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This article focuses on stand-up surfing. For other uses see Surfing

Surfer in wipeout

Surfing is the term is used for a surface water sport in which the person surfing moves along the face of a breaking ocean wave (the "surf"). However, surfing is not restricted to saltwater, but can sometimes take place on rivers, using a standing wave.The main use of the word "surfing" is for riding waves using a board on which the surfer stands. Other forms include bodyboarding, in which the individual riding the wave only partly raises his upper body from the board surface, and from bodysurfing, where no board at all is used.

Two major subdivisions within contemporary stand-up surfing are longboarding and shortboarding, reflecting differences in surfboard design and riding style.

In tow-in surfing (most often, but not exclusively, associated with big wave surfing), a surfer is towed into the wave by a motorized water vehicle, such as a jetski, generally because standard paddling is often ineffective when trying to match a large wave's higher speed.

Depending on wave size, direction, and on wind conditions, sailboats can also surf on larger waves on open sailing waters. Unlike "surfers", sailors usually do not surf in beach waves, and they usually do not go out in order to surf; instead, the wave and wind conditions may allow them to boat surf during a sailing trip. More recently, the same principle of craft-based surfing has been increasingly used by kayakers, notably in the sport of playboating, which is mostly carried out on rivers (see playspot).

Surfing-related sports such as paddleboarding and sea kayaking do not require waves, and other derivative sports such as kitesurfing and windsurfing rely primarily on wind for power, yet all of these tools may also be used to ride waves.

Recently with the use of V-drive boats, wakesurfing has grown. Wakesurfing is surfing behind a boat, riding the wave or wake which is created by the boat.


Surfing was a central part of ancient Hawaiian culture, and the chief was the most skilled wave rider in the community with the best board made from the best tree. Moreover, the ruling class had the best beaches and the best boards, and commoners were not allowed on the same beaches, but they could gain prestige by their ability to ride the surf on their extremely heavy boards. According to the same website , surfing permeated ancient Hawaiian society, including religion and myth, and Hawaiian chiefs would demonstrate and confirm their authority by the skills they displayed in the surf.

The art of surfing was first observed by Europeans in 1767, by the crewmembers of the Dolphin at Tahitimarker. Later, Lieutenant James King, wrote about the art when completing the journals of Captain James Cook upon Cook's death in 1779. When Mark Twain visited Hawaii in 1866 he wrote “In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf- bathing.”


A wave breaking.
Swell is generated when wind blows consistently over a large area of open water, called the wind's fetch. The size of a swell is determined by the strength of the wind and the length of its fetch and its duration. So, surf tends to be larger and more prevalent on coastlines exposed to large expanses of ocean traversed by intense low pressure systems.

Local wind conditions affect wave quality, since the ridable surface of a wave can become choppy in blustery conditions. Ideal surfing conditions include a light to moderate strength "offshore" wind, since this blows into the front of the wave making it barrel or tube.

The factor which most determines wave shape is the topography of the seabed directly behind and immediately beneath the breaking wave. The contours of the reef or bar front becomes stretched by diffraction; one must be sensitive to each of these factors. Each break is different, since the underwater topography of one place is unlike any other. At beach breaks, even the sandbanks change shape from week to week; therefore, it takes a commitment for surfers to find good waves (a skill dubbed "broceanography" by a few Californiamarker surfers). That is why enthusiasts have traditionally regarded surfing as more of a lifestyle than merely a sport. Nowadays, however, surf forecasting is aided by advances in information technology, whereby mathematical modeling graphically depicts the size and direction of swells moving around the globe.

A large wave breaking.
The regularity of swell varies across the globe and throughout the year. During winter, heavy swells are generated in the mid-latitudes, when the north and south polar fronts shift toward the Equator. The predominantly westerly winds generate swells that advance eastward. So, waves tend to be largest on west coasts during the winter months. However, an endless train of mid-latitude cyclones causes the isobars to become undulated, redirecting swells at regular intervals toward the tropics.

