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  • Writer's pictureAce Woods

Navigating the Lineup: Understanding Surf Etiquette in Santa Cruz

  1. Surfing is a sport that requires skill, coordination, timing and knowledge. With its popularity at an all time high, it’s important for surfers of every skill level to remember that there are important rules of etiquette that should be followed in the water. These rules are in place to keep everyone safe and to ensure that everyone has a good time while surfing. Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to surf etiquette:




1. Don’t “snake”: Never drop-in on someone else's wave (also known as “burning”). Basically, don’t cut someone off that’s already on a wave.

2. Respect the locals: When surfing at a new spot, it's important to show respect to the locals who have been surfing there for years. This means waiting your turn.

3. Give property priority:

  • The surfer positioned closest to breaking part of the wave typically has first priority.

  • If a surfer has already taken a wave, their priority will shift to the next surfer in correct positioning that has not yet taken a wave.

4. Don't back-paddle: Back-paddling is when a surfer paddles around another surfer to get in position for a wave. This is not only rude, but it can also be dangerous.

5. Communicate: If you're not sure who has priority on a wave, it's always a good idea to communicate with the other surfers in the water. You can do this by making eye contact or giving a friendly nod.

6. Don't hog waves: Everyone wants a chance to catch a good wave, so don't be the surfer who catches every wave and leaves nothing for the others. Be sure to share the waves and give others a chance to catch some too.

7. Be aware of your surroundings: When you're surfing, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and surf conditions at all times. This means keeping an eye on other surfers, looking out for rocks or other hazards in the water, and paying attention to the changing conditions.

  • Make sure to be careful entering and exiting the water. It may be a good idea to watch a few surfers enter and exit if you aren't sure about the safest entry/exit at a particular spot. Some of the stairs (ex: 38th Avenue in Pleasure Point) are notoriously slippery and dangerous at high tide.

  • Check tides and surf reports online to make sure conditions are not outside your skill level.

8. Respect the beach: Surfing is a sport that is all about being one with nature, so it's important to respect the beach and the environment around it. This means not leaving trash on the beach, not disturbing wildlife, and following any local rules or regulations. Pack your trash!

9. Stay calm: Surfing can be a high-pressure sport, but it's important to stay calm and relaxed in the water. Getting angry or frustrated can lead to unsafe situations and can ruin the experience for everyone else.

10. Go around: When paddling out, always try to go around the break not through it so you can stay clear of surfers on the waves.

11. Wear a leash: Hang on to your surfboard so that you do not endanger others.


Each surf break is unique, with different take off points and intersecting waves, with different dynamics given swell direction and size, tide, and wind conditions. “Lineups” range from casual and relaxed to competitive and fast paced. It’s important to watch and study the lineup before entering the water. Lineups in large part are determined by skill level and ability to position effectively. Competitive lineups are organized off of priority. Priority is determined by positioning and the order in which surfers have entered the lineup. When a surfer is positioned closest to the breaking wave, priority is assumed. Once the surfer has taken a wave, or attempts to paddle for a wave and misses, priority shifts to the next surfer in the lineup. At quality surf breaks, the lineup is usually more defined and can be seen as lines of surfers or groups of lines of surfers depending on the amount of surf-able waves.



Surf etiquette is all about showing respect to other surfers, the environment, and yourself. By following these simple rules, you can ensure that everyone has a good time in the water and stays safe while doing so. Questions about where to surf in Santa Cruz based on your skill level? Give us a call/text at 831.419.5852 and our team of locals will help point you in the right direction! We can even help arrange private surf lessons.

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