Familiarize Yourself with These Surfing Terms

Surfing has its own language, and understanding specific terms is imperative to a safe and smooth ride. Before paddling out, be sure to know at least a handful of these important terms.


Closeout—A wave or large section of a wave that breaks at the same time, making it impossible to surf the open face.

Deep—The steepest part of the shoulder closest to the peak of a wave.

Down the line—Along the face of the wave.

Duck dive—A technique used to paddle out past a breaking wave. Use your arms to push the nose of the surfboard down while the knee pushes town on the tail.

Face—The open, unbroken part of a wave.

Green wave—An open wave which allows the surfer to ride along the face.

Kick out—To end your ride by surfing out the wave.

Lineup—The area where waves normally begin breaking. This is the place where surfers sit on their boards to wait for rides.

Peak—The immediately breaking part of the wave.

Shoulder—The unbroken section of the wave directly next to the peak.

Turtle roll—A technique used to paddle a board past a breaking wave. The surfer turns upside-down and propels the surfboard through the breaking wave.

Surfer Inspiration: Lisa Andersen

Born March 8, 1969, Lisa Andersen is a four-time world surfing champion. She began surfing at the tender age of 13 in Ormond Beach, Florida. At the time, she was the only woman surfing her hometown; much of women’s surfing was underground in the early 80s. She worked hard to impress her peers, pioneering her own smooth but aggressive style. At 16, she ran away to Huntington Beach, California to pursue her passion and train with America’s best surfers.

While in Huntington Beach, Andersen entered amateur competitions, winning 25 National Scholastic Surfing Association trophies in just eight months. In 1987, she won the US Championships at Sebastien Inlet. This victory allowed Andersen to become a professional surfer, and when she finished her year on tour, she ranked 12th. She was elected Rookie of the Year.

In 1990, Andersen won her first pro event. Though she struggled to remain focused throughout the competitive season, the birth of her first child, Erika, allowed her to reclaim her center. Just one month after giving birth, Andersen reached the finals in Japan. She later made competitive surfing history as a single mom.

This success allowed Andersen’s persona to become iconic. She transformed women’s surfing for the better, ignoring the former “beach bunny” image and edging out the “unfeminine” stereotype that often plagues female athlete. She drove thousands of young women to the sport, later gaining a sponsorship from Roxy and changing beach fashion with the development of the women’s board short.

Andersen retired from surfing in 2001; she had sustained several back injuries and gave birth to her second child, Mason. She currently works as a global brand ambassador with Roxy, and she is the subject of Nick Carroll’s biography, “Fearless.”

Surfing Etiquette for Dummies

Most sports have lists of both “official” and “unofficial” rules. In skiing, for example, you should always yield to the person on the higher portion of an intersection. The rule is rarely put in writing, but most people who practice the sport know to do it. Surfing is similar and understanding surfing etiquette is one of the best ways to learn the sport and make some friends along the way. Without these rules, the sport would see more injuries, fewer participants, and a decrease in the iconic “laid back” attitude.

So, without further ado, here are the rules of the waves.


  1. Don’t drop in on other surfers. If you’re paddling for a wave on the right and another is paddling in on the left, you should yield to that surfer. Whoever is closest to the break of the wave should get the ride. You should only ever drop in on someone if you are sure that they have fallen or if you are certain they will not make the section between you.


  1. The paddling surfer yields to the riding surfer. If you’re are initially paddling out from the beach, don’t aim straight into the heart of the lineup. If you do this, you risk the chance of being in someone’s way. Instead, paddling out through a channel to the outside. When you’re ready, paddle parallel to the beach toward the lineup.


  1. Never ditch your board. If you’re ready to paddle out in a lineup, you must be able to control your surfboard at all times. If you plan to ditch your board whenever a big wave comes through, you could end up injuring yourself or someone else. This equipment is large and heavy, and the fins are sharp. Don’t rely on your leash (cords frequently break); instead, learn to duck, dive, or turtle roll if you want to avoid certain waves.


  1. Don’t steal someone else’s wave. The term for this is “snake.” When another surfer “snakes” you, they intentionally paddle around in order to gain right-of-way on a breaking wave you are paddling toward. Don’t do it. Wait your turn.


Surfer Inspiration: Kathy Kohner

Born in the mid-50s in Brentwood, California, Kathy Kohner began surfing at the age of 15. She spent most of her childhood on Malibu’s beaches, becoming a sort of mascot for the local scene there. Her proximity to Malibu allowed her to befriend and surf with seminal surfer like Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, Johnny Fain, Miki Dora, and Dewey Weber.

