Surf Etiquette & Safety
Surfing has been part of my life for over 25 years and when I first started in the North West of Ireland it was a very much a solitudal pursuit and I pined for company.
Times have changed, now when I surf I'm usually overwhelmed with the number of people and I pine for solitude.
Solitude can still be found, but that's a story for another day...
Nowadays, at most breaks, it's important to remember that you are sharing the waves with other surfers, wild swimmers in bobble hats, boogers, foilers, wing dingers, SUP dudes, people using Mc Donalds trays and whatver else may be trending in the years to come, there are more active water users than ever before.
Good surf etiquette not only helps to create a positive and respectful surfing environment, but it also helps to prevent accidents and injuries.
Here are a few tips on how to be a considerate wave rider and stay safe while out on the water:
Respect the local surfing rules and regulations:
Different beaches and breaks have their own rules and customs.
Make sure to familiarise yourself with these before you paddle out.
For example, some beaches have designated areas for beginners or specific areas where surfing is allowed in lifeguard season.
Some peaks are not suitable for beginners of any kind, for example North Fistral in Newquay, The Peak in Bundoran and Porthleven Reef.
Such breaks require, competence, ability, knowledge and experience.
Respect the fact there will be a pecking order on all breaks most days and especially on 5 star days.
The pecking order is assimilated through competence, ability, knowledge and experience and surfers that are local to the break usually have all of the above in abundance.
These locals will be the first to rescue you if you were in trouble and get you to safety as quick as possible using their ability, knowledge and experience, so respect and humility goes a long way.
Follow the "right of way" rule:
When two surfers are riding the same wave, the surfer who is closest to the breaking part of the wave (the "peak") has the right of way.
If you are paddling for a wave and another surfer is already up and riding it, give them the wave and wait for the next one.
Don't drop in:
"Dropping in" refers to when a surfer paddles into a wave that someone else is already riding.
This is a major no-no in surfing and can cause collisions and accidents.
Like crossing the road, look both ways before you commit to paddling for a wave and look again just before you commit to catching it.
Always make sure that the wave is clear before you start paddling.
"Snaking" is when a surfer intentionally tries to steal someone else's wave.
This is not only rude, but it can also be dangerous.
Be patient and wait your turn.
It's called a line up for a reason, you line up and wait your turn, just like at the pasty shop.
It's normal not to know what's going on in the line up when you first paddle out, so take time to study what's going on before joining in or better still, have a chat with someone, make a friend, you never know where that may lead.
Stay clear of the lineup:
The lineup is the area where surfers are waiting for waves.
It's important to keep this area clear and free from congestion.
Don't paddle through the lineup or stop in the middle of it.
Don't ditch your board:
Learn to stay connected to your board.
Surf as if you have no leash on and your board is vital to your survival, which it may be!
I have been teaching my son surfing without a leash in the shallows, he knows if he looses his board he has to wade to the beach to get it, guess what? After doing that several times he knows to never loose his board!
Obviously there are times in wipe outs, when this is impossible, but I see so many people just kick their board away at the end of wave.
Don't do it.
It will become habit, learn how to finish a wave in control, learn how to pop your board back into your hands or how to go back to prone from standing in control.
Learn to Duckdive or Turtle roll.
When paddling out learn to keep hold of your board and get under waves using these techniques.
Go to a quiet beach on a rubbish day and practice, practice, practice.
A good duck is essential for paddling out and your own safety.
Learn how to paddle out:
Learn to read the break, the waves, sets and rips.
Observe where people are surfing and paddle well wide, aim for the Whitewater not the shoulder, wait for breaks in sets, identify rips where no waves break and will suck you out back like a conveyor belt. If you don't know what a rip is or how to spot one, you shouldn't be out there, educate yourself.
Apologise, communicate, stay humble :
We all get it wrong sometimes, that's OK, apologise, communicate and we can get through it.
Communicate to split a peak, say hello, smile, it all helps create a fun, safe and welcoming atmosphere, which it should be.
Watch skateboarders at a spot or park, they whoop and holla for each other, they support each other, they are family, in the early days in the Surf, this was normal, now less so.
We can turn this around.
Leave your grunts and stink eye at home.
Smile, wave, communicate, have fun.
If an elder / more experienced surfer calls you out on your behaviour, listen.
Staying humble when your in the wrong especially when your oblivious to the issue is the only way to grow.
Likewise if your the elder one, no need to yell, calmy educate like you would with your children, nephews, neices etc.
No one needs Surf rage.
Keep the ocean and beach clean by properly disposing of your post surf bbq and rattlers and any litter you may come across, even if it's not yours, respect, remember?
In addition to following good surf etiquette, it's important to take safety precautions to protect yourself while surfing.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Wear a leash:
A leash connects your surfboard to your ankle and helps to prevent you from getting separated from your board.
This is especially important in big waves or strong currents.
Learn how to swim:
Sounds crazy right?
The amount of surfers that lifeguards rescue when their leash breaks and they can't return to shore is insane!
I can't fly so I'm not going to jump of a cliff, if you can't swim don't jump in the sea, it's that simple.
Knowing how to swim is essential for surfing.
People always ask me, 'how can I get better at surfing living in the city, should I buy a surf skate/indo board/insert Instagram surf training equipment here' My reply is always, 'Go swimming'
That's it, no fancy gadgets required, swim better = paddle better = Catch more waves = Surf better.
95% of surfing is paddling, if you can't paddle you can't surf, swimming improves your paddling and can save your life.
Surfers ear is no joke, even just bits of sand and particles in the ear will cause you bother, I wish we knew about this 20 years ago, too many people including myself, now suffer the consequences of not wearing them.
Wear a helmet in crowded and dangerous waves :
In a lot of ski resorts helmets are now mandatory due to numerous head injuring incidents.
Surfing is catching up and with the added crowds it's time to start thinking about helmets seriously.
Learn basic rescue and first aid techniques
It's also a good idea to learn basic rescue techniques in case you or someone else gets into trouble in the water.
You can join a surf lifesaving club or take a course ran by experienced surfers and lifeguards.
Knowledge of first aid is now critical as ambulance wait times are at an all time high and knowing basic life support is something we should all take responsibility for.
In conclusion, by following good surf etiquette and taking safety precautions, you can have a fun and enjoyable surfing experience while also protecting yourself and others in the water.
We offer a Surf Resue, Safety and First aid course suitable for all waveriders in Newquay in Cornwall and you can find out more about that below.