Surfer's Code: 15 basic rules for Surfing

As in many other areas of life, in surfing there are certain unwritten rules independent of these official regulations
Cesar Alvarez
Cesar Alvarez


Surf nomad

Roaming the globe with a surfboard and a laptop, crafting digital stories that ride the wave of surfing culture.

Since surfing was proclaimed as an Olympic sport, there have been many detractors to this decision taken by the international committee. Although this fact had a positive effect on the promotion of the practice of this discipline, some passionate about this sports claim that it is not a competitive sport as is the case of others, such as football, basketball or surfing. Surfing was born more than three centuries ago and has always been a symbol of freedom and good vibrations that have marked the lifestyle of those who practice it. As a clear example, we have some of the best surfers in the world who are not present in the most important event of the industry, 'The World Champion Tour', because they themselves are considered free souls, now known as 'free surfers'.

Despite this, surfing today is a sport that calls hundreds of competitions worldwide and has its own federations that dictate the rules of these events, such as the FESURFING (Spanish surfing federation) and its 2017 competition regulations.

But as in many other areas of life, in surfing there are certain unwritten rules independent of these official regulations, such as the issue of climbing the swells on the right side to avoid getting in the way if another user wants to go faster. These rules are known as 'The Code of Ethics of Surfing' or 'The Surfer's Code', which is respected by most surfers, especially by the most experienced and lovers of this great sport. Beginners should learn these rules if they want to start out properly in Surfing, as you can see in the following video.

Below, you will find the 15 basic rules to practice in Surfing to be considered before jumping into the water with your surfboard. It is not a complete list, but it includes the basic aspects that you should know if you decide to surf on a beach more or less crowded with bathers and surfers. If you are on a lonely and exotic beach, with great waves, forget rules and codes: Be free, have fun and enjoy surfing!

15 basic rules to practice in Surfing

  1. Priority is given to those who get there first
    Whoever has been waiting for the longest has priority in the next wave. In general, the surfer who is paddling closer to the peak has a greater right to catch the wave: once it is taken, it is his and only his. Wait your turn, there are more waves!
  2. If you lose the wave, wait your turn
    If you paddle up to a wave and you can't catch it, don't pretend to go searching for the next one: you had your chance and you lost it. Now you must wait your turn and let some waves go by.
  3. The surfer who is farthest from the shore has preference
    When a surfer is running from your inside, you have the right to follow. This may seem unfair, especially if you didn't wait for your turn. However, there are more experienced and risky surfers, with more knowledge of the beach and its waves, who know where and when to stand. Beginners or less experienced, who do not know the waves of the beach so well, will wait for them further down. In any case, each of the groups must alternate to take the waves, thus both getting to enjoy this advantageous place.
  4. Don't take another surfer's wave
    It's dangerous for there to be more than one surfer on a wave. When you paddle a wave, look inside before taking it, if someone caught it before you: Do not take it! And if you ride a wave and you realize someone was coming across it, get out as soon as possible. Taking some else's wave is surely the biggest mistake in Surfing. Never do it!
  5. Do not wriggle
    Known as 'wriggling', this is the action of rowing towards the peak and passing in front of other surfers who are waiting to take the wave, don't do it. Apply rule number 1: Wait your turn.
  6. Share waves that break on both sides
    If you meet another surfer who is paddling towards a wave that will break on both sides, try to share it. One can go to the left and the other to the right. You can tell the surfer you're closer to, so you both can take advantage of the wave.
  7. Don't catch all the waves
    Even if the other surfers don't have as much experience as you, the good waves come to you by chance, you are the best paddler or you're a local surfer, try not to catch all the waves and leave some for the rest of the surfers who have also come to surf.
  8. Stay out of the way of other surfers
    When entering the water, if you see that you're going to bump into a surfer who is riding a wave, don't go to the unbroken part of the wave because you will cross in his path. Paddle from behind and grab the wave: it will take you longer but it is safer. Leave the face of the wave for the surfer who is riding it.
  9. Do not abuse
    Even if you have the priority when you ride a wave and see that there's a risk of hitting another surfer, avoid it at all costs, even if you have to get out of the wave. Otherwise, a possibly serious accident could occur.
  10. All surfers have the same rights
    In Surfing there are no differences. Don't judge anyone because of their sex, appearance, skin color, race, a method of paddling or dress; none of that matters in surfing. All surfers deserve your respect. Remember that Duke Kahanamoku, the legend of Hawaiian surfing, recognized for modernizing this water sport, chose a woman as his first disciple.
  11. The power of the word
    Even if another surfer has gotten into your wave, never use violence and trust in the power of the word. Remember that you surf for fun and enjoyment. Explain what he did; maybe he ignored a rule. And if he persists in his attitude, look for another place to surf and don't waste your time.
  12. Know your limitations
    If you're just starting in extreme surfing conditions, don't get into them before you're ready, for your good and that of all the surfers. Do not go to a very busy surfing spot, but take a class in a surf camp or surf school, practicing on the beach, first, and away from bathers. And if you are an experienced surfer don't put the less experienced at risk, performing dangerous maneuvers.
  13. Instruct beginners
    If you find yourself with a newbie who doesn't yet know the 'Surfer Code', try to indicate in a kind and friendly manner at least 3 or 4 of these basic rules. You can also indicate the safest place to learn and teach one of your tricks. You are sure to be thanked for it. 
  14. Take care of the environment
    It is everyone's responsibility to keep the beaches and the sea clean, but even more when these places are where you practice your sport. If you don't take care of them, who will?
  15. Be nice to the other surfers
    As we said at the beginning, surfing is a great sport and it's essential to maintain friendly behavior while surfing. If you're one of the 'local surfers' try to leave a wave to someone else every day of surfing; it doesn't cost you much and it's the best way to make friends. Offer your help to those who are starting. Respect the basic rules, have fun, enjoy surfing and let the rest do that too!

Of course, there are more unwritten surfing rules, but you will learn them with practice. These are only 15 basic rules of conduct for surfing, so you can start on the right foot, being able to summarize them in one sentence, 'Do what you want without annoying other surfers'.

If you need any visual help, you can take a look at this video, where everything is perfectly explained: