The unwritten rules of surfing etiquette.



11/18/20225 min read

A busy surf lesson at Ynyslas with clean good waves  and evening sunshine
A busy surf lesson at Ynyslas with clean good waves  and evening sunshine

Even as a complete beginner it's important to have an understanding of this code. Without it, surfing a crowded place would be frustraing and dangerous for everyone.

It's likely that when the waves are good, lots of other surfers will be in the water to make the most of good surf.

Not understanding what is expected from you, may land you in trouble and repeatedly breaking these unwritten rules will almost certainly make you very unpopular, and not welcome to surf at a break again. Even if it is through ignorance.



A surfing performing a forehand cutback on a clean shoulder
A surfing performing a forehand cutback on a clean shoulder

Be honest about your ability and surf at an appropriate location, beginners should stick to a suitable beach. Surfing in the correct place will help a beginner progress faster and keep everyone safe.

Paddling out a crowded reef break without having the ability to paddle well and avoid getting in others way, will almost certainly lead to a stern talking too or even worse!


When paddling out it is your responsibility to avoid anyone surfing. A surfer on a wave will expect you to paddle away from the direction they are surfing in and anticipate any direction changes they may make. When paddling out, pddle wide to avoid getting in the way.

This may sound daunting as a beginner, but as you progress and your experience grows, you will better understand how to anticipate what a surfer will do, by looking at the wave and their body posture.

Sometimes it is inevitable that you will get in someones way, but an apology is all that is needed.

Repeatedly spoiling other peoples waves because of a lack of understanding really is not acceptable.

A young surfer nose diving close to the camera
A young surfer nose diving close to the camera

Always try to maintain contact with your board, no matter how big it is, when paddling out.

If you feel the need to ditch your board and swim to the bottom, this is a good indication that you are not ready to be surfing in those conditions.

When it's crowded ditching could have some very serious consequences for someone paddling out behind you. A board being taken by a wave is like an unguided missle and could have a potentially fatal outcome if it hits someone.

Two surfers paddling for a wave during Ysgol Tywyn activities day.
Two surfers paddling for a wave during Ysgol Tywyn activities day.

Once outback and waiting for waves there is also a great deal to be aware of.

As a general rule it is accepted that everyone should wait politely in line for a chance to ride a wave, however it can particularily difficult to 'queue' at at shifting beach break, where the waves break in a different place everytime, so this often doesn't work, it also falls apart when it becomes busy.

The surfer closest to the peak or white water has priority, for example if a wave is going to break right (as if looking towards land), the surfer furthest left has right of way.

When it comes to A-Frames or split peaks, with a surfer on either side, they potentially have priority over each other. It is accepted that they will split the peak riding away from each other. However sometimes one direction may be of poorer quality so COMMUNICATE which way you intend to go, you have a few seconds to sort it out before the wave is upon you.

Highlighting a surfer dropping in on a nother surfer.
Highlighting a surfer dropping in on a nother surfer.

Dropping in on another surfer is a cardinal sin and will almost always lead to a good telling off.

This relates to the priority rule. The picture clearly shows the surfer in the wrong. The wave is breaking right so priority is with the surfer on our right, the surfer on the left has also taken off, ruining the wave of the other. This is not acceptable. It is disrepectful, dangerous with a collison possible and can lead to tension and anger in the line up. Dropping in will ruin everyones fun.

We all make mistakes, so if you accidently drop in, rectify the mistake, by pulling off the wave and apologising. This will often go a long way and relieve tension on the line up.

If another surfer has priority, do not attempt to paddle for the wave, this can often cause the wave to break prematurely, again ruining the wave.

Two surfers riding towards each other
Two surfers riding towards each other


Sometimes two surfers will take off on the same wave and surf towards each other (a close out). In this situation both surfers have priority, but it is best to kick out to avoid a collision. Keep a close eye on the other surfer as they may kick out leaving you the wave.


A snake is a sneaky surfer that disregards the line up and refuses to wait in line to catch a wave.

A snake will paddle around another surfer to take priority. This is often seen as bad as dropping in and is again incredibly disrespectful.


A wave hog describes a surfer who takes all the waves, disregards the line up, snakes others. This is especially noticable in crowded lineups. Don't be that surfer, it won't make you very popular.

A surfer riding a clean summer time wave in Borth
A surfer riding a clean summer time wave in Borth

Many surf spots will have local surfers with many years experience. If you are a visitor or new to surfing that spot, it is wise to give respect to those who have spent years learning the break.

Take your time to get to know if there are any variations in surfing etiquette and wait your turn in the line up.

Don't expect to paddle out and instatntly be able to join the line up for the best waves. Understand that most places with a loacl crew will have a 'pecking order'. It is always wise to let those obvious locals have the pick of the waves, but by being courteous, patient and shouting locals into waves, (even when you have priority) will go a long way to getting accepted. Accept that you may have to surf the leftovers, (waves the locals don't want, of less quality).

Above all follow surfing etiquette, be humble, polite and don't get angry if you do get dropped in on.