Surfing Etiquette 101

It seems like everyone wants to learn how to surf. Everybody wants a piece of that laid-back, sun-soaked, California lifestyle. And with entry-level equipment cheaper than ever, it’s becoming easier and easier to get into the best sport ever! If you want a detailed guide on how to get started surfing, check out my two previous posts on learning how to surf.

The only problem with this increased ease of access to the sport, is the increased amount of kooks in the water. Don’t know what a kook is?

According to, a kook is:

A beginner or someone who is not very good at surfing. A try hard. Someone who surfs to try and look cool. Someone who does not follow the rules in the lineup, drops in etc.

Trust me, you don’t want to be a kook. Not only do you make everyone in the water mad at you, but if you don’t know the basics of surfing etiquette you could really hurt somebody. So before you hit the waves for the first time, check out our kook-proof guide below.


Right of Way

When two people are paddling for the same wave, it’s important to know who has the right of way. Otherwise, both people will end up dropping into the wave and likely collide.

So here it is: whoever is closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. Period. That means if the wave is breaking to the right, then whoever is furthest left has the right of way. And vice versa for waves breaking to the left.

Leo Carillo Slides

In the above picture, the guy in red has the right of way, and the guy in black is correctly pulling off the wave.

Don’t Drop In On Someone

Dropping in on someone is probably the most common faux pas of new surfers. Before you catch a wave, look towards the peak and make sure that no one is already riding it. If they are, DON’T catch the wave.

Don’t Snake

Snaking someone is a really dirty move. Although this one isn’t something you’re likely to do on accident. Snaking someone is when you start out on the outside of a person, then you cut across in front of them so that you can get the right of way. Snaking is a dirty move, don’t do it.

Know How to Paddle Out

When you’re paddling out towards the break, it’s important to know what to do. The best thing to do is paddle wide of the break so that you’re not in anyone’s way. However, if you’re caught inside and a surfer is coming right at you, paddle towards the whitewater so that they can stay on the wave. Only paddle away from the whitewater if you can definitely steer clear of the other surfer.


Hang on to Your Board

One of the biggest kook moves is ditching your board when a huge wave is coming. Your board could fly backwards and seriously injure someone behind you. Instead, always try to hold onto your board. If you can’t, the waves are probably too big for you.

Honor the Lineup / Don’t Paddle for Every Wave

Even if you can catch every wave, don’t. Maybe you’re the only guy with a longboard out, maybe you’re Kelly Slater, maybe you’re just having a freakishly good day. Whatever the reason, give other surfers a chance to catch some waves too. Well, I guess if you’re Kelly, you can pretty much do what you want. No one’s going to be calling you a kook. 😉

Respect the Locals

When you’re surfing at a new spot that you don’t know very well. Be super respectful. Many of the people there probably surf at that spot all the time. It’s important to share the waves and make friends with these people if you want to keep surfing there.


Help Other Surfers

If you see another surfer struggling or swimming after their board, try to help them out. Surfing is all about having fun, being respectful, and spreading the good vibes.


If you do make one of these mistakes, just apologize. I’m not going to guarantee that people won’t be mad at you. Because some surfers just have anger issues. But most people are reasonable, and if they can see that you’re apologetic and not trying to be a kook, they’ll forgive you.

Respect the Beach and the Ocean

One of the worst things you can do is trash the beach. It’s really important to keep our beaches and oceans clean. So if you see some trash, pick it up. And try to disturb as little wildlife as possible.


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