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29 May 2014

Rules of the waves: surfing etiquette in 7 simple steps

With the summer months set to see our holiday cottages in Cornwall booked up with keen and aspiring surfers, both young and old it’s important to make sure everyone is aware of the etiquette that surfing has once you’re amongst the waves. It’s an important aspect of ensuring everyone enjoys the sport and stays safe.

Follow these 7 steps and you’ll be riding the wave to gaining respect from the locals and staying safe from potential accidents too.


The drop in rule

You won’t find too many rules you need to remember when surfing, but this rule is at the top of the list, and for good reason.

A ‘drop in’ is what occurs when a surfer paddles and catches a wave that another surfer is already up and riding which causes the surfer already on the wave to end up behind the person who is then deemed to have 'dropped in'.

If you’re out surfing with your friends, this rule doesn’t apply so much (unless they don’t like it), but it's most definitely considered bad practice to drop in on strangers and even friends too if it's a good wave.

Dropping in on strangers can creating a bad atmosphere in the water which is the last thing you want when the waves are nice and everyone’s having a good time in the water.


Be Aware: Look before you leap

When you’re out in the surf and you’re going for a wave you might hear a call or whistle from someone else who’s paddling for the same wave which they have priority on. This helps to stop the situation of a drop in and avoid accidents- it’s nothing personal.

When you’re paddling, stay engaged on the take-off area in front of you. A common mistake many beginners will make is becoming focussed on the approaching wave and forgetting to look ahead. The key is to combine the two actions of looking back and looking where you’re going.

If you don’t keep an eye out there could be a collision so, always look ahead when paddling, glancing back/sideways occasionally to check on how the wave is shaping up which will allow you to adjust your stroke accordingly too- you may need to paddle faster or slow down.


Accidents can happen

It’s a fact that an accidental drop in is going to happen every once in a while, especially on those busy summer days when everyone wants a piece of the action. If you do happen to accidentally drop in on someone - just 'kick out' (surf over the back of the wave and off it) as quickly as you can to allow the surfer behind you (with wave priority) to carry on riding their wave.

A quick apology or gesture will always be appreciated in this situation, after all, surfing’s meant to be fun. Just remember to be gracious if you're on the other end of a drop in. We all had to learn to ‘shred the waves’ at some point.


Wave priority

The surfer who’s closest to the part of the wave that’s breaking or already broken in either direction always possesses priority. It’s essentially their wave to choose whether or not they wish to catch.

Tip – surfers who are sitting nearest the breaking part of a wave always have priority so are first in the queue for the wave.



'Snaking' is the term used to refer to a surfer deliberately paddling across or 'inside' another surfer who has the wave priority in order to gain priority for themselves.

In other words they are pushing in the queue. This is the equivalent of standing in front of someone in a line at the shop, only they paddle behind you to gain a watery advantage instead.

Depending on how good you are you can counteract this by staying as close as possible to the wave peak as you can. This will make the take-off more severe and steep, so just be careful.

If you aren’t quite at that level not up to it don’t panic as more often than not you’re about to get the perfect wave that rolls in behind it anyway!

Paddle away from the surfer and towards the white water. You shouldn’t paddle for the shoulder which is a term for the flat section at the end of a wave unless you know that you’ve got plenty of time to reach it. Paddling across the path of an incoming surfer is very dangerous.

Surfboards are hard, pointed objects that can travel at high speeds. Combine that with the weight of a surfer on the board, and a few tons of ocean you’ll know about it if you take a hit.

Surfers who are at a decent level will do their best to avoid a collision by throwing a cut back (a sharp turn in the opposite direction) into their ride or steer around you. At the end of the day the surfer who’s up and riding has the responsibility and control over the situation so keep eyes on them.


Avoiding wave interference

If you’re in doubt simply stop and wait for the surfer on the wave to make the decision and once they pass by you can dive under the white water when they've passed you. If, however, it is going to be a close call, don't stop paddling. Turn around and paddle towards the shore. This is an ideal way of avoiding a collision because both surfers can read the situation easily.

You should paddle parallel towards the oncoming rider at a safe distance. Keep a minimum of 10-15 feet between you wherever possible.


Remember: If you paddle out with a good attitude and sense of humour and a smile on your face then chances are you'll have an incident free surf. Stay safe, respect the waves and respect each other.

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