Paddle Surfing Etiquette
Surfing Etiquette is one of the most important things to learn before you head into the surf. These rules are not so much “rules” as they are a proper code of conduct designed to keep everyone in the water safe and prevent fights. People who repeatedly break these rules are often given the stink-eye, a stern talking to, yelled at or just beaten up.
Don’t worry, if you accidentally drop in on someone they most likely won't beat you up. However, there are rules of the road out there and thou would be best served to follow them. If you’re constantly stealing waves or not being respectful, you’re going to have issues.
With the growing popularity of surfing, the number of people in the water is on the rise and unfortunately surfing etiquette has deteriorated in recent years. The ocean is a dangerous place, and without proper thought to safety it can quickly turn deadly.
New surfers should memorize these rules, and even veterans should remind themselves every now and again.
Rule #1: Right of Way
The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if you’re paddling for a right breaking wave, and a surfer on your left is also paddling for it, you must yield to him or her. Here are a couple variations to consider:
If someone is up riding a wave, don’t attempt a late takeoff between the curl/whitewater and the surfer. If the surfer who is riding the wave wants to make a cutback he or she will run right into you.
Just because the whitewater catches up to a surfer riding a wave doesn’t mean that you should take off down the line. Many talented surfers can outrun the section and get back to the face of the wave.
A-Frames or Split Peaks: If two surfers are on either side of the peak, they each have the right of way to take off on their respective sides. It’s not usually ok to take off behind the peak unless there’s nobody on the other side. These surfers should split the peak and go opposite ways.
If a surfer riding a wave gets closed out with an impossible section or wipes out, the next surfer down the line is clear to take off. If you are a newbie I would hold off on doing this either way until you have a bit more experience.
If a wave is breaking towards itself (a closeout) and two surfers are taking off at each other; granted both have the right of way but this is a dangerous situation and it’s advisable to kick out early to avoid a collision.
Rule #2: Don’t Drop In
This is a close relative to Rule #1. This is probably the most critical part of surfing etiquette. Dropping in means that someone with the right of way is either about to take off on a wave or is already riding that wave and you have chosen to take off on the same wave in front of him or her. This blocks their ride down the line and is extremely onerous, not to mention dangerous. If you are tempted to drop in remember this: no matter how good the wave is, if you drop in on someone you’ll end up feeling bad, the other surfer will be agitated, and the wave will be ruined for everyone.
Rule #3: Paddling Rules
Some common sense surfing etiquette rules that people don't always realize are important. Do not paddle straight through the heart of the lineup where people are surfing. Paddle out through the channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing. Sometimes at spread out beach breaks this is difficult, but typically you can always find a less crowded area to paddle through.
When paddling back out, do not paddle in front of someone riding a wave unless you’re quite far in front of him. You must paddle behind those who are up and riding and take the whitewater hit or duckdive. The favor will be returned the next time you’re up on a wave.
Sometimes you will end up in a bad spot and won’t be able to paddle behind a surfer. It’s your responsibility to speed paddle to get over the wave and out of his or her way. If you don’t do this, you may just get run over!
Rule #4: Don’t Ditch Your Board
This is important, especially when at a crowded break. Always try to maintain control and contact with your board. Surfboards and especially SUPs are large, heavy and hard. If you let your board go flying around, it is going to eventually land on someone’s head. This means if you are paddling out and a wall of whitewater is coming, you can’t just throw your board away and dive under. If you do this and there is someone paddling out behind you, the odds are good that they wil take a board to the face. This is a tough rule for beginners, but if you manage to avoid picking up the habit of throwing your board you will become a much better surfer.
Rule #5: Don’t Snake
“Snaking” is when a surfer paddles around another surfer in order position himself to get the right of way for a wave. In a sense, he is making a big “S” around a fellow surfer. While not immediately hazardous to your health, this is incredibly aggravating. Just like you wouldn’t cut a line at a movie, you can’t cut the surf lineup. Wave hogs don’t get respect in the water. Being a local doesn’t give you permission to ruthlessly snake visitors who are being polite. If they’re not being polite, well, there are usually consequences.
Rule #6: Beginners: don’t paddle out to the middle of a packed lineup.
This is very much open to interpretation, but it still stands: if you’re a beginner you should avoid paddling out into the middle of a pack of experienced surfers. Try to go out to a less crowded beginner break. You’ll know you’re in the wrong spot if you get the stink-eye!
Rule #7: Don’t be a wave hog.
Certain watercraft has advantages when catching waves over others. This generally applies to longboarders, kayakers, and stand up paddleboards. Since it’s easier to catch waves on these vessels, it becomes tempting to catch them all, leaving nothing for shortboarders on the inside. Give a wave, get a wave.
Rule #8: Respect the beach
Don’t litter. Is that simple enough for you? Pick up your trash and maybe pick up a few pieces of trash before you leave even if it’s not yours.
Rule #9: Drive responsibly
The locals who live in the residential areas near the beach deserve your respect. Don’t speed or drive recklessly.
Rule #10: If you blow it
Nobody really mentions this in surfing etiquette lists, but if you screw up and accidentally drop in or mess up someone’s wave, a quick apology is usually appreciated and can go a long way to reducing tension in crowded lineups. Let’s face it, the same common courtesy that applies on land also applies in the lineup.
This might seem like a lot to remember but in time it will become second nature. Most surfing etiquette rules really come down to the Golden Rule that we were all taught as kids.