Surfing is an amazing past time. The first little sparks of joy when we enter the water that rollercoaster feeling of dropping into a wave and the knowledge that for a brief moment we have been one with the ocean
However, surfing is a very physical sport and if people don’t pay attention to their surroundings or think that rules don’t apply to them, accidents will happen. The anatomy of a surfboard demands lots of hard edges and pointy corners that can do serious damage to the human body. Even a foamy will hurt if it hits someone at full speed or suddenly drops out of the sky.
I don’t know why it’s primarily the girls that have such a problem with this. Maybe it’s because ninety per cent of the surf instructors is too busy staring at our boobs to actually teach anything of value. Maybe some girls think they can get away with it because they’re pretty. Girls may not face the same repercussions as guys in the lineup but that doesn’t mean that we should behave as if rules didn’t apply to us.
Why we need Surfing Rules
You might wonder why there actually is a set of universal fixed rules in place. Wherever you go, from L.A.’s crowded beaches to the loneliest reef break in the South Pacific, the rules will remain the same.
line up rules are the traffic laws of surfing
Think of surfing etiquette as the traffic laws of the ocean. We wouldn’t cut someone off in our car on the fast lane or try to run someone off the road, wouldn’t we? The same goes for surfing, so let’s review some rules.
#1 Be aware of your Board
Always be aware of where your board is. ALWAYS! And for God’s sake hold on to your board in when you enter or exit through the shore break. As soon as you get off your board you should ideally be next to your board. Pick it up and walk out while keeping a close watch of the ocean. Never, I repeat, NEVER put the board between you and the wave or whitewash. You will get hit by your own board!
If you need to duck under a wave and can’t duck dive or turtle roll point your board’s nose towards the shore, position yourself by its tail and grip the leash closely to where it is attached to the board. That way the board won’t shoot away from you and injure some poor sod. Just watch out in case it flip back at you.
#2 Don’t paddle through the Peak
Do not paddle straight out! Use the channel to the side of the break. No-one wants to have to dodge a dozen wide-eyed beginners on their wave. And some newer surfers can’t dodge them either. See it as paddling practice.
#3 Keep Control over your Board
Everyone wipes out from time to time and that is perfectly normal. That’s kind of why we wear leashes. However, there is a worrying trend of more and more people surfing crowded breaks without a leash. Everyone wipes out sooner or later and if you don’t wear a leash your board will make its way back to shore without you. If someone happens to be in its way, well… There is an exception to wearing leashes when your leash could endanger your life. That could be lots of places a leash could get snagged onor huge waves for example.
#4 Don’t dive headfirst off your board
This is a matter of pure self-preservation. You should never dive head-first off your board, since you never know what’s below you. There could be a rock, an unexpected shallow bit of sandbar or a bunch of urchins. In all cases hitting that with your feet first will do significantly less damage.
#5 Be Respectful
Respect goes a long way and always pays off in the end. If you mess up: apologize. If you damage someone else’s board because you dropped in on them or they run it into the rocks by trying not to run you over, offer to pay to get it fixed.
Don’t paddle for every wave and if in doubt give way to a local/more experienced surfer. They’ll appreciate it and in time give waves to you.
#6 Don’t drop in
Do not drop in on a surfer that is already on a wave. We’ll review the right of way system in the next section but there is simply no excuse for dropping in on someone’s wave. If they’re on the wave already they have earned to be on that wave. Yes, it can be frustrating but why don’t you try to see what they did differently and learn from them. And for heaven’s sake don’t block someone further out from paddling into a wave that you have no intention of catching anyway. There’s a special place in hell for those people.
The right of way
Surfing has its very own set of traffic rules. Obey them and you won’t stick out too badly in the lineup; even if you’re a new surfer. If you every once in a while misjudge a situation or completely miss the guy/girl that was already on the wave then that’s not a huge deal as long as you apologize.
To avoid confusion when talking about “right” and “left” in surfing you always speak from the following perspective: You sit on your surfboard facing the beach. From there your right hand is “right” and your left hand is “left”
The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if you’re surfing a left the person to your right gets the wave. You can still paddle for the wave in case he doesn’t catch it. But if he does you’ll need to give up the wave to him or her.
Don’t snake! When a surfer paddles around another surfer to steal his right of way. Don’t be a wave hog and wait your turn. It’s called LINE-up for a reason. If you don’t have the time to wait for your turn go to Alaska. I’ve heard there are empty waves there.
Don’t try to sneak in between a surfer already on a wave and the whitewash in order to cheat your right of way. That’s just plain dangerous.
I can’t believe I even have to say this but: “No pulling on someone’s leash!” What are you five years old? Why not pull some hair while you’re at it?
Surfing is supposed to be fun and those rules are in place so everyone can enjoy surfing safely. Please play by the rules.