June 14, 2022 16 min read

One of the best things about surfing is the unique language that comes along with it.

Surfers have their own way of talking that is not only descriptive but also creative.

Here are some of the most common terms you’ll hear while out on the waves:

A-frame

An A-frame is a wave that breaks equally on both sides. This is the perfect wave for doing tricks. So when you’re out on the water and you see an A-frame, be sure to paddle over and catch some waves!

surf language

Aerial

A maneuver in which the surfer and board leaves the water and re-enter on the wave face.

Backdoor

A backdoor is a term used in surfing to describe a wave that breaks further out from the shore than the main peak, and often at a different angle. Backdoor waves are notoriously difficult to surf but can be some of the most rewarding waves to ride.

Backside

Backside refers to when a surfer is facing the wave, and their back is to the wave’s peak. This is the opposite of frontside when a surfer has their back to the wave’s trough.

Barrel

A barrel is one of the most thrilling parts of surfing. When a wave breaks just right, a surfer can ride inside the hollow part of the wave, known as the barrel. The surfer is momentarily shielded from the sun, wind, and spray as they race along inside the wave.

Beach break

A beach break is a type of wave that forms near the shore. Beach breaks are usually not as big or powerful as waves that form further out in the ocean.

Blown-out

Blown-out is a term used to describe waves that are no longer surfable. The waves have broken too far from the shore, making them unrideable.

Bottom turn

A bottom turn is one of the most important maneuvers in surfing. It is the turn that allows you to reposition yourself on the wave face and set up for your next move. A bottom turn can be executed on any wave, but it is most commonly used on waves with a steep face.

surfer on surfboard

Break

A place where waves break.

Carve

Carving is a surfing technique in which a surfer turns the board sharply using the rails. Carving is used to generate speed and to make tight turns.

Carving is a style of surfing that is often used in competitive surfing.

Caught inside

It means that you're stuck in the impact zone, where the waves are breaking, and it's very difficult to get out. If you're caught inside, the best thing to do is to wait it out and hope that the waves will die down.

Channel

"Channel" is a term used in surfing that refers to a deep part of the wave that is good for riding.

A channel is usually found near the shore, where the wave has broken and is then moving back out to sea.

Choppy

The term "choppy" is used to describe waves that are short, close together, and have a foamy appearance. These waves are often found in the surf zone, where the water is shallow and the bottom is uneven. Choppy waves can make it difficult to paddle out to the wave break, and they can also be dangerous for beginners.


Close-out

"Close-out" is a term used in surfing to describe a wave that is breaking too close to the shore for a surfer to paddle into. A close-out can also be caused by a surfer paddling too late and getting caught inside the wave.

Curl

A curl is created when the waves break and form a tube, or hollow, around the surfer. When a surfer is riding a curl, they are said to be "tubing." This is considered one of the most exhilarating and challenging experiences in surfing.

surf board

Cutback

A cutback is a turn made on a wave in surfing. It is executed by carving the surfboard sharply from the top of the wave back towards the wave's peak. This maneuver is often used to gain speed or to change direction.

Dawn patrol

Dawn Patrol is the first wave of the day and usually the best. It's the perfect time to catch some waves before work or school.

Deck

The top part of a surfboard.

Ding

When you’re out in the lineup and someone yells “Ding!” they’re not announcing the arrival of lunch. They’re warning you that your surfboard is damaged and needs to be fixed before you paddle back out. Dings are unfortunately a part of surfing.

Drop

"Drop" is a term that is used to describe the act of paddling out to catch a wave. It is also used to refer to the moment when a surfer first catches a wave. When a surfer drops in on a wave, they are entering the wave from the top.

Drop-in

When you're out in the water and someone paddles for a wave that you're already upon, that's called a drop-in. It's considered very poor etiquette and is generally frowned upon by other surfers. If you're new to the sport, be sure to avoid drop-ins at all costs!

Duck-dive

Duck-diving is a maneuver that is used to get under waves so that you can paddle out to the surf. It is a vital part of surfing and once you master it, you will be able to enjoy the waves like never before.

Eskimo roll

An Eskimo roll is a move used in surfing to right oneself after falling off a surfboard. The surfer flips the surfboard over so that it is upside down, then grabs the rails of the board and lifts their body up and over.

surfing fins

Face

Face refers to the front of the wave. The face is the part of the wave that the surfer rides on.

Fins

A fin is a hydrofoil mounted on the rear of the surfboard. The purpose of the fin is to provide directional stability and control through foot-steered fins. Surfboards typically have two to three fins. The surfboard's fins are also a place where the surfer's foot can grip the board to help with turns.

Fish

A small surfboard, usually under 5'8".