You may know Kathy Kohner by a different name: Gidget. According to David Rensin’s All For a Few Perfect Waves, Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy gave her the nickname as a kid, calling her a “girl-midget.” The name stuck around. When Kohner explained her exploits in Malibu to her father (and journaled about her trips privately), Frederick Kohner, a screenwriter, wrote Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas. The novel was completed in a month and a half, full of young Kohner’s stories from the beach.

The book was eventually turned into a movie in 1959, spawning a surfing phenomenon. Malibu was taken by storm as armies of inland surfers moved to the coast in search of their chance to embody the surfer’s lifestyle. Most surfing historians consider this to be the true beginning of the surfer culture as we know it today. One year later, Surfer Magazine was founded. A year after that, the Beach Boys began their rise to fame.

In the following decade, Gidget’s father wrote and released several additional Gidget novels and films. She still surfs annually to benefit a cancer charity, and she was named Number 7 in Surfer Magazine‘s 25 Most Influential People in Surfing. In 2011, she was inducted in to the Surfing Walk of Fame in the Woman of the Year Category.

Surfer Inspiration: Duke Kahanamoku

If you’ve ever stepped onto a surfboard, you have Duke Kahanamoku to thank. Known colloquially as “The Duke,” Kahanamoku was born in Honolulu Hawaii in 1890. The first of nine children, Duke is responsible for spreading the love and compassion concomitant with the surfer lifestyle.

At age 20, the Duke broke the American short-distance swimming record for the 50-yard sprint, then beat the 100-yard world record by close to five seconds. In 1912, he set another world record, winning gold in both the 100 and 400-meter freestyle relay at the Stockholm Olympics. From a young age, Duke was a menace in the water. The popularity and global acclaim later brought him to the front of the public’s perception of surfing.

Between Olympic competitions, as well as after his Olympic retirement, the Duke began to travel internationally to give swimming exhibitions. This widespread travel and teaching experience allowed him to popularize the sport of surfing; previously, it had only been known in Hawaii. He incorporated surfing exhibitions into these visits, and his Australian show in 1914 is regarded as a seminal event in the development of surfing in the country.

Later in life, Kahanamoku lived in Southern California, performing in Hollywood as a background actor and character actor in several films. Though this may have been for personal interest, the connections resulted in his knowing and befriending people who could further publicize the sport of surfing.

Kahanamoku died of a heart attack in January of 1968 at the age of 77. The City of Honolulu commemorated his Waikiki Beach burial site with a 9-foot cast bronze statue of the Duke.


Surfer Inspiration: Doc Paskowitz

When imagining a surfer’s lifestyle, laidback beaches, hammocks, and relaxed attitudes come to mind. For that, we thank Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz: the man considered to be one of the earliest pioneers of the surf culture we know today. Doc spent nearly 25 years on the road, living in used campers and travelling up and down the coast of California.

Galveston, Texas, 1921: Dorian Paskowitz was born. Raised in a Russian Jewish immigrant household, Doc was encouraged to pursue a degree in medicine. At age 25, he graduated from Stanford Medical School with his doctoral degree. Though a skilled physician, Doc was unhappy as a doctor; after several years of practicing medicine, he moved to Israel for a year. Realizing he was happier here than he was in California, Paskowitz volunteered for the Israeli army during the Suez crisis. He was rejected.

Doc returned to America with a new sense of purpose. He and his third wife, Juliette, embarked on a transient, bohemian lifestyle. Nine children later, the family continued to live, travel, and surf together, living in a succession of camper vans. None of Paskowitz’s children were formally educated; Doc believed that formal education was dangerous to young minds (despite being a Stanford graduate and a professor at several community colleges). However, this health-centered lifestyle began to pervade surf culture at large.

The bohemian lifestyle adopted by surfers is attributed to Doc. His personal philosophy molded the ideals surfers now live and work by; despite the public perception of irresponsibility, he lived unapologetically.

Surfer Inspiration: Bethany Hamilton

If you’ve spent any time reading about surfing, you’ve likely encountered Bethany Hamilton. A titanic voice within the Hawaiian surfing community, Hamilton is known for her excellent competition record, distinct surf style, and—most notably—for surviving a devastating shark attack in 2003.

