Surf Etiquette

Surfing’s unwritten rules (handily written for you here!)

Surfing etiquette is a mix of unwritten rules and behaviours that we should all be observing in the waves.  In doing so, we make sure the line up stays safe, we get waves and leave our sessions smiling.

It’s really important new surfers are familiar with these unwritten rules before heading out back.  Our diagram breaks down some of the key rules.

Rights of way

As important in the waves as on the road, observing who has right of way keeps us all safe and prevents collisions.   The surfer who is nearest to the peak of the wave has priority, or right of way.   If you are paddling for a wave always check over your shoulder, looking toward the peak to check if another surfer is closed to the peak.  It there is someone there, you need to pull back from the wave and let them go.      If you continue for the same wave, this is called ‘dropping in’ and is a major no no.  Dropping into a wave that has a surfer is already riding it is dangerous and considered seriously bad form.

If you see a set coming and you paddle round someone to take the priority position, this is called snaking.  You’re effectively jumping the queue and pushing the other surfer out of priority.  Again, this is very bad form and likely to lead to some stern words about acceptable behaviours.

Paddling Out

Try and time your paddle out between sets.  As you go try to stay wide of where the waves are breaking so you don’t interfere with anyone riding waves.  If you’re paddling for the shoulder and there is a surfer on the wave, change your direction and head to the white water to minimise the chance of a collision.

Don’t be a wave hog

There are plenty of waves to go round, so don’t try and hog them!  Be especially aware if you are on a longboard or a SUP where you can catch waves from further back, meaning you can pick off all the choice set waves before they reach the rest of the line up.   Make sure you let plenty go for other surfers in the water, there’s nothing better than calling someone else into a great looking wave.  Try it!

Be respectful

We all make mistakes, if you drop in one someone or make a mistake, just apologise.  We’ve all been there and a few words of apology and a smile go along way.   If you’re at a new spot, respect the local surfers in the water, don’t rush straight to the peak fighting for the prime take off spot, take your time, strike up a conversation or two.  If a spot is already crowded, if at all possible go and try another one or walk further down the beach – you’ll find a surprising number of times a 10 minute walk along the beach can yield empty peaks even at busy times.

Stay Safe

Read our guides on Surf Safety and only go out in conditions that match your capabilities.   If you have any doubts, don’t go out.  For beginners, sandy, lifeguarded beaches are the best bet.  In the UK we have 100s of them, so you have plenty of choice where ever you are in the country.

If you spot another surfer in trouble, help them.   If you have the skills go directly, if not then call for help to alert others.


Most important of all, have fun.  That’s why we do it.


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