I’ve had numerous calls and emails to do an article on line-up etiquette cos the ou’s feel that some of the popular spots in PE are becoming a bit chaotic, and it’s not long before someone either gets speared in their pip by a board or gets a good klap.
Just like you gotto get your learners and then pass your K53 to be able to drive a car, there’s also a coupla rules you need to be aware of when you surf. Ok, so “rules” is a strong term – think of it rather as Surfing Etiquette (or “manners” if you want the simple word for it).
What might be news to some people is there’s actually a proper code of conduct designed to keep everyone in the water safe and happy. If you repeatedly break these rules expect to be given stink-eye, a lecture, or yelled at with obscenities. So better to know before you go....
However, there are rules of the road out there and this is the real world. If you’re constantly paddling round ou’s, stealing waves, dropping in or not being respectful you’re going to have a run in. So don’t act all ignorant when you do.
Fact: there’s way more surfers in the water these days than a few years back. Fact: we’re still limited to the same number of surf spots. Fact: we all still want to get our wave count. Add these together and you have the chaos we see in the line-ups these days. So etiquette becomes pretty important when it comes to trying to keep some sense of order to the line-up and not let it descend into chaos, anarchy and disorder.
Besides trying to keep some semblance of order in the surf, it’s also an important safety aspect. Think of it like traffic control – most of us tend to stop at red robots for good reason – so we don’t get T-boned. So follow the obvious rules in the surf too.
The hiccup comes with the influx of all the newbies and wannabe’s. If you don’t feel like giving them a lecture – tell em to check the website to have a read of the road rules. Even the established surfers should take a refresher course, including some of the ballies!
Let’s start at the beginning (cos generally that’s a good place to start!)
Rule above all rules: Big Dave always has right of way - so MOVE! ...and don't drop in on him either!
Cos if you do...Big Dave will eat you for breakfast! Lighty learning the hard way at Point. He did say "Sorry Oom" afterwards! (image Heinrich Cilliers)
Rule #1: Paddling out
Don’t paddle straight out through the heart of the lineup where people are surfing. Paddle out through the channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing, or either side of the main peak.
Do you push straight to the front of the queue at the Spar? No, didn’t think so. Well, don’t do it in the surf either. Why would you think it’s acceptable to paddle out and just plonk yourself right at the top of the line-up, first in line for the next wave – which frikkin planet are you from?
It’s called a “line-up” for a reason, so don’t just push in at the front of the line. Not saying if there’s quite a few guys out there that you should paddle way off the peak/traditional take-off area, but at least sit yourself a few ou’s down into the main pack a bit, not just assume King Kong status from the get-go.
A Genuine "family wave" - you must be related for dropping in to be cool!
The ultimate game of chicken
Rule #2: Right of way
The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way (provided of course you’ve got to that position legitimately – but we’ll get back to that in a minute). This means if you’re paddling for a right, and a surfer on your left is also paddling for it, it’s their wave. If someone is already up and riding a wave, don’t attempt a late takeoff between the lip/whitewater and the surfer.
Just because there’s a bit of a section in front of the ou, doesn’t give you permission to take off down the line. Many of the good surfers can outrun the section (as can most longboarders and paddleskiers just cos their boards have so much glide). So do a quick calculation before you make that call – kook or average joe on a shortboard – you can probably take the chance, anyone else, hold back. And don’t give your board that extra nudge into the lip to crumble more of the section in front of them..…that’s just being a muppet and may bad karma befall you!
A-Frames or Split Peaks (think Pipe for this one): If two surfers are on either side of the peak, they each have the right of way to take off on their respective sides. It’s not generally accepted to take off behind the peak unless there’s nobody on the other side. These surfers should split the peak and go opposite ways.
If a wave is breaking towards itself (a closeout) and two surfers are taking off at each other, yes both have the right of way but this is a potentially pip-damaging situation and it’s advisable to kick out early to avoid a collision. Lastly, if you’re sitting out there in prime position and a wave comes through but you’d rather wait for a bigger set, tell the ou’s you’re not going so the wave doesn’t get wasted.