East coasts also receive heavy winter swells when low-pressure cells form in the sub-tropics, where their movement is inhibited by slow moving highs. These lows produce a shorter fetch than polar fronts, however they can still generate heavy swells, since their slower movement increases the duration of a particular wind direction. After all, the variables of fetch and duration both influence how long the wind acts over a wave as it travels, since a wave reaching the end of a fetch is effectively the same as the wind dying off.

During summer, heavy swells are generated when cyclones form in the tropics. Tropical cyclones form over warm seas, so their occurrence is influenced by El Niño & La Niña cycles. Their movements are unpredictable. They can even move westward, which is unique for a large scale weather system. In 1979, Tropical Cyclone Kerry wandered for three weeks across the Coral Seamarker and into Queenslandmarker before dissipating.

The quest for perfect surf has given rise to a field of tourism based on the surfing adventure. Yacht charters and surf camps offer surfers access to the high quality surf found in remote, tropical locations, where tradewinds ensure offshore conditions. Since winter swells are generated by mid-latitude cyclones, their regularity coincides with the passage of these lows. So, the swells arrive in pulses, each lasting for a couple of days, with a couple of days between each swell. Since bigger waves break in a different configuration, a rising swell is yet another variable to consider when assessing how to approach a break.

Wave intensity classification

Classification parameters
  • Tube shape defined by length to width ratio
    • Square: <1:1></1:1>
    • Round: 1-2:1
    • Almond: >2:1
  • Tube speed defined by angle of peel line
    • Fast: 30°
    • Medium: 45°
    • Slow: 60°

Wave intensity table
Fast Medium Slow
Square The Cobramarker Teahupoomarker Shark Island
Round Speediesmarker, Gnaraloo Banzai Pipelinemarker
Almond Lagundri Bay, Superbank Jeffreys Baymarker, Bells Beachmarker Angourie Point

Artificial reefs

The value of good surf has even prompted the construction of artificial reefs and sand bars to attract surf tourism. Of course, there is always the risk that one's vacation coincides with a "flat spell." Wave pools aim to solve that problem, by controlling all the elements that go into creating perfect surf, however there are only a handful of wave pools that can simulate good surfing waves, owing primarily to construction and operation costs and potential liability.

The availability of free model data from the NOAA has allowed the creation of several surf forecasting websites.

An artificial reef known as Chevron Reef, was constructed in El Segundo, Californiamarker in hopes of creating a new surfing area. However, the project was a failure, and the reef failed to produce any quality waves.

Surfers and surf culture

Surfers represent a diverse culture based on riding the naturally occurring process of ocean waves. Some people practice surfing as a recreational activity while others demonstrate extreme devotion to the sport by making it the central focus of their lives. Within the United States, surfing culture is most dominant in Californiamarker, Floridamarker and Hawaiimarker. Some historical markers of the culture included the woodie, the station wagon used to carry surfers' boards, as well as boardshorts, the long swim suits typically worn while surfing.

The sport of surfing has become so popular that it now represents a multi-billion dollar industry specially in clothing and fashion markets. Some people make a career out of surfing by receiving corporate sponsorships.

When the waves were flat, surfers endured in sidewalk surfing, which is now called skateboarding. Sidewalk surfing had a similar feel to surfing and made it possible to do it wherever, whenever. To create the feel of the wave, surfers sneaked into empty backyard swimming pools or bowls to ride in.


Surfing begins when the surfer finds a ridable wave on the horizon and then attempts to match its speed (by paddling or sometimes, by tow-in). Once the wave has started to carry the surfer forward, the surfer jumps to his feet and proceeds to ride down the face of the wave, generally staying just ahead of the breaking part (white water) of the wave (in a place often referred to as "the pocket" or "the curl"). A common problem for beginners is being unable to catch the wave in the first place, and one sign of a good surfer is the ability to catch a difficult wave that other surfers cannot.

