Surf Etiquette

The (unwritten) Rules of Surfing

Every new sport and adventure comes with its own set of guidelines, and surfing is definitely no exception. As the popularity of surfing continues to swell, lineups are becoming more crowded every day, especially during the peak season. This is where surf etiquettes come in: unwritten rules, do’s and don’ts while surfing.

Whether you’re a curious beginner or a seasoned surfer, understanding and following these principles is key. No matter which spot you choose to chase the waves, these core rules remain the same. So, before you jump into the water, get ready to shred with aloha (respect) by learning the 7 most important surf etiquette rules!

Rule Number 1: Priority in the Lineup

The lineup is the area in the ocean where you and the other surfers wait for waves. It’s not a free-for-all – there’s an established order based on surfer position and wave priority. Beginners, take note!

1. Observe and learn! Before paddling out, spend some time watching other surfers. Observe how they position themselves and how they take turns catching waves. This will give you a good understanding of the lineup hierarchy.

2. Don’t paddle straight through the middle of the lineup where surfers are waiting for waves since it can be dangerous. Instead, paddle around the outside of the break, using the channel and wait patiently for your turn.

3. The surfer closest to the peak has priority. The surfer closest to the peak (the unbroken part of the wave) generally has the right to ride the wave. This is because they’re already positioned and paddling for the wave.

Rule Number 2: Don’t Drop In

Patience is key while surfing. In surfing, in the best case, there can only be one surfer on the wave. Dropping in is taking off on a wave while another surfer is already riding it. The surfer who takes off in front of the surfer who has the priority is “dropping in”. Drop Ins should always be avoided, it’s dangerous because it can cause a collision between both surfers and it’s also seen as disrespectful action.

Use these 4 tips to reduce the risk of dropping in accidentally:

1. Wait your turn. It takes time and practice to catch waves consistently. Be patient, observe the lineup, and wait for your opportunity. Don’t wait right behind a surfer waiting for their wave, but give them space.

2. Always look to the peak as you paddle for a wave to make sure nobody else is paddling for that wave too.

3. Communicate with other surfers and be aware. If you’re unsure about who has priority, a friendly nod or a quick “hey” can help clarify the situation.

4. Do you realise you’ve dropped on someone? It’s never too late. Try to get off the wave and just go over the shoulder and off back the wave. Never just jump off your board, instead try to surf straight and make sure to apologise to the surfer you just dropped in on!

Rule Number 3: Don't be a Snake

Snaking is a HUGE downer in the lineup. Snaking means when a surfer is paddling in front of or around a surfer who is already positioned to catch a wave. Snaking normally doesn’t happen by accident since it requires good paddling skills, sighting and timing.

Snaking is disrespectful, can create tension and you won’t make any surf friends with it

Rule Number 4: Give space to the Rider

The thrill of riding a wave is what surfing is all about! But sometimes, enthusiastic paddlers can unintentionally get in the way of someone enjoying their ride. It’s important to give space to surfers who are already on a wave. By giving them space, you’re minimising the risk of accidents. Don’t paddle in front of them and cut their waves short.


The thrill of riding a wave is what surfing is all about! But sometimes, enthusiastic paddlers can unintentionally get in the way of someone enjoying their ride. It’s important to give space to surfers who are already on a wave. By giving them space, you’re minimising the risk of accidents. Don’t paddle in front of them and cut their waves short.


Rule Number 5: Hold your board - don’t throw!

Imagine paddling out for a wave, only to be greeted by a hard surfboard flying through the air. Not exactly the relaxed surf session you were hoping for, right? This is why rule number five is crucial: hold onto your board – don’t throw!

While the urge to ditch your board and dive under a large wave might be strong, don’t do it!  A runaway surfboard can be a serious hazard, injuring other surfers, especially beginners who might not be aware of their surroundings.

So, what should you do instead?

Instead of throwing your board away, learn techniques like the turtle roll or duck dive to navigate whitewater safely. These manoeuvres allow you to control your board and avoid collisions. During our Learn to Surf Program you will practise both along with other valuable skills, all with helpful guidance from experienced surf instructors.

Remember, getting caught in whitewater sometimes happens, even to the best surfers. The key is to learn how to survive a wipeout safely, protecting yourself and others while still having fun in the water!

Rule Number 6: Communication is key!

Communication is key while enjoying your surf session. Especially when paddling for the same wave. Here’s why:

1. Some waves, called A-frames, break to the left and right. A quick “left” or “right” can avoid confusion and potential collisions with other surfers.

2. If you’re unsure about who has priority for a wave, a friendly nod or a simple “Hey!” or “You go!” will clarify the situation and prevent misunderstandings.

3. Mistakes happen! If you accidentally drop in or get in someone’s way, a sincere “Sorry” goes a long way. Most experienced surfers will understand, especially if you’re new to the sport and as long as you don’t repeat the mistake.

4. Open communication promotes a more positive and respectful environment for everyone in the water!

Remember, a little communication can prevent a lot of frustration in the water! By speaking up and being aware of other surfers and your surroundings, you’ll contribute to a safe and enjoyable surfing experience for all.

Rule Number 7: Respect the Local Crew

Locals are the surfers who know a particular spot like no other. They’ve likely spent countless hours in the water, improving their skills in those waves and deserve a level of respect. Even though the basic rules of surf etiquette are applicable everywhere in the world, locals have their ‘own rules’ and, in many spots, believe that they have the priority to surf the wave regardless of their position in the lineup. There is one simple rule to show them some aloha spirit: respect to be respected!

Take it easy, don’t rush into the main peak where normally all locals are, you can position yourself a bit more on the inside and wait for your turn. Communicate, be friendly, and be open. By doing that you will slowly gain your space and at some point, you might be sharing the peak with all of them.

Fun for all!

During our Learn To Surf Program at Surf School In Bali, theory classes are included. Our surf guides will explain everything in detail about surf etiquette.

By following these simple rules, you’ll contribute to a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone in the water. Remember, surfing is all about having fun, sharing the waves, and enjoying a sense of community.

Ready to enjoy the waves with confidence?