Home » Ocean and Swell » Surf » Surf ethics & rules

Surf ethics & rules

What every surfer should know

Common sense will take you a long way when it comes to surfing. But yes, also in surfing there are rules and of which some are unwritten. Especially now surfing is getting more popular, surfers need to know the surf ethics and surf rules to avoid dangerous situations in the ocean.

If you are a beginner, you don’t have full control of your board yet. You might not know how to keep your board with you when a wave breaks in front of you. Also knowing where the wave will break is a skill that comes from experience. Don’t let it hold you back to paddle out but try to keep these surf ethics and surf rules in mind to be safe in the surf. Also advanced surfers shouldn’t forget the importance of keeping things safe and have respect for each other.

Before you hit the water, observe the situation and choose the right spot for your level. Are you a beginner? Then don’t  paddle out to peak in the line-up. You most probably get in the way and block other surfers. This is annoying, causes frustration and can be dangerous. Instead, choose a less crowded spot where you can practice. Once you feel more confident and have control over your board you can give it a go!


The 10 Must Know Surf Rules


1. Don’t drop in

Going for a wave while someone else is already on the wave or has priority for that wave is called dropping in. Dropping in is seen as disrespectful and cause dangerous situations. Sometimes even ending up in fights in the water. This is what happened to Allannah Brown, a talented British surfgirl. In these photo’s you can see that Allannah is doing her thing on the wave when all of a sudden a local surfer drop’s in on her. Luckily nobody got injured but this could have gone really bad. If  you want to read more about what happened to Allannah, check out this article in the Inertia.

surf-ethics-allannah-brownAllannah Brown getting dropped in on by Medewi local Muklis Anwar before launching a tirade of abuse and kicking his board at her. Photo’s: Facebook/Allannah Brown

To avoid dropping in, you should understand who has priority. The one that is closest to the peak (first part to break) has the right of way as from that position the surfer is able to have the longest ride. So it is not the one that is standing first, it’s the one closest to the peak.

It can happen that you accidently drop in, for instance, when you didn’t look both ways when paddling for the wave and didn’t see the other surfer. Then, apologize, turn your board over the shoulder of the wave and back off.

2. Don’t snake

A surfer is called a ‘snake’ when he or she is paddling around a surfer that is close to the peak and waiting for a wave or getting ready to catch the wave. The snake paddles around the surfer to position himself closer to the peak and when catching the wave, it looks like to other surfer is dropping in on the snake. This is often done by more advanced surfers who know exactly what they are doing. Other surfers usually know who is snaking and who is not. Snakers will lose their respect in the line-up.

3. Paddle wide

A surfer riding a wave always has priority over the surfer that is paddling back in to the line-up. So when you are paddling towards the line-up, try not to paddle straight back but paddle wide / around the breaking wave. If you do find yourself in the way of a surfer, you should paddle towards the broken zone so you are not in the way of the surfer.

4. Don’t ditch your board

Try to always keep your board with you or check if someone is behind you. The person behind you can get injured if you are not handling accordingly. This can be a challenge, especially with a longboard if waves are breaking on top of you. Try to master the ‘turtle roll’ or ‘eskimo roll’ if you have a longboard and ‘duck dive’ with a shortboard.

5. Communicate

Going for an a frame wave? Tell your fellow surfers which way you are going so another surfer can go the other way. Also, if you made a mistake, for example, you dropped in on someone, say sorry! Most surfers will tell you not to worry and it keeps the vibe positive in the line-up.

6. Respect others

Respect each other and respect locals. Due to the popularity of surfing, local surfers are forced to share ‘their’ spot with many touristy surfers. This causes friction especially when the ‘guest’ surfers don’t respect the local surfers and don’t respect the hierarchy in the line-up. Some locals are very territorial and defending ‘their’ spot so they don’t care about who has the right of way, they take the right of way. To avoid this, don’t paddle out straight to the peak, just paddle towards the shoulder, be friendly and observe the situation first then wait for the right moment to catch a wave. Some locals might even help you and tell you the next wave is yours! An advantage here for girls as girls are more likely to get the support of male surfers.

7. Respect the environment

As a surfer you are most likely to love nature. You enjoy being out in the ocean and preferebly in clear water. You don’t want to paddle in a plastic soup! So never leave any rubbish on the beach. A really great way to contribute is the rule of three; everytime when you are on the beach, pick up and trow in the bin at least 3 pieces of trash.

8. Share waves and be patient

Longboarders can catch waves earlier as they are positioned deeper than shortboarders. This doesn’t mean that you can catch every single wave. Don’t be greedy and leave waves for others.

9. Help out surfers in distress

If you see a surfer in trouble, help them. Assess the situation first, do not risk your own life. Get assistance from other surfers, alert the lifeguards or phone the coastguard.

10. Have fun

The best surfers out there are the ones having the most fun! Having a positive attitude towards other surfers creates a good vibe in the line-up.



Types of Surf Breaks

Types of breaking waves


Leave a comment