The 13 unwritten rules of surfing

With Hawaii’s spectacular winter surf season just getting started, we’d like to offer some precious rules for a sport that appears to have none.

These rules are guidelines to help you and all surfers stay safe and have more fun. Enjoy!

1. Understand right of way

The surfer closest who’s closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means it’s their wave to ride, and it’s the responsibility of other surfers to stay out of their way and let them ride the wave.

2. Don’t drop in

Dropping in is when you catch a wave but you don’t have the right of way. This can ruin the wave for the surfer who does have the right of way, and it’s potentially dangerous, even in mellow conditions.

3. Don’t snake

Snaking is paddling around someone to get the right of way — this is stealing!

4. Paddle wide or inside

When paddling out to the break, try and paddle around — rather than through — where people are surfing. This keeps you out way and prevents accidents.

In some scenarios, you might be paddling into breaking waves and surfers. If you see a breaking wave with a surfer on it, it’s courteous to paddle inside them (towards the breaking wave) rather than wide (towards the unbroken part of the wave).

You may have to “take one on the head” as we say, but at least you’ll be out of the other surfer’s way.

5. Help other surfers

Surfers look out for other surfers, even when waves are scarce and it’s competitive.

If you see another surfer in trouble — help out. Surfers are usually only around each other in the water, and anyone of us could be a critical first responder.

6. Communicate your presence

If you’re going for a wave or already on a wave, let other surfers know with a holler. This is hugely helpful for safety, especially in crowded or low visibility conditions, or surfing around beginners.

Also, if a wave’s coming and it’s shareable with another surfer (each surfer goes an opposite direction), ask or let them know if you’re going right or left.

7. Practice common etiquette

Respect other surfers, avoid aggressive behavior and language, and apologize for any mistakes.

Another nice thing to do is tell other surfers to go when you don’t think you can catch the wave.

Positive behavior goes a long way in the water.

8. Know your limits

It’s tempting to paddle out to a spot that looks incredible but out of your league. It’s good to push yourself, but at the same time you have to be fully accountable for what could happen to you and others.

Remember: “If in doubt, don’t go out.”

9. Respect the locals

If you’re paddling out to a spot that’s not your home break, it’s usually the standard to give local surfers priority. Hopefully by doing this you’ll earn their respect and end up catching more waves.

10. Don’t hog the waves

Surfing can be a selfish endeavor, but remember too that sharing is caring.

Just because you can catch every wave that comes your way doesn’t mean you should! Talking to you, longboarders ?

11. Respect the beach

This is a no-brainer: keep the beach and ocean clean by picking up any trash. Personally, I put the floating plastic I find into the little wax pocket in my boardshorts.

12. Learn and follow the surf code

Every surf spot has its own set of conditions, rules, and surfer hierarchy.

Do your best to learn everything you can about a spot, and honor it.

13. Be patient

Patience is the zen in surfing. In fact, some of the best breaks in the world require years of paddling out to earn respect in the lineup.

Wait your turn, respect other surfers, and remember:

The best surfer is the one having the most fun.

Image credits: Jeremy Bishop, Sincerely Media, Linus Nylund, City of Gold Coast, Ting Tse Wang, Chris Osmond, Cody McLain, Matt Paul Catalano, Dendy Darma Satyazi, Fausto García-Menéndez, Barna Bartis, Geio Tischler, Lisha Riabinina, Jarno Colijn, Chris Rosiak

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