The attack happened when Hamilton was just thirteen years old; she was out for a morning surf along Tunnels Beach in Kauai with her best friend, Alana Blanchard. At around 7:30 in the morning, Hamilton took a short break from the waves, instead lying on her surfboard, her left arm dangling into the water. A fourteen-foot-long tiger shark attacked, severing her left arm just below the shoulder. Upon reaching the shore, Hamilton was rushed to a nearby hospital; by the time she arrived, she had lost over 60% of her blood and was in hypovolemic shock.

Coincidentally, Hamilton’s father was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning–he was already at the hospital when she and her friend arrived. Hamilton spent three weeks in recovery before being released. Later, the attacking shark was caught and killed; in 2004, the police officially confirmed the match.

Despite the traumatic attack, Hamilton returned to surfing just one week after her hospital release. She has since won several surfing competitions and athletic awards and has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show. Just a year after the attack, Hamilton published her story, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Now twenty-eight years old, Hamilton is an accomplished athlete and activist.


Photo by Troy Williams.

The Best Places for High Wind and Speed Surfing

Whether you prefer the extra speed and thrill of windsurfing or you’re just interested in going faster on your traditional surfboard, some places are better than others for speed surfing. We thought we’d compile a video list of the best places around the world to go fast on a surfboard. If you’re going to be near one of these places, don’t miss out on what might be the opportunity of a lifetime:

Learn to Surf—Any Way You Like

Here at Learn to Surf, we’re a firm believer that there is no one right way to learn how to surf. Sure, there are popular programs and rules of thumb to follow. We’ll introduce you to some of the major things to watch out for. If you can afford it, the best way to learn is from a professional, attentive instructor with one-on-one private lessons. But not everybody can afford this, and if everybody could there wouldn’t be enough instructors available. Group lessons for beginners are a more common way to get that very early instruction, but it’s also true that many people can learn to surf on their own—at least with extensive learning and practice.


It’s different than skiing, snowboarding, or wakeboarding. Water and ocean waves in particular are inherently unpredictable, even when compared to lakes and mountain slopes. Expect to struggle with surfing long after your peers have more or less mastered these other disciplines. Surfing is harder. There is no point in which you outgrow wipeouts and embarrassment, but there is a moment that occurs for most people—something akin to beginner’s luck—before they’ve given up entirely—in which they do catch a wave and fall in love with the combination of luck and skill needed for surfing.


Online Resources


  • This passion will provide a lifetime of joyous frustrations, but it’s also fair to say, as this YT video shows, that with the right situation you can introduce yourself to surfing in a single day. Note: Even these one-day learning tutorials emphasize that the first step occurs out of the water by learning how to situate and balance yourself on the board. On the other hand, there’s no reason you can’t practice these postures and movements, long before you ever hit the beach.


  • There’s nothing out there that says you can’t learn the “right way” on your own or even learn in your own right way, BUT there is something to be said for seeking out the guidance of someone who can help you refine your technique, before you hardwire an inefficient method for surfing, or some aspect of surfing. Check out #4 on this Top 5 list, and think about this: Maybe it’s not your first day of surfing that you buy professional lessons. Maybe it’s the second or third or fourth day—it’s that moment when you’re hooked and you know you need to learn the fundamentals, but all of the fundamentals and recently well and as soon as possible. That’s the day you should buy lessons.
  • Looking for tips geared for adult beginners? Because we didn’t all grow up next to the beach and with a surf shop membership card in our wallet. Here’s a solid read from com. And please understand that 9 times out of 10, kook is a term of endearment—or at least not an outright slur. It’s NEVER TOO LATE—and this is coming from someone who now has physical limitations that make it too late to take on certain kinds of surfing challenges. But it’s the spirit of the saying, and if you can surf, you should surf. Only not that preachy. More waves for the rest of us, as it were.


Things to Know, Things to Avoid

So, what are these rules you need to observe and be on the lookout for as you introduce yourself to the insatiable love that is an honest surfing habit? Almost all the biggest and most common blunders that beginner surfers make involves over-reaching, if not outright false bravado.

It starts with your choice of surfboard. You gain nothing, and set yourself back from the start, by opting for the more highly skilled short boards. In fact, you should avoid hardboards altogether and start rather with a softboard, also known as a foamie. Seriously, so long as you don’t drop in and try to steal someone else’s wave, nobody cares what sort of equipment you’re riding. Once you’ve fallen in love with surfing, it’ll be easy to learn about waxing your hardboard, long and short, and how to use the versatility of a shortboard to challenge yourself and take your surfing skills to the next level. And a new round of learning frustrations.