A surfer going for the tube.
Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control their board in challenging conditions and/or catch and ride challenging waves, but by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as turning and carving. Some of the common turns have become recognizable tricks such as the "cutback" (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the "floater" (riding on the top of the breaking curl of the wave), and "off the lip" (banking off the top of the wave). A newer addition to surfing has been the progression of the "air" where a surfer is able to propel oneself off the wave and re-enter. Some of these maneuvers are now executed to extreme degrees, as with off-the-lips where a surfer over-rotates his turn and re-enters backward, or airs done in the same fashion, recovering either with re-rotation or continuing the over-rotation to come out with his nose forward again.

"Tube riding" is when a surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of him or her, forming a "tube" (or "barrel"), with the rider inside the hollow cylindrical portion of the wave. This difficult and sometimes dangerous procedure is arguably the most coveted and sought after goal in surfing.

"Hanging Ten" and "Hanging Five" are moves usually specific to longboarding. Hanging Ten refers to having both feet on the front end of the board with all of the surfer's toes off the edge, also known as noseriding. Hanging Five is having just one foot near the front, toes off the edge. Hanging Ten was first made famous by James (rip) Carman from the early Californian surfing beaches.

Common terms

  • Regular/Natural foot - Right foot on back of board
  • Goofy foot - Left foot on back of board
  • Take off - the start of a ride
  • Drop in - dropping into (engaging) the wave, most often as part of standing up
  • Snaking, Drop in on, cut off, or "burn" - taking off on a wave in front of someone closer to the peak (considered inappropriate)
  • Duck dive - pushing the board underwater, nose first, and diving through an oncoming wave instead of riding it
  • Rolling- Flipping a Longboard up-side-down, nose first and pulling through a breaking or broken wave when paddling out to the line-up
  • Snaking/Back-Paddling - paddling around someone to get into the best position for a wave (in essence, stealing it)
  • Pop-up - Going from lying on the board to standing, all in one jump
  • Bottom turn - the first turn at the bottom of the wave
  • Shoulder - the unbroken part of the wave
  • Cutback - a turn cutting back toward the breaking part of the wave
  • Fade - on take off, aiming toward the breaking part of the wave, before turning sharply and surfing in the direction the wave is breaking towards
  • Over the falls - When a surfer falls and the wave carries him in a circular motion with the lip of the wave, also referred to as the "wash cycle", being "pitched over" and being "sucked over" because the wave can suck the surfer off of the bottom and draw him or her "over the falls."
  • Pump - an up/down carving movement that generates speed along a wave
  • Stall - slowing down by shifting weight to the tail of the board or putting a hand in the water
  • Floater - riding up on the top of the breaking part of the wave, and coming down with it (invented at Terrigal Beach, Central Coast Australia)
  • Hang-five/hang ten - putting five or ten toes respectively over the nose of a longboard
  • Hang Heels - Facing backwards and putting the surfers' heels over the edge of a longboard.
  • Re-entry - hitting the lip vertically and re-rentering the wave in quick succession.
  • Switch-foot - having equal ability to surf regular foot or goofy foot (i.e. left foot forward or right foot forward) -- like being ambidextrous
  • Tube riding/Getting barreled - riding inside the hollow curl of a wave
  • Carve - turns (often accentuated)
  • Pearl - accidentally driving the nose of the board underwater, generally ending the ride
  • Off the Top - a turn on the top of a wave, either sharp or carving
  • Snap - a quick, sharp turn off the top of a wave
  • Fins-free snap (or "fins out") - a sharp turn where the fins slide off the top of the wave
  • Air/Aerial - riding the board briefly into the air above the wave, landing back upon the wave, and continuing to ride.
  • Grom/Grommet - young surfer (anyone younger than you)
  • Wipe Out- Falling off your surfboard while riding a wave. Accident while involved with surfing .
  • Close-out - When the wave breaks in front of, or potentially on top of, the rider. A wave is said to be "closed-out" when the wave breaks at every position along the face at once.
  • Snake - When a surfer who doesn't have the right of way, steals a wave from another surfer.
  • Hang-loose-Generally meaning "go for it" or "way to go". This displayed by having ones thumb and pinky fingers up while the index, middle and ring fingers remain in the palm. Then twistng ones wrist as if they are waving "hello" or "good bye" over and over again.

