Surf safely: A comprehensive guide to ocean safety

Lets ensure all our surf enthusiasts have a safe and enjoyable experience in the water, covering topics such as rip currents, wave conditions, and beach hazards.
Elena Lopez
Elena Lopez

Wave Wordsmith

One of the greatest things of surfing is the connection with nature. A surfer has a special relationship with the sea, always feeling for currents and waves. However, this also means that we are always dancing with the unpredictability of the elements. It's the thrilling uncertainty of not knowing exactly what the ocean will offer with each wave. As surfers, we embrace this unpredictability, but it also comes with a shared responsibility—a responsibility not just to ourselves but to our fellow wave-riders and the vast, untamed sea that cradles us.

1. Before you go: understand your surroundings

It’s important that you do some research before hitting the waves. Some basics are knowing how to read the surf forecast, assess swell directions and, and this is crucial, choosing the right wave for your level. This also means that you have to do some reading on the are you are going to be surfing in.

Familiarizing yourself with online platforms that offer detailed surf forecasts is a fundamental step in becoming a good surfer. These platforms serve as invaluable resources, providing a wealth of information crucial for planning your surf sessions. Here's what to look for:

  • Wave height: This metric indicates the vertical distance between the trough and crest of a wave. Understanding wave height helps surfers anticipate the intensity of the waves they'll encounter. Beginners may find smaller waves more manageable, while experienced surfers may seek larger swells for a more exhilarating ride.
  • Wave period: The wave period is the time it takes for two successive wave crests to pass a fixed point. A longer wave period generally results in more powerful and well-defined waves. Learning to interpret wave periods allows surfers to anticipate the rhythm and behavior of the waves, aiding in wave selection.
  • Wind conditions: Wind greatly influences wave quality. On surf forecasting platforms, wind information is often provided in terms of speed, direction, and gusts. Offshore winds (blowing from the land towards the ocean) are generally favorable, creating clean and organized waves, while onshore winds can create choppy and less rideable conditions.
  • Tide: Tidal movements impact the shape and size of waves. Some surf spots are more favorable at certain tide levels. High tide can offer powerful waves, while low tide may reveal sandbars or reef formations. Understanding the tide helps surfers choose the right time to paddle out for optimal conditions.

By regularly checking and understanding the information provided by these online platforms, surfers can make informed decisions, increasing the likelihood of encountering waves that match their preferences and skill levels. It's a valuable skill set that enhances both safety and the overall enjoyment of the surfing experience.

Check out Surfline, for example

2. Quality equipment is a must

In order to be safe on the water you need to use the right tools. Invest time and money on buying the right equipment for your level and needs, as well as a good wetsuit and leashes. And don’t forget that you need to take care of them properly, maintenance is very important if you want your gear to be ready for surfing. 

A good surfboard:

Beginner boards:

  • Length and width: Start with a long and wide board. These characteristics provide stability, making it easier for beginners to balance
  • Soft top: Consider a soft-top surfboard for added stability and safety. Soft tops are forgiving for those learning to paddle and catch waves.

Intermediate to advanced boards:

  • Progressive shapes: As your skills advance, transition to smaller boards with more streamlined shapes. Look for a balance between maneuverability and stability.
  • Tail design: Experiment with different tail designs (e.g., squash, round, or pin) to find a board that suits your style and the types of waves you enjoy.
  • Board volume: Pay attention to the volume of the board. A higher volume provides more stability, while lower volume allows for greater maneuverability. Match the volume to your weight and skill level.

Identifying a good wetsuit

Thickness and material:

  • Temperature consideration: Choose the thickness of the wetsuit based on the water temperature in your surf location. Thicker suits are suitable for colder waters.
  • Neoprene quality: Look for high-quality neoprene material for flexibility and insulation. Sealed seams prevent water entry, keeping you warmer.

Fit and comfort:

  • Snug fit: A wetsuit should fit snugly without being too tight. A proper fit ensures optimal thermal efficiency and freedom of movement.
  • Zipper type: Back-zip and chest-zip wetsuits are common. Chest-zip suits often provide better flexibility and less water entry.

Durability and maintenance:

  • Stitching quality: Check for reinforced stitching, especially in high-stress areas. Blind-stitched and glued seams enhance durability.
  • Rinse and dry: Rinse your wetsuit with fresh water after each use and hang it to dry in the shade. Avoid direct sunlight to prevent damage to the neoprene.

