COMMANDMENTS OF SURFING
by Peter Neely
Surfing is a totally unique sport. Unlike sports such as football, tennis or cricket, there are no set rules. You can enjoy the excitement and freedom of surfing without ever entering a contest - in fact, most surfers never compete. Surfing appeals to the individualist who wants to escape the restrictions of rules and umpires - It's the ultimate "soul" sport.
Although there are no hard-set rules, there has been an unwritten Surfer's Code of Etiquette which has evolved over the years. For a beginner, it can be quite difficult trying to learn these mysterious rules. So this is an attempt to explain some of them. By no means is this the complete list of rules, but rather just an attempt to help everyone cope with increasing crowds. The crowds aren't going to get smaller - all we can hope to change is our attitude to them.
1. WAIT YOUR TURN If someone has been waiting longer than you, he (or she) has first option for the next wave. At a pointbreak, the surfer waiting longest usually paddles closet to the first possible take-off spot, which is called 'the inside' of the wave. On a beachbreak he waits his turn at "the peak". So usually, the surfer paddling closest to the inside or the peak has right of way. Once he's caught the wave, it's his alone. (But if he paddles and misses it, he can't expect to be given the next wave too - he's had his chance and has lost his priority. He should wait out a few waves as a return courtesy to the other surfers who let him have his turn) Try to give a wave to someone every session. It's the best way to make friends and become "a local" , a recognized member of the lineup. If a wave's coming and it's not your turn, try saying "It's your turn mate" or "You catch the first one, I'll catch the next". Smile and say "G'day" to other surfers. Hoot their good rides - after all, we're all here in the water trying to have some fun! So long as everyone waits their turn, surfing will always be fun for everyone.
2. THE SURFER ON THE INSIDE HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY Once a surfer is up and riding on the inside, he has right of way. Sometimes this can be a little contentious if the surfer in question didn't wait his turn. However many surfers feel that they have earned the right to the wave, either because their wave knowledge put them in the right spot at the right time, or because their experience make them confident enough to take off at the most critical point, often behind the peak or next to rocks. The next group of less experience surfers wait their chance a little further down the line. Usually each group then observes their own pecking order and takes turns amongst themselves. If you take off and then see someone is already riding inside you, pull off.
3. DON'T DROP IN One wave, one surfer. It's too dangerous to have more than one surfer on a wave. When you paddle for a wave, always look inside before you take off, just in case someone else caught it before you. Even if you think "he's not going to make it", let him have the opportunity to try. You can always catch the next wave. To drop in is the ultimate surfing sin - there is no excuse for doing it, ever, so don't.
4. DON'T SNAKE If someone's already paddling for a wave and it's their turn, don't paddle inside them and try to claim the wave out of turn. That's called "snaking" and it's not allowed in contests or free surfing. Be patient, wait for your turn, the same as everyone else in the water. Don't be greedy, play fair.
5. SHARE THE WAVES If two surfers are paddling for a beachbreak peak, try to share it. If possible, call out "You go left, I'll go right". If you paddle for a wave but realise you can't catch it, call the next surfer onto it. Call out "You go". The courtesy will be repaid later, friendships will be created and more waves will be enjoyed by everyone.
6. KEEP OUT OF OTHER SURFERS' WAY When paddling out, keep away from the surfing zone. If it looks like you might collide with a surfer riding a wave, don't paddle for the unbroken shoulder of the wave and get in his way. Paddle behind him and duck-dive the foam. Pay your dues. Leave the wave face for the surfer riding. (But it's still his obligation to avoid hitting you, because he usually has more manoeuvrability). When riding, if it looks like you might collide with a paddler, avoid him at all costs, even if it means proning out or pulling off. Don't take unnecessary or dangerous risks. If you ding another guy's board, immediately apologise and offer to pay for the repairs. You never know - you might make a new friend, he might have a gorgeous sister...
7. TEACH THE KIDS If you see a learner, give them a couple of friendly hints. Maybe tell them about the safest local spot to learn. Or explain a couple of the more important rules. Encourage them to enjoy being in the water. Then give them one wave. They'll be stoked - and it'll make you feel good too. Pass down The Aloha Spirit of sharing waves to the next generation (so when you're an old codger some kid might give you a wave one day)
8. DON'T BE PREJUDICED All surfers have an equal right to their fair share of the waves. Surfing has no room for prejudice. Don't pre-judge anyone based on their sex, age, appearance, the surf craft they ride, their colour, race or religion. Duke Kahanamoku, the famous Hawaiian who introduced surfing to the world, chose a woman as his first Australian student, and rode a hand-made timber longboard. Every surfer deserves your respect, so long as they follow the rules.
9. DON'T GET VIOLENT Never kick your board at someone who dropped in. That's assault, a much worse crime than dropping in. Never punch someone who dropped in. Ask any guy who's lost his cool and been in a fight - they'll tell you they were left feeling far worse for having turned violent. It's better to just tell the offender what they've done wrong. The other guys in the lineup will usually back you up. If the offender persists in being obnoxious, just paddle off somewhere else to surf alone in peace. Stand up for your rights, but don't let someone else's ignorance force you to get violent. Maintain your self respect and the 99% of decent surfers in the water will respect you. No wave is ever worth becoming violent over.
10. KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS Learners should never surf in a crowded area. Look for somewhere less crowded where you'll catch more waves anyway. Join a "Learn to surf" school, get a guide book and practice first on foamies in the shorebreak. If you're an intermediate surfer, think twice before paddling out on the big days. You could be a danger to yourself and to others in the water. It's much better to find somewhere smaller or less crowded, where your ability will be better able to cope. Don't allow others to bully you into big surf.
11. THERE'S MORE THAN 10 RULES! Be prepared to learn more about surfing every day. Things like looking out for each other in big waves, etiquette when travelling to surf down the coast or overseas, and of course, taking care of the environment we love so much - Our Mother Ocean. But mostly, regard other surfers as your brothers and sisters. Treat everyone in the water as your friend and they will become one. Do unto other surfers as you would have them do unto you
© 1994 Peter Neely - www.indosurf.com.au