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Most Important Rules of Surfing Etiquette

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Surfing is a sport associated with freedom, rebellious youth, and taming nature’s wild waves using nothing but a board and your best skills. It’s a sport of passion and independence, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean that there is no sense of code or etiquette out there on the water. If you’ve been to buy your softboard online, and you’re getting ready to go tear up the waves near your home, first take a moment to appreciate proper surfing etiquette. Every good Australian should be well acquainted with it.

Rule 1: Surfer Right of Way

Just as there are rules on the road governing who has right of way, these codes exist out on the water for surfers, too. The most important rule to remember is that the surfer who is closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. There is an expectation, however, that whoever is closest to the peak will be ready to get up on the board and ride the wave instead of just letting it pass over them.

If you are closest and you let the wave pass you by, don’t be surprised if a better-prepared fellow surfer drops in on you and takes your place. Right of way is understood, but it’s not guaranteed if you’re not going to play ball. It’s a two-way water lane.

Rule 2: No Dropping in or Snaking Without Cause

Following on from right of way, it’s important that surfers know that dropping in ahead of the person in front of you closest to the wave peak (dropping in) is frowned upon if you don’t have proper cause, which as we said above can be said to be someone who is just letting the wave pass by when it’s their turn to go.

Snaking refers to people who paddle around other surfers to try and jump the queue. It’s similar to “upstreaming” someone in the city who is trying to hail a taxi, moving ahead of them so that any cab will stop for you first. It’s sneaky and dishonors the surfer code (and pedestrian code, in the case of taxis).

Rule 3: Communicate Your Movements When It’s Busy

If there are a lot of boards out on the water, then it’s a good idea to offer a quick yell to indicate to others around you that you're going for a wave, or if you’re moving left or right. It helps others get out of your way, and also to be generally more aware of who’s around them. This one is akin to when cyclists indicate which way they’re turning at a junction up ahead, giving cars notice not to try and overtaking manoeuvres to rush past them, which could be dangerous.

It can get ugly out on the water, too if boards are crashing into each other, and can have serious safety implications.

Rule 4: No Throwing of the Board

We’re not talking about throwing your board while you’re on land here. What we mean is that when you’re bailing on a wave, it’s essential that you try and keep your board with you. Some people use a board leash to do that, but those with less etiquette “throw” the board which means to ditch it and dive under the wave. When a surfboard is cast aside with many other surfers out on the water, the risk of the board hitting someone else in the head is elevated, and that can cause some serious damage.

Some surfboards are huge, not to mention with pointed tips. When they’re moving at speed and they collide with another person in the water, it can really cause injury.

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