Went surfing yesterday and was surprised by the large volume of folks on the water.  Usually NW surfing in December is a scant bunch of folks willing to brave the 46F water and cold air.  But various factors attributed to the crowd – a bit of sun, the first time in weeks which brought the air temps to a balmy 58 degrees.  This year’s ski season is off to a slow start so many who abandon surfing for skiing/snowboarding are still waiting for snow. Then surf forecast sites listed Sunday as a great day to go out. A classic forecast, 12′ west swell, 14 seconds. The Seahawks were playing but it was predicted to be an easy win, so folks decided to surf instead or tailgate it in the parking lot.

Everyone knows surfing etiquette, but few take it seriously. At least in my neck of the woods up here in the Pacific Northwest. We rarely have line ups so if they form, many either don’t know how to follow the rules or choose not to.

For me, the most important aspects of Surfing Etiquette I use simply are (A.) to not take off on a wave with another at the same time. There’s different perspectives on this one.  For example if a bunch of us decide to paddle into a wave at the same time, no worries.  But if the person closest to the foam pile gets it first, the others need to drop off the backside.  If that person doesn’t get, then the next down the line gets priority.  If you’re out with friends and they are the only ones going for and catching a specific wave then it’s ok if they’re into it.  I see that all the time.  They know how each person surfs, or calls their direction before dropping in – “I’m going left, you’re going right.” But if you’re going for a wave with strangers and decide to drop in as you would with your friends – think first.  Do you know which way the other person is going? If they have priority but you go anyway, what’s the result going to be?

Case in point, a few of us yesterday experienced two SUPs drop in on each other on a steep wave. One went right the other left – but into each other.  A direct collision which surprisingly shocked each person.  It ended well but others around were surprised.  A woman next to me asked “don’t they know surfer’s etiquette?’ Not a good image for SUPs.

A bit earlier one of those involved with that collision decided to drop in on another steep wave directly in front of two surfers paddling out.  Luckily he spotted them just after his take-off and jumped off.  But his board shot forward with the wave and missed the above mentioned women by about two feet. Sketchy.  A friend used to paddle out with me on my side.  If a wave came in he’d swing it around with no warning and paddle for it nearly missing me.  Maybe it’s a compulsive trait – the need to get every wave no matter what even though more are coming only a few seconds away.

How to avoid?  Take a look around you before taking off.  Are there surfers on either your left or right wanting to take the same wave?  Are there anyone paddling out from the beach who may be in your path?  If so, can you clear them?  If not, don’t go. I see it the same as crossing a busy street.  Do you cross without looking?  Sometimes I’ve noticed surfers so focused on catching a wave they mentally block out everything around them. And even Eddy may not go.

Don’t jump on a wave which another surfer is already riding.  This happened repeatedly yesterday. I’m the only one taking a specific wave, all’s good, then while I’m surfing down the line a surfer paddling out decides to swing it around and catch my wave.  One time it happened in front of me in the direction I was going thus could’ve be a collision issue. I pulled off the wave to avoid anything.  The other happened behind me.  And behind us were an entire set of waves with no one on them, why not take those?  I think it’s a matter of patience – more waves are coming folks!

Learn more about surfing etiquette:
Bill of Lefts and Rights – Surfline
Surfing Handbook
Surf Etiquette
How to not crowd surf spots (video)

Questions? Work with us….
Rob Casey
salmonbaypaddle@gmail.com / 206-465-7167
Seattle, WA USA

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