Flash

When a wave breaks suddenly and unexpectedly.

Flat

"Flat" is a term used to describe a wave that is not breaking.

Foamies

Foamies are surfboards made out of foam, as opposed to the more traditional boards made out of fiberglass and resin. While they may not be the most stylish boards out there, they are incredibly easy to use and are a great choice for beginners.

Front-side

Front-side is a term that describes when a surfer is facing the wave. When you're front-side, you're in a position to catch the wave and ride it.

Funboard

Funboards are usually around 7 feet long and have a wide nose and tail. This makes them stable and easy to paddle. They are also easy to catch waves on and generate a lot of speed.

Glassy

This refers to the smooth, mirror-like surface of the water when the waves are good. Glassy conditions are ideal for surfing, so you'll want to keep an eye out for them!

Goofy foot

The term "goofy foot" is used to describe a surfer who rides a wave with their right foot forward. This is the opposite of the more common stance of having the left foot forward. Goofy footers make up a minority of surfers, but they can often be more successful in certain types of waves.

Gnarly

"Gnarly" is a term used by surfers to describe waves that are large and powerful. The term can also be used to describe other things that are extreme or dangerous.

Green room

The term "green room" is a surf lingo term that is used to describe the area behind the wave. This area is typically calm and free of white water.

surfboards

Green wave

Green waves are created when the wave hasn't broken yet and is still rolling in towards the shore. When you're surfing, you want to try to catch a green wave because it will give you a longer ride.

Groundswell

Groundswell is defined as a large wave that has been generated by the wind. This is different from a wave that has been generated by the tide. Groundswells are typically more powerful and can be more challenging to surf.

Grom

A grom is a young surfer who is eager to learn and progress their skills in the sport. The term is derived from the word 'grommet', which is a young surfer who is inexperienced. The word 'grom' is used to describe both boys and girls who surf.

Gun

A gun is a surfboard that is specifically designed for big waves. It is usually longer and narrower than a standard surfboard and has a pointed nose. The extra length and width help the board to paddle faster and catch waves more easily.

The pointed nose helps the board to penetrate the waves and keep the rider stable.

Hang five

Hang five is a term used by surfers that means to place both hands and both feet on the surfboard. This is generally done when performing a trick or riding a wave.

Hang loose

The term “hang loose” is a common surf lingo that is used to describe the laid-back and carefree lifestyle of surfers. The phrase is often used as a greeting or farewell, and can also be used to show agreement or approval.

Hang-ten

This means putting both feet on the nose of the surfboard and hanging them over the edge. It's a challenging maneuver and takes a lot of balance, but it looks really cool.


Heat

Heat is one term that is used to describe the level of competition in a surfing event. When the level of competition is high, it is said to be a "heat wave."

Hollow waves

Hollow waves are a type of wave that breaks with a more concave face. These waves are typically found in reef and point breaks and can be a bit more challenging to surf than other types of waves. When surfing a hollow wave, it's important to stay near the peak of the wave and to keep your turns tight.

Hybrid

A hybrid surfboard is one that combines the best features of both shortboards and longboards. They’re usually around the same length as a shortboard, but with a wider nose and a fuller outline.

surfing terms

Impact zone

In surfing, the "impact zone" is the area where waves are breaking. It's important to know where the impact zone is because it's where you're most likely to get hit by a wave. The impact zone can be different from one beach to the next, so it's important to ask a local surfer or lifeguard where it is before you start surfing.

Inside

This means between the breaking waves and shoreline.

Kick-out

In surfing, a kick-out is when the rider intentionally exits the wave before it breaks. This can be done for a number of reasons, such as avoiding a collision, or simply because the wave is not good enough to ride.

Kook

A kook is someone who doesn't know how to surf or someone who is acting inappropriately while surfing.

Left-hander

A left-hander is a surfer who rides on the left side of the wave. This is the opposite of a right-hander, who rides on the right side of the wave. Left-handers are often considered to be more advanced surfers because they have to learn to surf in both directions.

Line-up

"Line-Up" is a term used in surfing that refers to the location where the waves are breaking. The line-up is often divided into sections, depending on the size and type of wave.

Lines

This term refers to the lines of waves coming to the shore.

Lip

"Lip" is a term used in surfing to describe the part of the wave that breaks first. This is the most critical part of the wave for the surfer, as it is where they need to position themselves in order to catch the wave.

The lip can also be used to refer to the lip of the board, which is the front edge.

Localism

When locals take over a break and keep outsiders from surfing there.

Locals

This term refers to the local surfers in the area.

Longboard

A longboard is a type of surfboard that is characterized by its length. They are usually between 9 and 12 feet long, which makes them stable and easy to ride.

