Surfing Etiquette

RIGHT OF WAY and DROP IN rules explained.
Words and illustrations: Abbi Hughes, Photo: Sharpy.


Surfing etiquette is one of the most important things to know before you hit the water. Surfing has exploded in popularity and line-ups are becoming more crowded, so it’s more important than ever to know these unwritten codes of conduct. As more and more people flock to ride the waves, adhering to surfing etiquette ensures there are less collisions, rights of way are abided by, and – most importantly – that everyone gets a wave and has fun!

If you break these rules intentionally, you are openly welcoming a splash in the face or a verbal blast. Don’t worry if you accidentally drop in, everyone was learning once and hopefully you’ll be let off, but it does help to know the rules of the waves. The ocean can be a dangerous playground, so make sure you know the rules and stick to them.


This rule is quite simple: whoever is closest to the peak of the wave (part of the wave that breaks into white water first) has priority over other surfers paddling for the same wave.

Dropping in means that you have have blocked someones route down the wave when they had priority. This leads to anger from the other surfer and you feeling rubbish that you ruined someone else’s ride.

Drop In


The key things to be aware of:
1. If someone is already up and riding a wave, don’t even attempt to paddle for it.
2. Don’t try a late take-off if someone is already riding the wave – even if you are technically in the right by being closest to the peak. This could lead to a nasty collision if the surfer in the wrong makes a fast manoeuvre back into you!
3. Don’t paddle for a section later down the line (waves can break in sections, not every wave will be completely clean). Many good surfers can continue through fast sections and you don’t want to drop in on them.
4. If a surfer falls off the wave you want, if you are next in line at the peak you are welcome to paddle for it. We don’t recommend this for learners, take your time and you will find the perfect wave.

A-Frame Wave


5. A-frames or split peaks allow two surfers to ride the same wave simultaneously, going in different directions. If a wave is going to closeout, both surfers have right of way. Always kick out or surf into the white water to avoid a nasty and speedy collision.

For more surfing tips get The Surf Girl Handbook or head to