Selecting quality surfing gear:


  • Length and thickness: Choose a leash length suitable for your board size. Thicker leashes are more durable but can create more drag.
  • Swivel attachment: Look for a leash with a swivel attachment to prevent tangling while surfing.

Surf wax:

  • Temperature-specific: Select surf wax based on water temperature. Cold-water wax for lower temperatures and warm-water wax for higher temperatures.
  • Application: Apply a basecoat first, then layer with the appropriate temperature-specific wax.

Traction pads and deck grips:

  • Kick Tail: Consider a traction pad with a kick tail for better control during maneuvers.
  • Arch Support: Look for deck grips with arch support for comfort during extended sessions.

Surf bag:

  • Size: Choose a bag that accommodates your board size. Padded bags provide extra protection during transport.
  • Ventilation: Opt for bags with ventilation to prevent mold and mildew.

3. Respect the break: Surf etiquette

Understand the unwritten rules of surf etiquette to maintain a harmonious lineup. Explore the principles of right of way, priority, and how to navigate crowded breaks with courtesy. Respect for fellow surfers not only enhances the surfing experience but also contributes to a safer and more enjoyable environment.

  • Right of way:

Furthest out rule:

  • The surfer who is furthest outside or closest to the peak of the breaking wave has the right of way.

Paddling surfer:

  • A surfer paddling out must yield to those riding waves. They should navigate behind the line of surfers to avoid interfering with their rides.

Surfer up and riding:

  • The surfer riding the wave has the right of way. Other surfers should avoid paddling into their path.
  • Priority:

First on the wave:

  • The surfer who is first up and riding on the wave generally has the priority. They can choose the direction they want to go.

Dropping in:

  • Dropping in, which is taking off on a wave in front of someone who is already riding it, is a violation of priority rules and is considered poor etiquette.
  • Navigating Crowded Breaks with Courtesy:

Respect the lineup:

  • Enter and exit the water with respect for others. Avoid paddling through the lineup if it disrupts someone's ride.

Wait your turn:

  • In crowded conditions, wait your turn to catch a wave. Rushing and constantly paddling for waves can lead to frustration and conflicts.


  • Use clear signals and communicate with other surfers. Eye contact, hand signals, or even a friendly nod can help avoid confusion.

Apologize for mistakes:

  • If you inadvertently violate the right of way or make a mistake, offer a quick apology. Acknowledging errors helps maintain a positive atmosphere.

Be mindful of others:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of other surfers. Avoid unnecessary collisions by staying vigilant.

Share waves:

  • When possible, share waves with others. Being inclusive and cooperative contributes to a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Leave no trace:

  • Respect the environment by not littering, and be mindful of wildlife. Leave no trace and strive to leave the beach cleaner than you found it.

4. Safety in motion: Mastering techniques

For the new surfer, it’s best to start practicing techniques that prioritize safety. Things like paddling efficiently, mastering the pop-up, and executing controlled turns are needed to avoid disasters, and an unprepared surfer can create very dangerous situations for everyone around him, including himself. It is also imperative that you never overestimate your level and try to surf a wave that’s too advanced to you (as we explained in the first article of this list). They are also needed if you want to be a good surfer, so not even the most reckless surfer should ignore them.

5. Ocean hazards: Identifying and responding to challenges. 

Again, the ocean can be quite unpredictable. There are many situations that can put swimmers and surfers at risk. If you want to practice this sport safely, you need to be ready to be faced with such issues. This includes identifying warning signs and understanding how to respond to different challenges. Equip yourself with knowledge about emergency preparedness in the surf. Explore basic first aid techniques, signaling for help, and understanding rescue protocols. Being prepared for emergencies is a fundamental aspect of responsible surfing.

  • Some of the more common hazards:


  • Drowning is a significant risk for surfers, especially in challenging conditions. Powerful waves, rip currents, and hold-downs during wipeouts can lead to prolonged periods underwater.

Impact injuries:

  • Collisions with the ocean floor, sandbars, or other surfers can result in injuries. Waves breaking in shallow water can pose a risk, and surfers may hit the ocean floor during wipeouts.

