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Surfing etiquette

Drop ins at Manorbier. Image by Adie @ frames photography

Lack of etiquette at Manorbier. Image by Adie @ frames photography.

This article looks at wave priority, interference and how to get your share of the waves.

Wave priority

The surfer nearest to the breaking part of a wave in either direction - left or right, always has priority. In other words - they choose whether or not they wish to catch the wave.

Remember - surfers sitting deeper than you (nearest the breaking part of a wave) always have priority and are therefore first in the queue, so to speak.

In the above image - the surfer on the yellow board would have had priority on the wave had he not fallen off.

Wave priority therefore switches to the surfer in the middle who has been dropped in on by the surfer on the left hand side of the frame.

Getting your share of the waves

Unfortunately, you'll occasionally encounter surfers who shout and hassle for every single wave, no matter where you're sitting. In this situation a bit of common sense works wonders.

By all means paddle and compete for waves but the drop in rule still applies, so you may have to adjust your tactics if you find that you're not catching many waves.


'Snaking' is a term used to describe a situation whereby one surfer deliberately paddles across or 'inside' of another surfer (who has wave priority) in order to gain priority for themselves i.e. nearest the wave peak has wave priority.

In other words they are pushing in - only instead of standing in front of you (as would happen on land), they paddle behind you to gain a watery advantage.

This normally happens when a good wave or set approaches on the horizon; so it can be a bit 'cat and mouse' at times - as surfers try to out manoeuvre one another in order to secure the best take off position.

To counteract this, stay as close as possible to the wave peak as you can. This makes the take off more severe and steeper, so it largely depends on your own ability and experience as to what you do.

If you're not up to it - don't despair as more often than than not - the wave behind is better anyway!

Wave interference

There's nothing worse than catching your best wave and having it ruined by another surfer getting in the way. It's not only frustrating but can also be dangerous.

Interferences can occur in a number of different ways but most can be easily avoided. Never paddle across the path of a surfer who is already up and riding on a wave.

It's your duty to get out of their way, (by any means possible) and not the other way around.

Paddle away from the surfer towards the white water

A surfer paddling
Image by Mark Evans from Porthcawl

Don't paddle for the shoulder (flat section at the end of a wave) of the wave unless you have plenty of time to reach it. Paddling across the path of an incoming surfer is dangerous.

Surfboards are hard, pointed objects - travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph. Combined with the weight of a surfer on top, and a few tons of ocean behind and you soon realise the implications that an impact could have on someone's health.

Most competent surfers will do their best to avoid a collision by performing a cut back (a sharp turn in the opposite direction) or steering around you. Ultimately the surfer up and riding has the responsibility and control over the situation.

Avoiding wave interference

If in doubt - stop and wait for the surfer on the wave to pass by and you can duck dive the white water after they've gone. If it's going to be a close call though - don't stop paddling.

Turn and paddle towards the shore. It doesn't feel like the most natural thing in the world to do, but this is a good way of avoiding a collision, as both surfers can easily read the situation.

One surfer will be travelling sideways along the wave in one direction; whilst the other is going in a completely different direction towards the beach, making a collision very unlikely.

Paddle parallel towards the oncoming rider at a safe distance. As the surfer goes past and away from you - you'll be left to duck dive the white water behind them. Keep a minimum of 10-15 feet between you though.

Paddle out with a good attitude and sense of humour and nine out of ten times you'll have an incident free surf. Stay safe.

Article written by Martin Aaron

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