How to Talk Like a Surfer
The surfing community has its own way of communicating. We will go through everything that you need to know in order to fall right in the pocket and talk like a true surfing pro.
You can't walk the walk without talking, right? It’s no secret that every subculture has its own means of communication and codified vocabulary that you can only pick up if you’re on the inside.
You’ve probably found yourself on the other side of the fence before. Just enter a specialized shop of any kind and roam around for a bit. You are bound to notice language that is somewhat out of place. Some of the terms might sound completely foreign to you as well.
The official term for the phenomenon is known as groupspeak. By definition, it’s a term that describes the language and terminology used by a select group of people.
You might be fooled to think that it’s just about inflections and jargon, but there is a lot more than that. A subculture language is rooted deep in the behavior of the group. The way that their body language accentuates their words and phrases is just as important as the phrases themselves.
Ease Your Way In
To an outsider, the subculture vocabulary might even sound rude, but it’s actually a form of endearment. It’s a way of saying: “Hey, we’re in this together. We belong.”
Surfing is no different when it comes to the foundation of subculture jargon because it’s how we form connections with people and find our tribe.
Quite simply, it’s a way of separating the surf folk from the regular folk and, in doing so, picking up a few nagging habits along the way.
Have you found yourself having a normal conversation with someone, and then as soon as another surfer enters the fold, you start talking code immediately on auto-pilot? If so, then you’re already on the inside of the surf lingo. If not, worry not; we will get you up to speed in no time.
Like anything else when it comes to surfing, it’s going to take some time to get accommodated to the surfing terms, too. You will feel strange and out of place when saying these things to your friends and relatives outside the surfing community, but after a while, your brain will know when to switch to surf-speak on its own.
The Breaking Waves Talk
One of the most frequent occurrences of surf talk takes place in between breaking waves. The waves are coming in at certain intervals that can be more or less anticipated.
So, it’s the best time to share your impressions of what just took place. You all just went through the same experience and are soaked in adrenaline. You’re not using the Queen’s English here.
It might be more than just sharing impressions, though. You might notice something that can be of great help to a fellow surfer, or maybe they saw something that you were doing that you might do better before the next breaking wave comes in.
In this situation, it all depends, really—there is no rulebook. The interesting thing is that you have to be in the know with surf terms in order to understand what someone is trying to convey to you. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of acquired nodding and far-away glances.
Take Advantage of the Surf Session
Surf sessions are the perfect spot to develop and polish your surf-speak. You’re on the beach with a group of surfers for about two hours.
There is plenty of time to do everything. You will notice that some people like to keep more to themselves and not give in to the whole surf vibe. However, some welcome it with open arms and never hide their enthusiasm.
Naturally, the first things that you will have to know and implement are words and phrases that help you with getting the point across. There are certain terms that you wouldn't know if you are not a surfer.
Terms such as wave breaks, a double-up wave, beach break, double overhead, turtle roll, beach break, goofy foot, and valley sheep are obviously a lot more important than terms such as rad, gnarly, and cowabunga.
How to Fit In as a Young or Inexperienced Surfer
Well, don’t forget that at some point, everyone, and we mean literally everyone, has been an inexperienced beginner. Veteran surfers know this, and they won’t expect you to be on top of everything from day one.
That being said, if you don’t make an effort to pick up on things, it will take you a lot more time than if you have your ear to the street, or in this case, the beach.
Keep relaxed and don’t force phrases out of your mouth. If you’re just starting out it's smart to do more listening than talking. Don’t overthink it but know when to pull back and when to go with the flow.
Some of the Terms That You Will Come Across
Let’s go over some of the terms that you are bound to hear even by participating even in a single surf session. If you go through these, you are going to give yourself a nice head start.
A wipeout is a word used to describe a surfer that has been brought down from their board by a big mass of water. If you’re just starting out, you’ll be getting a lot of these. When a veteran surfer approaches you and gives you advice, they will probably say something like: “So, next time, if you don’t want to get wiped out…”
A leggie is the rope that is tied to your leg to keep your board from drifting away from you. It’s a cord that is fixed to the tail end of the surfboard, so when you get wiped out, you still have your board with you. Surfers usually go with thicker ones when they go catching bigger waves and stick to normal ones when they’re facing small waves.
The pocket is the general area that is in close proximity to the curl. This is where you should be at peak speed because you are moving at the steepest angle.
A thruster is a fin setup that makes use of three identical fins at the bottom of the board. A thruster board utilizes three equally sized fins on the bottom of the surfboard. It’s been around since the early 1980s, so you’ll hear a lot of old-timers throwing it around on a regular basis.
A kook is a person that has little regard for their surroundings and fellow surfers. It’s basically someone that doesn’t really know the surfing ways and doesn’t make an effort to get better. You don’t want to be a kook. Never be a kook.
A cutback is a surfing move that is done when a surfer is riding on the face of the wave and goes for a turn. Anyone who wants to speak like a surfer should know that a cutback is a surfing maneuver. If everything goes to plan, the rider is able to jump off the whitewash at great speeds. The cutback is one of the very first moves that most beginner surfers get a hold of and execute right.
A punt is an act of going for a board jump that raises your surfboard above the level of the water. This is a very difficult move to pull off, so you shouldn’t attempt it if you aren’t experienced. The move has to be done at great speed and at a point where the surfer is able to jump off and land safely.
Onshore and Offshore
You will be hearing a lot of these two words because they are used to indicate the direction in which the wind is blowing. If the wind is blowing to the sea, then that’s referred to as offshore wind. Onshore wind is the opposite—when the direction is from the ocean to the beach.