Messy

Not regular conditions for surfing.

Mush

"Mush" is a common surf term that refers to waves that are not ideal for surfing. Mushy waves are often slow and lack the power and energy that make for good surfing conditions. While mushy waves can be frustrating for surfers, they can also be a good place to learn and practice new techniques.

Nose

This refers to the front part of the surfboard.

Nose-dive

It refers to when your surfboard's nose hits the water first, causing you to dive head-first into the wave. This can be a big mistake if you're not prepared for it, so it's important to be aware of the term and what it means.

girl holding surfboard

Offshore

The term offshore is also used to describe the direction of a wave as it breaks. When a wave breaks from the shore out to the lineup, it is said to be breaking offshore.

Onshore

Onshore – this is when the wind is blowing towards the shore, making the waves choppier.

Overhead

In surfing, overhead is a wave that is taller than the surfer. It's the kind of wave that most people think of when they think of surfing. Overhead waves are usually found in Hawaii and other tropical surf spots.

Peak

This is the highest part of a breaking wave.

Pit

"Pit" refers to the hole in the wave created by the surfer's body.

Pitted

In surfing, the term "pitted" is used to describe a wave that is breaking perfectly. A pitted wave is often coveted by surfers, as it provides an ideal ride.

Pocket

A wave pocket is an area in front of the wave where the water is deepest. This is the area where you want to be when paddling for a wave. Being in the wave pocket will help you catch the wave easier and also help you stay on your board. So, next time you're out surfing, be sure to pay attention to where the wave pocket is and use it to your advantage!

Point-break

A point-break is a type of wave that is created when the water breaks over a point or promontory. Point breaks are great for surfing because they provide a long, consistent wave.

relaxing surfing

Pop-up

Pop-up is a term used in surfing to describe a wave that breaks unexpectedly close to the shore. The term can also be used to describe a sudden wave of energy or excitement.

Pumping

Pumping is a term used to describe waves that are breaking with a lot of power. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as the wind, the tide, or the swell. When waves are pumping, it's a good time to go surfing!

Quiver

In surf lingo, a quiver refers to a surfer's collection of boards. The average quiver will have a shortboard, a longboard, and a fish. The shortboard is the go-to board for most surfers. It's versatile and can be used in a variety of wave conditions. The longboard is best for bigger waves and the fish is best for small waves.

Rails

A rail is the edge of a surfboard and is an important part of surfing. Rails help the surfboard grip the wave and provide stability. There are different types of rails, including round, square, and beveled.

Reformer

In surf lingo, a reformer is somebody who drops in on another surfer’s wave, thereby stealing it. While there are different schools of thought on whether or not reformers are scoundrels or simply passionate surfers who are willing to take risks, one thing’s for sure – they’re not always the most popular guys in the lineup.

Regular-footed

A "regular-foot" refers to a surfer who has their left foot forward on the board and is the most common stance. If you're not sure which foot to put forward, regular-foot is a good stance to start with.

Right-hander

A right-hander is a term used in surfing to describe a wave that breaks from right to left. The term is used to describe the direction the wave is breaking, as well as the direction the surfer will take when riding the wave.

Right of way

Right of way is the legal right to occupy a certain space, and in surfing, it means the right to catch a wave. When two or more surfers are paddling for the same wave, the surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. So, if you're paddling for a wave and someone else is already on it, you'll have to wait your turn.

surfing words

Riptide

A riptide is a strong, narrow current of water that flows out from the shore. Riptides can occur anywhere there is a large body of water, but they are most common in the ocean. Riptides are caused by the tide and the wind. When the tide is coming in, the water is flowing towards the shore. This can cause a strong current to form. The wind can also cause a riptide by blowing the water towards the shore.

Rocker

A "rocker" in surfing is the curve of the board from nose to tail. The number of rockers influences how a surfboard will perform in different types of waves. A board with more rocker is easier to turn, but doesn't plane as well. A board with less rocker planes is better but is harder to turn.

Section

A segment or part of a wave.

Set

A set is a group of waves.

Shaka

Shaka is a term used in surfing that is derived from the Hawaiian gesture of the same name. The gesture is made by extending the thumb and pinky finger while holding the other fingers close to the palm. The shaka gesture is used as ashow of support or as a general greeting.

Shape

When talking about a wave: A term describing the quality of a wave as it breaks.
When talking about surfboards: A shape means the design of the surfboard.

Shaper

In the surfing world, a shaper is a craftsman who designs and builds surfboards. Shapers use a variety of tools and techniques to create boards that are both functional and stylish.