Rule #3: Don't drop in
This is related to Rule #2. This is probably the most important part of surfing etiquette. Dropping in means that a surfer with the right of way is either about to take off on a wave or is already riding a wave, and you also take off on the same wave in front of them. This is such a major fail. Don’t pull the “Oh, I didn’t see you” number. What are those two things above your nose ey? Eye’s! Well, use em. You cross the road, you look left, you look right. Well do the same thing in the surf. The only time you can consider this is if it’s it’s a total kook, who you know won’t make it to their feet – or if they do, will just go straight. (Note to kooks: you are not yet part of the food-chain. Better to find an uncrowded foamie somewhere. We all started out as kooks and had to pay our dues. Everyone does)
Seems OK to drop-in at Waimea!
Rule #4: Paddling rules
When paddling back out, do NOT paddle in front of someone riding a wave unless you’re way out in front of them. Do NOT try scratch over the shoulder just in front of them. You must paddle behind the ou riding the wave and duckdive the whitewash. Tough takkie, you are bottom of the food chain on the paddle out.
There’s nothing more annoying than having the kiff set wave you’ve been patiently waiting ages for ruined cos some muppet paddles right in front of you. You’d be forgiven for wanting to use em as a speed-bump. Obviously we all sometimes end up in a bad spot and won’t be able to paddle behind the on coming surfer. It’s your responsibility to speed paddle to get over the wave and outta their way pronto, and then apologise afterwards.
Sometimes line-ups can get quite spreadout, with various sections having their own lil crowds sitting on them. If you catch a wave from higher up the line, then fall off, kick out, whatever….as you’re paddling back out from this wave and a nother comes through for the guys who’ve been waiting patiently in that zone, don’t think you can just whip round and just grab that one too. You’ve just had one ou, they’ve been waiting. Go ahead, take it, be a chump if you want. Karma will get you, it always does.
If you paddle for a wave and miss it…well, guess what, you just forfeited your spot at the top of the queue. So paddle a few spots back down into the line-up and wait your turn. Read this again carefully - if you miss the wave, that counts as your wave, you've lost your spot. Live with it. Unless of course you have a very mellow and chilled crowd, then they might give you another chance...
Get out the way muppets! Image Rodney Fox
Rule #5: Don't ditch your board
This is important, especially when it gets crowded. If you let your board go flying around, it is going to eventually clock someone in the head. Never, under ANY circumstances just chuck your board without first checking behind you. If there’s someone there, then you flipping hang on to it and take the flogging, no matter what.
Mine. No it was mine. No...MINE!
Never let go of your board unless you 100% sure no-one is behind you
Rule #6: Don't snake
“Snaking” means paddling around another surfer in order position yourself to get the right of way for the next wave. Um, it’s called a “line-up” for good reason. Which means wait in line. If you’ve just caught a wave, absolutely 100% no ways do you just paddle straight back out past everyone and position yourself at the head of the queue for the next wave. Even Kelly doesn’t do that, and seeing as you don’t surf near as good as Kelly….
If the packs been sitting out there waiting for a set, and one appears on the horizon…well, the wave goes to the ou who’s been sitting at the top of the pack and who’s turn it is. Don’t suddenly reckon you can try sprint paddle around his inside and miraculously suddenly the wave is yours. Do you have a brain defect?
This also goes for the lighties who patrol the inside. They sit just in from the main pack, and then sprint for the inside position as the wave comes through. Katvis will eat you kids, be careful. Don’t be surprised when the ou who’s wave it actually is just drops in in front of you….in this case dropping in is acceptable.
If you have a longboard and can catch waves further out than everyone else, or have your own special lil take-off spot cos you know the spot better than others, then paddle back and go sit further out or deeper if you really want to, but let a good few sets pass under you for the rest of the pack before going on your next wave.
Now obviously there’s some variation on this on crowded days, meaning if you’re a decent surfer you aren’t going to now go and sit at position #57 in line and wait for all other 56 ou’s to catch a wave, specially if they aren’t sitting in the general area of the prime take-off zone. What it does mean though is you have to still wait your turn amongst those sitting in the main take-off area. So think of it as a line-up within a line-up. Micro-management!
And don’t think that subtely working your way into prime position whilst sitting out there and merrily chatting to everyone goes un-noticed. Most peeps can count to at least ten, and are well aware you’re hopping the queue.
Huletts over the Christmas holidays. Try get a wave off of these guys. Good luck.
Rule #7: Don't be a wave-hog
Just because you can catch all the waves doesn’t mean you should. This generally applies to longboarders, paddleskiers or SUP’s. Since it’s easier to catch waves on these things, it becomes tempting to catch them all, leaving nothing for shortboarders on the inside. Give a wave, get a wave. If not, expect to get kakked on.
