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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Estess

Surf Etiquette 101: Rules to Follow When Surfing in Santa Cruz

Surfing requires skill, coordination, timing and knowledge. That said, there are many great beginner surf spots in Santa Cruz such as Capitola Jetty and Cowell's Beach. It’s important for surfers of every skill level to remember that there are important rules of etiquette in surfing. 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 before paddling out:



1. Respect 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.

2. Don’t “snake”: Don't drop-in on someone else's wave (also known as “burning”). Basically, don’t cut someone off that’s already on a wave.

3. Give priority:

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

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

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

5. Don't be a "hog": 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.

6. Be aware of your surroundings: Keep an eye on other surfers, looking out for rocks or other hazards in the water, and pay attention to changing conditions.

  • Make sure to be careful entering and exiting the water. 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.

7. 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!

8. 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.

9. 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 831.200.6338 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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