Proper Etiquette in the Lineup

By Cameron Christian

There are no rules to surfing. But there are some generally accepted guidelines. Many of these are fairly obvious, but in nature anything can happen, even the most experienced surfer may find themselves unsure of what to do on occasion.

Most people refer to these “rules” as etiquette. If you break the surf etiquette not only will you be considered a kook, but you can seriously put people in danger. The safety of others is the highest priority.



If you are on the wave it is your responsibility to ride the wave safely and to avoid hitting anyone in the water. 

This being said, it is important that surfers who are not on the wave stay clear of the individual who is standing and surfing. Getting out of the way can be a tricky situation sometimes. When you first paddle out, stay wide of where the waves are being surfed and observe how the locals do it. Once you feel comfortable you can enter the chamber but do not rush for you can hurt yourself or others.

If you aren’t sure how to avoid someone who is currently on the wave and surfing towards you, a good rule of thumb is to paddle towards the white wash and away from the unbroken side of the wave. This way you leave the open wave for the surfer to enjoy although it may make things a bit more challenging for you, the paddler.

I have seen many people run others over with their surfboards and it can cause a lot of harm. Boards can be dangerous, so don’t shoot your board out into another surfer. Try and keep your board close to you at all times.

Please do not surf in crowded areas until you feel comfortable enough to do so safely. Once you feel comfortable surfing safely the next thing to learn would be…



Who’s wave is it? Why do they get to catch it? This is probably the most relevant part of surfing etiquette and the most debated as well. 

Almost all waves have an established peak, the first part of the wave to break. The surfer with priority is the one closest to the peak. If someone is already up and riding the wave, that’s their wave and you cannot surf it unless they tell you to (party wave!). There are a few breaks, longboarding spots, where most people share, but for the purpose of this article, to be safe, let people have the waves if they are already standing.

The most common mistake in surfing is dropping in on someone, or “snaking” them.

Snaking occurs when you catch a wave or give it a serious effort after someone is already up and surfing it. This often ruins the surfers wave and can be seriously dangerous. Don’t be a snake, wait your turn!

Generally accepted guidelines: Don’t catch every wave.

I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been surfing there, if you catch every set wave and don’t share you’re a kook in my book. While I do believe in a free-market lineup with little formal organization, I think it’s terrible etiquette to catch too many waves and I see this happen occasionally, mostly with longboarders.

Give respect to get respect. The waves are the surfers playground so follow the rules we’ve been taught since we were younger, treat others how you’d like to be treated and it should go alright. Remember, safety is the number 1 priority. Have fun!

As much of surfing has already been discovered, the new frontier of surfing is learning to navigate the crowds.