Generally, offshore waves are easier to manage because they offer a better cushion when they break and aren’t dependent on the shallow ground beneath them for their eventual break.
A ramp is the apex point from which a surfer jumps off in order to perform an aerial move. The ramp is always at the lip of the wave. You will know it when you get there. You will feel the point when you cannot get any higher at the same speed anymore.
Going Over the Falls
This term is used to describe when a wave is pulling back everything in sight. It might seem like a cartoon motion when seen from afar, but when you go under, there is usually hell to pay. It’s not super dangerous, but it’s just not a pleasant experience that you should be seeking out either.
A duck dive is a maneuver when the surfer pushes their board underwater so that they can dive beneath an incoming wave. It got its name after the motion that ducks do in order to get the same result when facing commotion.
A reformer is a type of wave that breaks out and then breaks out again in a short period of time. This type of wave is perfect for surfers that are looking to up their chops. It gives them a lot of time to think things through and make their moves without being afraid that they will be too slow and get wiped out.
The back is used to describe the spot that clears up after a passing wave. Experienced surfers spot the back immediately and move towards it so that they can have a better position when the next wave comes their way.
Shoreys are waves that break on the shores of the land. This means that the break is caused by the shallow terrain below. These waves can be sneaky and dangerous if the landing area is harsh.
The lineup is the area from which most surfers will take off onto an upcoming wave. Think of it as the surfer’s queue, where surfers wait their turn. It’s the place that you want to be because it’s the prime spot for an upcoming line of waves begging to be ridden.
A set is a group of waves that comes in tow and offers riders a lot of bang for their buck. This is because the motions are so powerful, making the ride that much more enjoyable if done right.
A twinny is a term that is used in order to describe a board that has two fins. This type of board dates back to the 1940s. Even so, it never became super popular, and eventually, the three-fin setup took over as the default and most sought-after fin setup on the market.
That being said, there are still a lot of surfers that find use for the twinny setup. Nowadays, it’s usually found on boards that are designed for specific types of surf.
This phenomenon is when the wave wraps itself over the riders, and they are able to surf through it like a tube or cylinder. This is an exceptional phenomenon that looks very cool from every angle and that every surfer out there lusts for.
A wettie is a surf suit that protects the surfer from the environment and makes them perform better. Wetsuits come in all different shapes and sizes and are usually tied to the conditions where the surf takes place.
You can get them in virtually every color and color combination at different thicknesses and extremity length combos.
Boomie is the term that is used to describe a bombora. This is the Aboriginal term for a rock or reef that is somewhere away from the shore. This is quite an advanced term that does not get thrown around too often, so if you ever want to impress a veteran surfer, a boomie is what you should be talking about.
These are the simple terms that are used to describe your position in relation to the wave that you are riding.
This is a term that is used to refer to a wave that is breaking evenly at the same time instead of breaking gradually, section by section. It’s like a wall coming down at a moment's notice. Beginner surfers should definitely do their best to stay away from closeout waves.
The Pura Vida is a term that is used to describe the perfect break and has its origins in Costa Rica. There, it can also refer to a lifestyle where the surfer is deeply concerned with the surf and feels like they are one with the water.
A quiver is a term that describes a surfer’s arsenal of boards. Some surfers have literally hundreds of boards in their quiver. The term is bound to come up whenever someone starts a discussion about great and if the heart they have is ripe for their skills or the job at hand.
To be stoked is to feel fulfilled and happy with your performance of the day.
It can also be used to describe the state that surfers go into when they are about to board a big wave. It translates to hype but in a prolonged and subdued manner that lasts and keeps lasting.
Apart from what you may be thinking, Malibu or Mal is used to refer to a type of board that isn’t over 11 feet long and offers outstanding buoyancy. They are always among beginners’ favorites because they are very forgiving by nature and feature a mixture of timber and fiberglass in their construction.
The shoulder is the area of the wave that extends beyond its pocket. Here, there is less moving energy, but it’s a lot easier for riders to make lateral movements.
A drop-in is a term used to refer to a surfer that drops into a wave that another surfer is already riding. For one, it’s extremely dangerous because the riders might collide with each other, and two, it’s almost always the drop-in surfer’s fault for not navigating the situation correctly. Please be considerate and do not become a drop-in, ever.
This term is used when a surfer is itching to take their game to the next level and dive into new and more challenging aspects of the surf. It can also be used to refer to the anticipation of trying out new gear.
The spell period is the time that has to elope before two consecutive waves pass through an area. This period can also be referred to as the interval between waves.
You will pick up on this one pretty quickly because you will start implementing it in order to gauge and describe the quality of the surf.
No Man’s Land
Well, no one wants to be stuck in no man’s land. The term is used to describe a rider that is stuck between the shore and a series of waves that just keeps on coming. There is nothing to do but wait this period out to the best of one’s abilities and hope for a clearing out in a timely manner.
A double-up is used to refer to when two incoming waves merge into one giant wave. Because they are headed in the same direction the energy that they carry is submerged and creates a true juggernaut of a wave. These waves can be very dangerous and difficult to ride, so it’s best to stay away from them if you spot them on the horizon.
A Few Words Before You Go…
Alright, so by now, you should be pretty well versed in surf slang and where it should and shouldn’t be applied. Don’t let it be something that weighs down on you. You'll get the hang of it by hanging with other surfers. It’s just a matter of time. Keep it on the level and focus on your craft. Remember, if you walk the walk you are bound to talk the talk, right?