Surfing Safety and Etiquette

Surfing Safety and Etiquette

October 14th, 2013 by Dan Balogh

Basic Surfing Safety Tips

Gliding along on the ocean’s surface with a simple surfboard device can be one of the safest adventure water sports out there, especially when you make good judgments and know proper surfing etiquette.

Here is a list of the things every surfer entering the water should know.

Surfing Safety:

    1. Know Your Beach.

    Every beach has a dedicated surf zone or multiple zones where you can surf safely. Most beaches also have danger zones. Familiarize yourself with areas of potential hazard: rock jetties, piers, pylons, shallow reefs, protruding boulders, dangerous rip currents, etc. Talk with locals who know the break if you are unsure of the dangers.

    2. Know Your Limits.

    Use common sense and surf with other people if you are just learning. It’s okay to find some space to yourself, but if no one is out there is usually a reason why. The power of the wave is more important than the size. Be humble and surf the inside if the outer break feels like too much for you. Start slow and stay in your comfort zone if surfing alone.

    3. Become a Strong Swimmer.

    If you aren’t already a strong swimmer you might want to start a regimen of regular ocean swims, paddling your board, or join a local pool. Out of the water conditioning can also strengthen all the accessory muscles you need to paddle, and you’re going to be doing a lot of paddling.

    4. Use Land Marking Technique.

    Land marking is a technique of calculating your position in the ocean from a fixed point of reference on land. To do this simply find a prominent object such as a house, unique tree, etc. that is directly in line with where you want to surf. When you paddle out into the ocean check back frequently to know your position. Strong currents and waves will move you all over the place and it pays to know where you are.

    5. Wear a Leash.

    A leash is a handy device that keeps your board close to you in case of a wipe-out. Pull the cord and get a flotation device, it’s a no-brainer.

    6. Take a Surf School or Get Lessons from a Professional Surf Instructor.

    Surf Schools such as Anamaya in Costa Rica offer the benefit of consistent lessons with qualified instructors. You’ll learn all the basics plus be able to identify what areas you need to work on when you leave. A good surf school will prepare you for surfing by yourself.

    7. Learn Proper Surfing Etiquette.

    This is a must. See the following section on Surfing Etiquette.

Surfing Etiquette:

Surfing Etiquette is the golden code of conduct that surfers around the world use to share the waves. Demonstrate proper etiquette and you’ll be accepted at the surf break and make many friends over time. Ignorance of etiquette or lack of adhering to this code of conduct puts yourself and others in physical danger and upsets local surfers. Knowing these few pieces of information are vital to getting you into the surfing community anywhere you go.

    1. Paddling Out

    Paddlers must stay out of the way of oncoming surfers. Keep control of your board and only ditch it if you are absolutely sure nobody is near you. To avoid a collision with a closely approaching surfer, always paddle the opposite direction he/she is riding. Attempt to paddle over the wave only if you are sure that you are far enough away to do so without interfering with the rider.

    2. Right-of-Way

    Surfer closest to the breaking part of the wave (peak) has the right-of-way. You could also see it as the surfer who will get the longer ride has the right of way. Communication is key here so call out which direction you are going if someone is paddling for the same wave. Two surfers can split the wave in either direction. Always look both directions before you drop into a wave. If someone has the right of way you must pull back and wait for another wave. This happens frequently, so you want to get into the habit of looking both ways before you drop in. Earn the respect of your fellow surfers and follow this most important code of conduct.

    3. The Line-Up

    This refers to the “take-off” area of a particular break where surfers tend to cluster together. Now the localism of the break varies widely, from aggressive spots like Santa Cruz, California to the mellow and friendly shores of Costa Rica. Typically there are certain spots that beginners are just not welcomed; you just have to learn the ropes and work your way into those spots. Other surf breaks vary from extremely aggressive, to friendly, depending on the day. It’s at these spots that you need to be especially courteous of local surfers. When you first paddle out to the lineup it is common courtesy to sit wide of the actual peak and let the surfers who are already there to each get one. Once you’ve waited and it’s your turn you must paddle into a position of priority in order to catch the wave and have the rights to ride it. Observe this happening while you wait your turn. Once in a position of earned priority, you can still let other people take waves and that would be a good thing to earn some points with the locals. When you select the wave you want you have to demonstrate a full commitment to paddling for and taking off on the wave. If you pull back at the last minute and the wave goes “to waste” you’ll be getting dirty looks. Use your best judgment and don’t be ashamed to paddle away and surf another part of the break that won’t interfere with the better surfers.

If you’re determined to earn the respect of fellow surfers, you have to commit fully to each wave over which you have priority. At some breaks where it’s totally relaxed you can afford to fall several times and no one will say anything, and as a general rule of thumb try to surf with people around your same skill level. This won’t always be possible, so when surfing with people much better than you, give them the utmost respect and you will soon find yourself in their good graces.

For further reading on Surfing Safety & Etiquette, click on one of the following links:

Surfinghandbook.com – Ocean safety knowledge
WBsurfcamp.com – Surfing safety article
Surfline.com – Surfology