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Learning to Surf: Your Guide to Surfing Etiquette

Learning to surf: your guide to surfing etiquette

It’s like the multivitamin of sports: best results when taken daily.

Surfing is a tip-top way to meet new people, have some fun, work on your tan and tone your bod all at the same time. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how many times you face-plant, it’s all about having good old-fashioned fun.

If you want to learn to surf though, there are some rules you need to know before you get in the water so you don’t look like a complete jerk when you commit a faux pas. They are all about playing nice, with the philosophy that the waves are there for all to share (rhyme intended).

Below, we share the dos and don’ts of shredding the gnar (translation: wave) Down Under.

Right of way

In the line-up, the surfer sitting closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way.

So, if you’re paddling for a right-breaking wave and the surfer to your left is also paddling, you need to pull back and let them take it.

Someone also has right of way if they are first to feet (stand up) or if they call the wave – pull back if you hear a ‘Left!’ or a ‘Right!’ nearby.

If you’re unsure about how to go any way but straight, hit up your local surf school for a lesson.

No drop-ins

‘Drop-ins’ are the lunch-cuts of surfing and, just like in life, it rarely ends well.

Dropping-in happens when the person with right of way is taking off or on the wave, and you take off right in front of them.

If you do this by accident, pull off as quickly as you can and yell ‘Sorry!’. Whatever you do, don’t jump off your board and leave it in their way.


Always paddle out on the rip – this is the channel where the waves aren’t really breaking and people aren’t surfing. If it’s a beach break, sometimes this is tricky to pick – just go for the least crowded area, or better still, watch where people who look like they know what they are doing are paddling out and take that route.

Whatever you do, don’t paddle straight into the lineup. This is a sure-fire way to get a board to the face. Also don’t paddle in the path of someone on a wave – always go behind them. Otherwise they will run you over and fin slices are zero fun.

Hold on

Your board and you should be inseparable – hold onto it like you would your new squeeze walking into a room full of models. Always try to keep in control of (and in contact with) your surfboard. If you lose it, pull it back your way with your leg rope. If you drop it, it’s carnage.

Know your shredding ability

If you’re just getting the hang of this surfing thing, don’t paddle smack bang into the middle of a packed lineup. Try on the outer edge or a less crowded spot. Another good trick is to come in a little closer to catch the second break closer to the shore.

And just because we’re nice and there’s a high chance we’ll run into you in the surf, here are some other hot tips for young players:

  • Don’t snake. No, there are no snakes in the water. Snaking is when a surfer paddles around another to cut the queue in the line up. Extremely poor form. Just don’t do it.

  • No Biebs, it’s never too late to say sorry. People don’t mind you messing up so long as you say sorry for any possible infringements.

  • When walking with your surfboard, hold the leg rope. Otherwise you’ll trip straight over it.

  • If you can’t duck dive, learn the logger’s art of the eskimo roll. This is where you paddle towards the oncoming wave and, just as the wave approaches, you grab the rails of the board and flip it. Pull the nose down as much as possible to avoid being taken in with the wave. Once the wave has passed, flip yourself back over and keep paddling.

  • Remember, some beaches have restrictions on where you can and can’t surf. There are usually signs on the sand - be sure to pay close attention. If you’re unsure, ask the lifeguards or a local. For example, at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, you can only use hard boards on the southern end up until the lifeguard tower. After that, it’s soft tops only. No matter what, you can never surf between the red and yellow flags.

Keeping it coastal

Eating on the cheap