Surfboard injuries:

  • Surfboards can cause injuries if not handled properly. Fins, noses, and edges can cause cuts, bruises, or more serious injuries if they come into contact with a surfer.

Rip currents:

  • Surfers can get caught in rip currents, powerful narrow channels of water moving seaward. Understanding how to identify and navigate rip currents is crucial to avoid exhaustion and potential danger.

Marine life:

  • Marine life, including jellyfish, sea urchins, and even sharks, can pose risks to surfers. Stings, bites, or injuries from contact with marine creatures are potential hazards.

Sun exposure:

  • Prolonged sun exposure can lead to sunburn, dehydration, and heat-related illnesses. Surfers should use sunscreen, stay hydrated, and take breaks to avoid overexertion.

Cold water and hypothermia:

  • Cold water poses a risk, especially in regions with colder climates. Prolonged exposure can lead to hypothermia, causing a decrease in body temperature and impairing physical and mental function.

Undertow and turbulence:

  • Undertow or backwash can pull surfers toward deeper water, leading to exhaustion. Turbulence behind breaking waves can also pose a risk.

Environmental hazards:

  • Debris, rocks, or submerged objects in the water can be hazards for surfers. Coastal environments may have varying conditions, and surfers should be aware of potential dangers.

Crowded lineups:

  • Crowded lineups can lead to collisions, dropped-in waves, and conflicts among surfers. Practicing good etiquette and communication helps reduce the risk of accidents in crowded conditions.

Waves and swell size:

  • Waves can vary in size and power. Surfers should assess their ability to handle different wave conditions, as larger waves may lead to more challenging and potentially dangerous situations.

Lack of emergency preparedness:

  • Locate all the first aid services in your surfing are before getting into the water

And lastly, it’s very important that you remain calm and think rationally, or else you might not be able to react as you should.

 And these are some of the first-aid techniques that we believe any surfer should have some control over:

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation):

  • Learn and practice CPR techniques. Knowing how to perform CPR can be crucial in case of a near-drowning or cardiac emergency.

Basic wound care:

  • Clean and dress wounds promptly to prevent infection. Carry a small first aid kit with antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, and sterile dressings.

Stabilization of fractures and sprains:

  • Learn how to stabilize fractures and sprains using splints or improvised materials. Immobilize the injured area and seek professional medical assistance.

Treatment for marine stings and bites:

  • Know how to treat stings from jellyfish or other marine creatures. Vinegar can be used for some jellyfish stings, while hot water may help alleviate pain from certain bites.

Hypothermia prevention and management:

  • Learn to recognize the signs of hypothermia and take preventive measures, such as layering clothing and staying active. If hypothermia occurs, gradually rewarm the individual.

Choking response:

  • Understand how to respond to choking incidents. Encourage coughing and perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) if necessary.

Emergency evacuation:

  • Know how to call for emergency assistance and be familiar with local emergency services. Have a plan for evacuating injured surfers from remote or challenging locations.

Basic marine first aid:

  • Be aware of basic first aid techniques specific to marine injuries, such as coral cuts, sea urchin punctures, and other injuries commonly encountered in the ocean. Research the area you will be surfing in, as different places have different sea life.

Surfing safely is our responsibility

In this collective commitment to surf safety, the emphasis on personal responsibility intertwines with a shared understanding that the ocean demands a mindful and informed approach. It goes beyond the individual surfer checking their equipment and assessing their own skill level; it encompasses a vigilant awareness of the impact on fellow surfers, the marine ecosystem, and the coastal communities. Recognizing the delicate balance between thrill-seeking and environmental stewardship, surfers engage in a continuous dialogue of education and awareness, cultivating a culture where safety is not just a set of rules but a deeply ingrained ethos.

Moreover, the collective commitment to surf safety extends to the broader surf community's role in advocating for sustainable practices, environmental conservation, and community engagement. Surfers, as custodians of the waves, become ambassadors for the oceans, fostering a culture that transcends personal enjoyment to prioritize the well-being of the very environment that grants them the freedom to ride. By understanding and actively promoting surf safety, the surfing community becomes a beacon of responsible recreation, setting a standard that resonates far beyond the shoreline—a testament to the profound connection between surfers, the sea, and the enduring legacy of this ancient and exhilarating sport.