NEVER Steal a Wave

The most common mistake may be the choice of board, but the biggest sin of all is the aforementioned “dropping in.” Before you try to catch that perfect wave, you need to make sure someone else isn’t trying to do the same and with the inside track to get into the wave. At first, this can be confusing and with an unexpected turn, beginners even with the best of intentions can make this mistake. Once you’ve gotten out a couple times and looked around at others, this is something you should be able to easily and consistently avoid. And do avoid it because there are few things that will get you shunned in the surfing community, but this is one of them. This also helps explain why the most popular surfing destinations aren’t necessarily the best ones for beginners. The quality of the waves aside, what you really need is space to explore what catching a wave looks like. You want some experienced surfers around to take cues from, but you don’t want huge and hugely crowded beaches, either.


Surf’s Up

Now, Learn to Surf!!! Go find the right time and the right place!! With a quick review of online tutorials and a foamie rental, you can introduce yourself to surfing for hardly any cost at all!


Surfing Gear for Beginners

Compared to skiing (water and snow), surfing doesn’t have that many requirements and financial obstacles to get started. But there are a handful of things that you will need and, for the most part, you won’t be able to do without them.


Surfboard: If you know nothing else about surfing, you probably know that it’s done on a board. There are three basic types of surfboards. 1) Softboards, also known as foamies. 2) Longboards, typically measuring 8-12 ft. in length and 3) Shortboards, typically between 6-8 feet long and available in a variety of styles and names (fish board, fun board, etc.)

Your very first time out, it’s typically best to stick to a softboard, or at least an easy-to-use longboard. There are many paths to choosing and owning a surfboard. Maybe you rent or borrow a foamie your first time or first couple times out. Maybe you buy a foamie for yourself at first and which can be saved and used later to show others how to surf. Many people get introduced to surfing through a friend or family member, but you’ll be able to pay it forward if you have your own softboard. From there, you can also buy a longboard and eventually a shortboard, or you can try to go straight from a foamie to a shortboard.


Surfboard Accessories: A leash and surfboard wax are the two big ones. The leash is an absolute must and will keep you from swimming all over the place trying to track down your board. Without a leash, it won’t take long before your board is either lost or rudely smacking into other people. Once you’ve graduated to a hardboard, the wax is no longer optional, either. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself hopelessly sliding off the board.

Another common surfboard accessory is a car rack. The longer boards are easier to balance on and especially important for larger surfers, but a twelve-foot surfboard can also be a challenge to transport. Naturally, the size of your vehicle and its storage compartment/seat configuration will also matter a great deal. If you can’t safely fit your surfboard inside the vehicle, you’ll need to invest in a car rack. They’re not terribly expensive or difficult to install.


Rashguard and/or Wetsuit: You’re also going to need some kind of protective covering. If you’ve never thought about it, you may never have noticed, but you don’t really ever see a surfer, even men, ride their surfboard with nothing but swimming trunks on. And there’s a reason for that. The chafing would be a huge problem that would make surfing no fun in the short-term and a health hazard in the long-term. There are two basic types: A rashguard, or rashie, is meant to cover primarily torso and protect against abrasions and sunburn. It does not provide significant insulation to help keep you warm in cold ocean waters. That’s what a wetsuit is for. A wetsuit is made from special materials, most commonly neoprene, which do act to keep you warm and make you slightly more buoyant. These wetsuits typically come down to mid-thigh or all the way down to the ankles. Likewise, various brands, models, and sizes are available for better fit and personal comfort.


Personal Accessories: There are watches that give conditions at hundreds of different locations. There are shark repellant bracelets. There are hats and gloves. There are backpacks with customized compartments. There are balance training materials. Most of these are optional, if nifty, items. Once you’ve gotten into surfing, you’ll be able to explore what, if any, additional items are right for you.


Surfing in South Africa: A Trip Worth Going

Most serious surfers live close enough to the coastline that they have a favorite surf spot—a kind of home base as it were. It’s true that the surf conditions are constantly changing and that no two waves are the same. In theory, you can find a lifetime of endless enjoyment without traveling very far, but what fun is there in that? Every surfing beach and regional coastline has its own characteristics and charm. Plus, if you’re like me and like a lot of people, you like to travel anyway. Everybody is a benny somewhere.

