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.

Air/aerial: riding the board into the air and then landing back on the wave.

Caught inside: a surfer who cannot get through the surf to reach the wider ocean.

Carve: a turn.

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

Cutback: a turn back toward the breaking wave.

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

Down the line: Along the face of the wave.

Drop in: the act of entering 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.

Goofy foot: standing with your left foot in the back.

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

Grom/Grommet: a young surfer.

Hang ten: putting five toes over the nose; also see “hang five.”

Hang loose: the meaning of the classic surfer hand signal (thumb and pinkie up, middle three fingers down); means either “catch that wave” or “well done.”

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

Kook: unskilled surfer wannabe.

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

Off the hook: refers to a good surf spot.

Over the falls: when a surfer falls off and is carried in a circular motion by the wave lip.

Peak: The immediately breaking part of the wave.

Pearl: accidentally pushing the nose underwater.

Pop-up: jumping up on the board from a lying-down position.

Re-entry: hitting the lip and dropping back into the wave.

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

Snake: a surfer who steals a wave from another surfer.

Stall: to slow down by shifting weight or putting your hand in the water.

Switchfoot: being able to surf regular foot or goofy foot.

Tube riding: riding within the curl of a wave.

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.

Wipe Out: a surfing accident; immortalized in the Surfaris 1963 song of the same name.

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.


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!