top watersports around the world, and rightfully so when you consider the type of adrenaline rush you get while shredding large overhead waves or flawlessly executing alley-oops or sushi rolls. Amidst all the excitement, it is easy for some surfers to forget that they’re sharing the waves with other surfers which often results in resentment and confrontations.

That is why surfers, both amateurs and veterans, need to remind themselves of the different surfing rules and etiquette before paddling out. These surfing etiquettes are not so much as rules, but more of a code outlining the proper conduct for surfers. They are designed to ensure the safety of the surfers and make sure that everybody gets along while having fun. That said, here are ten surfing rules and etiquettes to keep in mind before taking your surfboard out of your surfboard travel bag and stepping into the surf.

1. Right of Way

This is one of the very first surfing rules that every beginning surfer needs to learn; however, it is also one of the easiest to break. There may be variations to this particular rule, but basically, the rules are:

  • If the surfer is already up and riding a wave, then that’s his or her wave.
  • The surfer who is closest to the breaking part of the wave has priority.
  • The surfer who is furthest out and has waited for the longest for the wave gets priority (first come first served basis).
  • If you and another surfer are going for the same wave and it is not clear who has priority, then it all comes down to who is on their feet first.

And remember, even if the whitewater catches up to a surfer doesn’t mean that you’re excused to take off down the line. Experienced and talented surfers have a knack for outrunning the section and getting back to the face of the wave.

2. A-peaks or Split Peaks

This is one variation to rule number one and applies when a wave is breaking towards itself. If you and another surfer are both taking off on either side of the peak, you both have the right of way on your respective sides. If the wave is peaking with both a left and a right, let the other surfer know your intention by shouting “Left!” or “Right!”

3. Don’t Drop-In

This is considered to be the cardinal sin of surfing. Dropping in simply means taking off in front of another surfer who has the right of way and is either about to take off or is already riding the wave. Not only is this rude and disrespectful, but it is also potentially dangerous and you put yourself and the other surfer in a possible collision course as you block his or her line. In any case, dropping in on someone will make you feel bad about yourself, outrage the other surfer, and ruin the wave for both of you.

There are instances though when dropping in becomes forgivable, but only if (and that’s a pretty big “if”) you are next in line on a wave and:

  • The other surfer has fallen and you’re sure that they won’t be able to get back to their board in time to catch the wave; and/or
  • You’re certain that the other surfer will not be able to make the section between both of you.

4. Don’t Be Wave Hog

It can be tempting to go and catch every wave that comes your way, especially when you are confident of your skills and equipped with the best surfboard available. However, just because you can catch all the waves Mother Nature is hurling at you means that you should. This will only get you the resentment of your fellow surfers at the lineup and might even lead to a brawl back at the beach.

Being a wave hog (or just being a “hog” in general) is never appreciated on any beach. Share the waves around and let other surfers have their own fun. When you give a wave, you’ll get a wave. More importantly, you’ll get the respect and admiration of other surfers you’re sharing the water with.

5. Don’t Ditch Your Surfboard


Some people have the habit of ditching their surfboards when a large wall of whitewater suddenly looms above them. This can be very dangerous since surfboards are large, heavy, and hard. When the whitewater tosses your surfboard about it can end up hitting you or another surfer behind you. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that your soft top surfboard won’t cause any damage because it will, regardless of the term “soft” being included in the surfboard’s product description. Keep this rule in mind especially when you’re surfing on a crowded beach. Always maintain contact and control over your surfboard. This may be hard to do for beginners but keep at it until it becomes second nature.

6. Don’t Snake

In line with the above, nobody likes “snakes” as much as “hogs”. Snaking can be defined in a variety of ways, but in general, it means paddling around in a big “S” pattern to another surfer to get the right of way for a wave. While not necessarily dangerous or hazardous to you and other surfers’ health and well-being, snaking is pretty annoying and will definitely earn you the ire of other surfers. So be patient and wait in line. Your wave will come sooner than you think.

7. Don’t Mess the Line

When you look at the water, you’ll see some people already out there in a line waiting for their turn at the wave. Instinct would tell you to paddle straight toward them because that’s exactly where you want to be alongside other surfers. However, you should never paddle straight towards the line and you should never squeeze yourself in the middle of the lineup once you get there. Doing so will not only be rude (they were there first after all) but you also run the risk of getting run over by those already surfing the wave. Instead, find a channel and paddle towards the outermost end of the lineup and make your way towards it from there. And oh, being a veteran surfer or a local doesn’t give you an excuse to the cut in the line, especially when the newbies and tourists are playing according to the rules. Be a role model for them instead.

8. Paddling Rules

Surfing rules and etiquette don’t just apply when you’re riding the wave. Once you get into the water and start paddling, you’re bound by these standards right then and there. Fortunately, many of these are pretty common sense so there’s really no reason for you not to remember them.