Rule #8: Respect the beach
This is your turf, look out for it and look after it. Don’t litter. Simple as that. Pick up your trash, and try to pick up a few pieces of trash before you leave even if it’s not yours. On bigger days or when there’s rips about, keep an eye for other bathers. If they look like they might be in trouble, the head over and ask.
Rule #9: If you mess up
We all do. So if you accidentally drop in or mess up someone’s wave, a quick apology is appreciated, and goes a long way to reducing tension in crowded lineups. You don’t have to grovel at their feet, just say sorry. Honestly, if you drop in on someone and then ignore them, that’s pretty lame.
A lightie realising he'd better say sorry to Jorg pretty quick
Two's a crowd.
Rule #10: Leave your phone at home
Need we say more. Do the math. You get to the beach. Nice uncrowded surf. Call your mates to tell em the surfs firing. Worse yet. Send em a pic. They call their mates. Who call their mates. Who call their mates. By the time you've suited up, there's now another 8 cars arriving in the car park. Well done. Now you can surf with 20 peeps instead of 2. Genius. Maybe you have some weird psychological defect which means you like surfing with lots of people. News for you buddy, the over-whelming majority of us don't. Take the phone and stick it where the sun don't shine.
Note to the lighties
You’re blessed with the enthusiasm of youth and the paddle power of an energiser bunny. Just don’t think you can keep paddling on the inside and taking off on all the in-betweeners if it means you’ve snaked around ou’s to get them. Take your place in the queue like everyone else, wait your turn. If you’re impatient, then go paddle off and find your own lil peak or section of reef and catch your 50 waves an hour without annoying everyone else.
It’s long overdue for the locals to assert some authority back in the line-up and explain the road rules to the gremmies (and kooks) . Gremmies, make no mistake - we love you, but there is a pecking order, and you're right near the bottom...one above the kooks. That's just how the cookie crumbles.
Lighties: If you keep paddling round peeps they just gonna go....right after they given you a snotklap
Close encounters. Rule # 4 applies.
Note to Beginners aka kooks
Like it or not, if you’re learning, you’re classified as a kook. Take it on the chin. Practice hard and upgrade from kook status soon as you can. But until then take note of the following:
It's not a great idea paddle out at prime spots.....like Avo’s or Hummies when it’s cooking. You will get in the way. You will be a danger to yourself and others. You will muck up ou’s waves. They will not be happy. Rather wait til your ability matches the surf spot and conditions before you head out.
Rather stay out of the main line-up at the popular spots until you can actually stand/surf. If you're taking your first driving lesson would you expect to head out into the middle of peak hour traffic in Joburg and not have something go pear-shaped? Look for a less crowded area, find some lil waves away from the busy surf-zone. You don’t need a good wave or a set whilst you learning. You need a nice foamie to practice on. Head to Kings Beach or Denvils, or find a spot further up or down the reef/beach by yourself. Don't worry -you'll get to surf the good spots soon - once you know what you're doing.
Read Rules #1 though 10 again, and again, and again.
33 peeps. No waves. Go figure.
This micro-grom learning at the right spot...the beach! Image Ang Slabbert
In super-crowded line-ups, heavily localised spots, or shifty beachies, it’s kinda hard to abide by all the rules all the time, but make an effort, and if everyone else does the same it should be a better session for everyone, instead of the ou’s getting all surf raged and wanting to rip peeps heads off.
If some guy (or gal) is acting like a kook, clueless or chop….just politely mention where they’re going wrong. Doesn't help to just straight out kak on someone. And if you’re the peep getting corrected, don’t puff out your chest and act all affronted – you’re getting a quiet word cos you’re cocking it up, so open your ears instead of your mouth.
Locals, step up. We need a visible hierarchy, not chaotic free-for-all anarchy. So speak up and keep the crowds in check instead of grumbling under your breath.
Surfing is inherently non-conforming, so it’s hard to dictate rules. Millerslocal certainly isn’t making these rules, rather just pointing out what they are. The only laws we have are self-imposed, and self-enforced. Listen to your moral compass out there, unless you’re a complete muppet.
But no matter how you skin the cat, some form of line-up etiquette definitely makes for a more pleasant session for everyone. Its amazing how one idiot can paddle out and totally ruin the vibe.... so don’t be that idiot.