My favorite vacation and one of the best weeks of my entire life was the time I spent in South Africa—going on safari, yes, but also surfing along the coast. Learn to Surf isn’t the only one who’s noticed that the surfing in South Africa is some of the best in the world. It’s not just the intensity or consistency of the surf, it’s also the breathtaking views that span almost the entire length of the country’s coast. There are amazing spots for pros and beginners alike. We’re not the only ones who are saying it, either.

A Paradise for New Surfers

Whether you’re a local or traveling halfway around the world, don’t think that South Africa, despite being such a well-known spot for surfing, is just for the pros. As The Telegraph points out, beginners can find their own surfing paradise in South Africa.


Finding and Choosing Your Spots

Trying to figure out exactly where to go and what to expect when you get there. Look into Trip Savvy to find a handy list of blurbs for all the popular surfing spots in South Africa.


The Time of Year Matters

More than touristy praise, you’ll want to find some of the real trip-planning tips for surfing in South Africa. First thing to know, the seasons are reversed. So, while the best swells are generally found in July and August according to Surfing Waves, this is also the coldest time of year, so be sure to pack your wetsuit. January and February, you can probably get by with just a rashie.


Get Last-Minute Information

If you have a flexible itinerary during your South Africa trip, there’s no reason to miss out on the best days and the best conditions for surfing. You can use this surf forecast and local data from MagicSeaWeed to make the best decisions, even the morning of the same day, about when and where to go surfing.


Plan the Perfect Trip for Your Interests

Of course, to have fun, you have to be prepared. Hardcore surfers may pay the extra fee for oversized luggage, but most people of all skill levels will do just fine with surfboard rentals. If you are interested in traveling with your surfboard, the last time we checked, you were lucky if you found an airline that would only charge you $50 each way. $100 each way is more likely, and possibly $200 each time if you’re traveling internationally.

Durban Surfing


Safari with Surfing in South Africa

Let’s go Surfing Safari! It’s also worth pointing out that South Africa provides opportunities for more than one type of surfing trip. A lot of people think South Africa is all about Johannesburg, Cape Town, and going on safari. And they’re not wrong—If you’re going to be in South Africa, I also highly recommend seeing Kruger National Park. But for those who love surfing, you probably don’t want to spend your entire time looking at land-based wildlife and the African savannah.

These other attractions make for great combination trips to South Africa. They can also be especially important to convince a group of friends and family to go on the trip with you when surfing may not be their first love. Go with a mixed group and there will still be plenty to do in South Africa for everyone. And the waves don’t always cooperate. While Durban is known for the most consistent waves, even Durban has its off days. It’s also a myth that you can’t find South African safari package trips that, nonetheless, allow for the necessary flexibility to get in a fair amount of surfing. We went on the Rothschild Travel and Leisure South African Safari that gave us four days to spend in and around Cape Town and where there’s plenty of surfing in the surrounding area.

Final myth, the days of scams on South African vacations are over. Yes, it did used to happen, but everything is different now. The industry and the country is cleaned up its act as they have come to rely on foreign travelers to help run the economy and now everyone is in on the concept of making everyone safe and protecting their interests. Here is a short list of the companies that we have either used personally or people close to us have used and would recommend. But do your own research. These are safari companies, not necessarily surfing outfitters:

Scott Dunn

Bear in mind those are some high-end operators. There are cheaper ways of doing things, I just don’t have experience with many of them.


Surfing-Focused Vacation Trips

Now, with this in mind, if you’re like way into surfing and have heard about the South African coast, know that it won’t disappoint. I was fortunate enough that I had a group of people who were committed to surfing. So, in addition to hitting Muizenbuerg, Long Beach, and Dungeons (my personal favorite) while we were in Cape Town, we also spent a couple days around Port Elizabeth and the famous Jeffries Bay. We hit the Supertubes and Cape St Francis, before also hitting Look Out in Port Elizabeth before circling back to Cape Town. It was a great time with a few really great waves, but it wasn’t anything like they said it can get, with one bomb after another. And just in the handful of spots we did hit, there was such an incredible variety and consistency to the spots. We also stopped at a couple more remote places, including one spot that I don’t know if I could find again if I had to.

But here’s the other thing to note: We didn’t even do nearly all the surfing there is in South Africa. If we had had more time and money, we could have kept going to East London, KwaZulu-Natal (what a name), and Durban—where there’s another cluster of surfing destinations that rival Cape Town and Port Elizabeth! If you’re interested in competitive events and professional leagues in South Africa, you’ll want to contact Surfing South Africa.