  • Before you start paddling out, take a good look at your surroundings first. How many surfers are already out there and in line? How far out do I want or need to be? What’s the best way to get there without getting in the way of other surfers? Answering these questions will allow you to find the best route to the lineup.
  • Find a channel where waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing. This should always be your path en route to the lineup.
  • When you need to paddle out be sure that you don’t get in the way of other surfers. Do not paddle directly in front of someone already riding the wave. This can result in either you getting run over or the other surfer bailing out in an attempt to avoid colliding with you. In any case, this is never a pleasant experience and one that you’ll want to avoid at all costs. When you do find yourself in a really bad spot and unable to paddle behind a surfer, it is your responsibility to speed paddle your way out of there.

9. Respect the Locals

This is one of the most important among the different surfing rules and etiquette. Being a tourist or a visitor doesn’t give you an excuse to act and behave inappropriately. Needless to say, breaking the rules and practicing bad surfing etiquette will lead to resentment, bad vibes, and even verbal and physical confrontations.

Many local surfers are actually very kind and welcoming to outsiders who visit their beaches, provided of course that they (and their culture) are treated with respect. Also, when you travel in groups be sure that you and your surfing buddies don’t mob the beach and hog the waves. Take some time to observe your surroundings before jumping into the water, enjoy the sights and sounds of the local community, and keep things friendly. You’re more likely to earn the local surfers respect this way than doing Superman or rodeo flips.

10. Apologize

This doesn’t really need to be mentioned, but the number of people who ignore this rule (intentionally or otherwise) is simply too high. If you ever drop in on someone or run them over or break any of the surfing rules and etiquette mentioned above, be sure to offer a quick apology to the surfer you offended. This can go a long way in avoiding tensions and brawls against a fellow surf rider. Besides, it’s all really plain good manners and right conduct and many surfers will readily accept a sincere apology.

Five More Surfing Rules and Etiquettes to Remember

There are plenty of other surfing rules and etiquette that both beginning and advanced surfers should keep in mind so in addition to the ten above we’re leaving you with five more.

  • Take Care of the Beach. Whether you’re hitting the waves at your local surf spot or traveling to a foreign beach, always remember to be a responsible beachgoer. Don’t litter and pick up your trash before you call it a day. Go a little further by picking up trash even if it isn’t yours. Also, don’t leave your bags, beach towels, and other personal belongings strewn all over the sand. In short, take care of the beach so you and the next generation of surfers will have a great beach to return to now and then.
  • Look after Other Surfers. Big waves and hard surfboards coupled with a surge of adrenaline can spell disaster for many surfers. This is especially true when judgment is clouded by too much excitement or plain ego. In any case, always look out for fellow surfers and be ready to lend a hand when needed. It is, after all, an extreme sport, and accidents do happen every once in a while especially when you’re all hitting a humongous party wave.
  • Don’t Hassle Inexperienced Surfers. About the above, if you are a contest surfer, please avoid hassling amateur surfers with their beginner surfboards or other surfers who simply engage in the sport as a form of lifestyle. Being a better surfer does not give you an excuse to be a blowhard. When you’re sharing the beach with other people, be considerate of those who are simply trying to enjoy a day at the beach.
  • Keep Your Ego in Check. Pride is a dangerous thing, especially when large waves start rolling in. If you’re still just getting started with surfing or have very limited experience and skills, keep your ego in check and avoid picking a spot or attempting a trick that is out of your range. This will help you avoid upsetting more advanced surfers by getting in their way. You’ll also end up hurting your ego when you become a hazard to other surfers or suddenly find yourself wiped out or rail banged and in need of rescue because of trying too hard to impress other surfers.
  • Check Your Equipment. Now, this is one rule that is easy to remember but bears repeating anyway. Always go over your equipment before you start paddling out. Check and see if the surfboard fins are secured. Check your surfboard leash and make sure that it’s not frayed or damaged in any other way. Check your surfboard rails for any dings, dents, or sharp protruding points. Doing these checks will not only ensure that you have a fun and worry-free ride but also prevents your surfboard from harming other surfers and people in the water.

Globo Surf Overview

Surfing has always been a popular sport, and given how exciting it can be we can only expect the number of people engaged in this sport to grow even bigger. Unfortunately, with this comes the unpleasant truth that surfing etiquette and rules are slowly being forgotten and buried in the sand. That said, new surfers should familiarize themselves with these surfing rules and etiquette before jumping into the water (even advanced surfers should take a refresher course now and then to refresh their memory.)

More Surf Reviews:


  1. Surfing Etiquette: A Beginner’s Guide, Wavelength
  2. Basic Surfing Etiquette Every Surfer Should Know, The Grom Life
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!