Surfing Rules

Explaining the ‘rules’ of surfing is more problematic than explaining the rules of most sports. While surfing is a competitive sport, usually overseen by judges who observe the performance of each surfer in the competition and give a score, there is no document or manual which makes the rules clear to all participants. Surfers often differ in their assessment of what is and is not acceptable. There is, however, a ‘surfer’s etiquette'; a number of generalised ‘rules’ which surfers adhere to out of respect for those they share the water with. Some generalised principles are listed below:

  • Never ‘drop in’ on somebody else’s wave – While offenders are no longer tamed by the promise of execution Hawaiians once faced if they had the audacity to steal the wave of a social superior, surfers who deliberately ‘drop in’ on someone else’s wave can expect to be very unpopular. Put simply, ‘dropping in’ amounts to ‘dropping in’ from the top of a wave which somebody else is already surfing, effectively cutting them off and forcing them to abandon the wave.
  • The surfer closest to the white water always has right of way – For example, if a wave is breaking on your right and there is already a surfer to your right, you should not attempt to catch the wave.
  • If you are paddling out and someone drops in to catch the wave, move out of their way – You should always abandon an attempt on a wave if someone drops in to catch it before you, even if this means subjecting yourself to a pummeling as the wave breaks.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings – Other surfers will quickly become irritated if you paddle without looking where you are going, or look over your shoulder for too long and keep your back to a wave. In general, you should be fine if you use common sense and do not obstruct other surfers. If someone is in your path, move to avoid them, even if it means missing a wave or paddling into white water.
  • Don’t let go of your board unless absolutely necessary – Apart from the fact that you are likely to lose or damage your board, letting go of a board can be extremely dangerous to those surrounding you. A surfboard caught up in a strong wave could seriously injure, or even kill, another surfer.
  • Look out for swimmers – Remember that surfers do not rule the whole beach! Ideally, swimmers will have sufficient common sense to keep out of the path of surfers, but it is still important to remain on your guard to avoid injuring yourself or a passing swimmer.
  • If you are inexperienced, try to surf alongside people with a similar level of experience – It can be dangerous for inexperienced surfers to surf with those who are more experienced. More experienced surfers will inevitably be moving faster, and will be more proficient at manoeuvring their boards. If you are not able to manoeuvre your board correctly and do not know how to get out of the way safely when it is necessary, it is better that you do not enter the water while more advanced surfers are practising. Whilst you are learning, it is a good idea to join a club or take lessons with people who are at a similar level so that you can learn to keep yourself safe without getting out of your depth.