Surf Lingo and Etiquette: Colorful & effective ways to communicate




Surf Lingo and Etiquette: Colorful & effective ways to communicate

Surf Lingo & Etiquette

Surfing has its own unique language that can be quite colorful and descriptive. 

Basic Terms

Lineup: the area where the waves break and surfers wait to catch them.

Peak: the highest point of a wave where it starts to break.

Face: the unbroken part of a wave.

Lip: the top edge of the breaking wave.

Tube/Barrel: the hollow part of the wave formed as it breaks and curls over.

Whitewater: the foamy part of the wave after it has broken.

Surfing Techniques

Duck Dive: pushing the board underwater to pass through an oncoming wave.

Pop-up: the motion of going from lying on the board to standing up.

Cutback: a turn on the wave to ride back toward the breaking part of the wave.

Floater: riding over the top of a breaking wave and landing back on the face.

Snap: a quick, sharp turn on the wave.

Bottom Turn: the first turn at the bottom of the wave after dropping in.

Aerial: a maneuver where the surfer and board leave the water.

Types of Waves

Closeout: when a wave breaks all at once instead of peeling gradually.

Left/Right: direction the wave breaks from the perspective of the surfer facing the shore... a "left" breaks to the surfer’s left, a "right" to the right.

Sets: groups of waves that come in intervals.

Groundswell: larger, more powerful waves generated by distant storms.

Wind Swell: smaller waves generated by local winds.

Surfboard Terms

Nose: the front of the surfboard.

Tail: the back of the surfboard.

Rails: the sides of the surfboard.

Stringer: the wooden strip running down the center of the board for strength.

Fins: the small vertical surfaces on the bottom of the board that help with stability and maneuverability.

Leash: the cord that attaches the surfer to the board.

Surf Culture Terms & Gesture

Stoked: excited or enthusiastic.

Gnarly: intense, challenging, or impressive.

Epic: exceptionally good conditions or waves.

Shaka: a hand gesture with the thumb and pinky extended, symbolizing the "hang loose" vibe.

Kook: a beginner surfer who doesn’t understand surfing etiquette.

Localism: the attitude of local surfers who believe they have priority over visitors.


Offshore Wind: wind blowing from the land out to sea, creating ideal surfing conditions.

Onshore Wind: wind blowing from the sea onto the land, often making waves choppy and less desirable.

Glass Off: calm, glassy water conditions typically occurring in the early morning or late evening.

High Tide/Low Tide: the rising and falling of the sea level which affects wave conditions.


In surfing, there is a strong sense of etiquette and respect among surfers, particularly when it comes to sharing waves. If someone steals a wave, a behavior known as "dropping in," it can lead to frustration and confrontations. Here are some phrases and reactions you might hear if someone steals a wave:

"You dropped in on me!": a straightforward way of pointing out that someone has taken a wave that you were already riding.

"Don't be a snake!": a term used to describe surfers who consistently steal waves.

"Watch your etiquette!":  reminder to follow the unspoken rules of wave priority and respect in the lineup.

"That's my wave!":  direct assertion indicating that the surfer had the right of way.

"No snaking!": another term for wave stealing, often shouted to warn or reprimand someone.

Non-Verbal Reactions

Stink Eye: giving a stern or angry look to the offender.

Ignoring: the offender as a way to show disapproval without direct confrontation.

Splashing Water: a subtle way to express frustration without escalating to a verbal confrontation.

Etiquette and Respect

Surfers are expected to follow certain rules to maintain harmony in the water. Key points include:

Right of Way: the surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way.

Don't Drop In: never take off on a wave when someone is already riding it.

Communicate: use verbal signals or gestures to indicate your intentions.

Respect Locals: show respect to local surfers, especially when you are surfing at a new spot.

How to Handle It

If someone drops in on you: remain calm and avoid escalating the situation, clearly (politely) explain the situation and how it affects you and always lead by example by demonstrating good etiquette to set a positive tone in the lineup.

Positive Phrases

"Nice wave!": complimenting someone's ride, or "Good job!": acknowledging a well-ridden wave.

"Thanks for letting me have that one.": showing gratitude when someone yields a wave to you.

Understanding surf lingo can help you communicate more effectively with other surfers and better appreciate the nuances of surfing culture and technique. Understanding and practicing good surfing etiquette helps ensure everyone enjoys their time in the water, and may keep you outta trouble :)

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