The Traveler Beginners Guide to Riding Waves; Part 2.3 Etiquette & Paddling in the Lineup

The Traveler Beginners Guide to Riding Waves; Part 2.3 Etiquette & Paddling in the Lineup

Etiquette: Playing by the Unwritten Rules

If you assume that most surfers are easy-going, friendly people, you’d be right. But if you assume there is no intricate system governing peace in the water, you’d be very wrong.

For many beginning surfers, deciphering surf etiquette is harder and takes longer than perfecting a pop up or riding down the line. Heck, there are veteran surfers out there who have never cared to master it. If you follow the basics you’ll have the opportunity to improve your chances of having a fun session, earning respect, and making a few new buds. While proper manners may vary a bit from break to break, there are a few universal rules that everyone should abide by:


Paddling into the lineup: Often times, many surfers will be sitting in a clump to take advantage of a peak. We call this clump “the lineup” and the peak is the spot where the waves break most consistently. When paddling out, you’ll want to avoid paddling directly to the peak. Swinging wide and paddling around the lineup keeps you out of the way of surfers taking off on a wave. If you do stumble into a spot where a surfer is taking a wave right in front of you, try to paddle behind them, into the whitewash, in a straight line. Stay predictable so they can read you and adjust around you.

Correct positioning: Once you’re out there, find a nice spot in the lineup where you aren’t right on top of another surfer, too far outside, or too far inside where you might be in the way of surfers taking off on a wave. If you haven’t surfed this break before, feel free to hang out to the side of the peak, away from others, to watch for a bit. In surfing, watching is just as valuable as doing.

Wave priority: When surfing at a crowded break like Linda Mar, multiple people will often be paddling for the same wave. So who’s wave is it? When taking off, the person closest to the peak (where the wave is breaking) has priority. As long as that person is going for the wave and seems to be catching it, you should sit up on your board, pull the nose of your board up, and back off to make way for them.

Dropping in: If you cut someone off who has the right of way, you’ve officially “snaked” or “dropped in” on someone. Accidents and slip ups happen to even the best surfers, so don’t get too worked up. The best thing to do is to apologize to the surfer you cut off and work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The worst thing to do is to say nothing - that may lead the other surfer to assume you were being rude, or are just a clueless “kook”. Either way, you might get a mouthful from the offended surfer. If that happens just stay calm, apologize again, don’t react, and take it as constructive criticism. By all means, do not let it ruin your surf! Surfers are just particularly sensitive about dropping in. Many incidents can be avoided by good communication: “Hey, you got this one?”, “I’m going left!”.

Being Cool

Playing nice with locals: The locals at any given break have been living and surfing there for a long time. They are stewards of their beach, and deserve respect. To gain their respect, you have to give it. A good rule of thumb is to treat any given break the same way you would want others to behave if they were guests in your home. Be polite and follow the etiquette rules, and you might just make a friend out there who can give you local intel.

Taking turns and shifting: Worse than a kook is a fun-hog. Fun-hogs repeatedly push themselves into the prime position so they can gain priority and take wave after wave. The lineup actually works just like a line at an amusement park. The person at the front of the line gets on the ride, and everyone else shifts up in order. It’s not quite so tidy out in the water, but as a general rule of thumb, you’d catch a great wave, paddle back into the lineup, and let other folks have a few before you take off on your next wave. That karma always comes back around.

Keep the beach clean: The ocean gives us so much. It’s our responsibility to give back by keeping it clean and setting a good example for beach stewardship. If that’s not enough incentive, you better believe you’ll get told off by a local if you come trash their beach. Here are a few tips that go a long way.

  • Don’t litter, and try to pick up a few pieces of trash before you leave even if it’s not yours
  • Avoid bringing plastic waste and things that can get easily blown into the water when you are not paying attention.
  • If trash cans are full, just pack your trash and throw it away at home. The critters that live in the ocean deserve respect too.

The Kook Checklist

We’ve already mentioned “kooks” in this surf guide. It’s really hard to talk about surfing without them. So what is a kook? In the surf community, these are what we call beginning surfers. To be a kook is both a fun and humbling experience; the joy that the ocean brings to first-timers is unobtainable by more advanced surfers, but the learning curve is... rough, to say the least.

Want to tone down your kook status? Here are the top ways to avoid looking like one:

  1. Carry thy board under one arm or on thy head: don’t pull it along by the leash, drag it by the nose, or carry with two arms. These approaches are all twice as difficult and half as cool.
  2. Do not treat thy wetsuit as loungewear: There’s just no reason to sit out and steam your buns in a rubber suit. Nothing good or hygienic can come of this. If you want to hang on the beach, grab a bite to eat, or pick your daughter up from school, change into dry clothes.
  3. Respect thy surfcraft, no matter what you’re riding: Don’t use your board as a beach chair, let it bake in the sun, or mash the fins into the ground. Most surfboards are handmade by craftspeople who put many, many hours into them. Even the foamies have their physical limits and shouldn’t be treated as disposable.
  4. Put on thy wetsuit like a champ: If the wetsuit zipper has a string, the zipper goes in the back. Also, check to make sure that your wetsuit is right side out. Pro tip: There are no wetsuit brands called “Women’s 10” or “Medium”, so if that’s what you see when you look down at your chest, chances are you’re inside out.
  5. Thou must have fun and take care of others and the sea: The best surfers have a respect for the ocean and those among them that share it.

NEXT UP: Tips for our Local Breaks!

Ready to Get wet? Book a lesson with us HERE

Want all of this knowledge in one place? Snap up a copy of our Beginners Surf Guide Book!