Shorebreak

Shorebreak is a surfing term that refers to waves that break directly on the shoreline. These waves are typically very powerful and can be dangerous for beginner and intermediate surfers.

Shortboard

A shortboard is a type of surfboard that is generally used in more powerful waves. It is shorter and wider than a longboard, and often has a more aggressive shape.

The term "shortboard" is often used interchangeably with "performance board."

Shove-it

Moving the surfboard 180° or 360° under the surfer while riding.

Sick

When a surfer says they’re sick, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually ill. It can simply mean they’re stoked about the waves, or that the surfing conditions are great.

Slotted

If a surfer is slotted, it means that they are in the perfect position to catch a wave. This is usually determined by the surfer's position in the lineup.

Snaking

Snaking is a term that is used to describe when a surfer cuts in front of another surfer. This is considered to be rude and is generally not tolerated by the surfing community.

Softboard

A soft board is a type of surfboard that is generally shorter and thicker than a standard board and is made of soft material. Softboards are often used by beginners, as they are easier to control and less likely to cause injury.

Soup

This refers to the foam of a wave.

surfers on the beach

Spat-out

It refers to when a wave breaks and throws water upward, causing the surfer to be ejected from their board. While it may not be the most pleasant experience, it’s all part of the fun of surfing!

Spit

In surfing, the "spit" is the spray of water that is created when waves break. This term is often used to describe the action of waves crashing onto the shore.

Stick

A “stick” is a surfboard.

Stoked

Stoked is a term used by surfers to describe the feeling of excitement and happiness. The term is often used to describe the feeling of being ready to go surfing.

Stringer

A stringer is a central beam that runs down the middle of a surfboard. It's usually made of wood, and it's what gives the board its strength.

Swell

A swell is a series of waves that are generated by the wind blowing over a large body of water. The waves in a swell are usually of uniform size and shape, and they travel in a similar direction. Swells are an important part of surfing, as they are what create the waves that surfers ride.

Tail

"Tail" is a term used to describe the back end or rear of the surfboard. The tail is an important part of the surfboard because it helps with maneuverability and speed. When you're surfing, you want to be able to control your surfboard so you can ride the waves the way you want to. The tail is one of the parts of the surfboard that can help you do that.

Take-off

"Take-off" is a term used in surfing lingo to describe the moment when a wave starts to break. The take-off is the most critical part of a wave and can make or break a ride. A good take-off will set you up for a successful ride, while a bad take-off can wipe you out.

surfers on waves

Thruster

A thruster is a type of surfboard fin configuration consisting of three fins, each equally important in creating the lift needed to “thrust” the board forward. This design is most often used in shortboards and is the standard fin setup in professional surfing.

Tube

The term "tube" is used to describe the perfect wave that a surfer can ride inside of. When a wave breaks just right, it forms a hollow tube that the surfer can ride inside of. It's the ultimate surfing experience and something that every surfer strives for.

Turtle roll

The term "turtle roll" is a surf lingo term that refers to a move that is performed when surfing. The move is executed by rolling up into a tuck position and then releasing the surfboard so that it rolls over the wave.

The turtle roll is a move that is often used to avoid getting caught in the impact zone of a wave.

Wall

It means the face of the wave.

Washing machine

A washing machine is a type of wave that forms in a particular way. When the wave breaks, it forms a circular pattern that can trap a surfer inside. This can be a dangerous situation, so it’s important to be aware of it and know how to avoid it.

Wave hog

A wave hog is someone who paddles for a wave, but then doesn’t let anyone else have it. They’ll just keep riding it until they fall off or paddle back out to the lineup and take another one. Wave hogs are the worst because they not only ruin your wave, but also prevent you from catching one yourself.

girl with surfboard

Wax

Wax is a substance that is applied to the surfboard in order to provide traction for the surfer. There are different types of wax, and the wax can be applied in different ways. You might hear someone say they are going to "wax up" their board before they go out surfing.

White water

The water that pushes up from the bottom of the wave as it begins to break.

Wipe-out

A wipe-out in surfing is when the waves crash over you and sweep you under the water. The term is most often used to describe a dramatic fall, but can also be used to describe any time you get knocked off your board.

Worked

It means being knocked off a wave.

Author - Olivia Poglianich
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia Poglianich          

Content Strategist

Olivia Poglianich is a nomadic brand strategist and copywriter in the surf, watersports and outdoor adventure space who has worked with brands such as Visa, Disney and Grey Goose. Her writing has taken her all over the world, from a Serbian music festival to a Malaysian art and culture event. Olivia is a graduate of Cornell University and is often writing or reading about travel, hospitality, the start-up ecosystem or career coaching. Her latest interests are at the intersection of web3 and communal living, both on and offline.



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