Learning to surf

Many popular surfing destinations, such as Hawaii, California, Ireland, Australia and Costa Rica, have surf schools that offer surfing lessons and surf camps. Surf camps for beginners and intermediates are multi-day lessons that focus on the basic fundamentals of surfing. They are designed to take new surfers and help them become proficient riders. All-inclusive surf camps are surf camps which typically offer overnight accommodations, meals, surfing lessons and surfboards. Most surf lessons begin by instructors pushing students into waves on longboards. The longboard is considered the ideal surfboard for learning, due to the fact it has more paddling speed and stability than shorter boards.

Typical surfing instruction is best performed in a one-on-one lesson format, but can also be done in a group setting. Popular surf locations such as Hawaiimarker and Costa Ricamarker offer perfect surfing conditions for beginner surfers, as well as more challenging conditions for advanced surfers. Surf spots more conducive to instruction typically display a different criteria of conditions suitable for learning. Of these, sand bars or sandy bottom breaks with consistent waves are of the utmost importance. Also, having plenty of room to practice is a big plus.

Learning to surf can be broken into several steps: drop in positioning to catch the wave, the pop up, and positioning on the wave. Each step takes time and practice to master. Paddling out requires strength but also the mastery of techniques to break through the oncoming waves (duck diving, eskimo roll). Drop in positioning requires experience at predicting the wave set and where they will break. The pop up must be completed quickly as soon as the wave is comfortably carrying the surfer. The positioning on the wave is determined by experience at reading the wave features including where the wave is breaking.


Waxing a surfboard
Surfboard leash.
Longboards in Waikiki beach
Surfing can be done on various pieces of equipment, including surfboards, longboards, Stand Up Paddle boards (SUP's), bodyboards, wave skis, kneeboards and surf mats.

Surfboards were originally made of solid wood and were generally quite large and heavy (often up to long and 100 pounds / 45 kg). Lighter balsa wood surfboards (first made in the late 1940s and early 1950s) were a significant improvement, not only in portability, but also in increasing maneuverability on the wave.

Most modern surfboards are made of polyurethane foam (with one or more wooden strips or "stringers"), fiberglass cloth, and polyester resin. An emerging surf technology is an epoxy surfboard, which are stronger and lighter than traditional fiberglass. Even newer surfboard designs incorporate materials such as carbon fiber and variable-flex composites.

Equipment used in surfing includes a leash (to stop a surfer's board from washing to shore after a "wipeout", and to prevent it from hitting other surfers), surf wax and/or traction pads (to keep a surfer's feet from slipping off the deck of the board), and "fins" (also known as "skegs") which can either be permanently attached ("glassed-on") or interchangeable.

Sportswear designed or particularly suitable for surfing may be sold as "boardwear", although the term is also used in snowboarding. In warmer climates swimsuits, surf trunks or boardshorts are worn, and occasionally rash guards; in cold water surfers can opt to wear wetsuits, boots, hoods, and gloves to protect them against lower water temperatures. A newer introduction is a rash vest with a thin layer of titanium to provide maximum warmth without compromising mobility.

There are many different surfboard sizes, shapes, and designs in use today. Modern longboard, generally 9 to in length, are reminiscent of the earliest surfboards, but now benefit from all the modern innovations of surfboard shaping and fin design. Competitive longboard surfers need to be competent at traditional "walking" manoevres, as well as the more modern, high performance turns normally associated with shortboard surfing.

The modern shortboard began its life in the late 1960s evolving up to today's common "thruster" style shortboard, defined by its three fin design, usually around 6 to in length. The "thruster" was invented by Australian shaper Simon Anderson.

Midsize boards, often called funboard, provide more maneuverability than a longboard, with more floatation than a shortboard. While many surfers find that funboards live up to their name, providing the best of both surfing modes, others are critical. "It is the happy medium of mediocrity," writes Steven Kotler. "Funboard riders either have nothing left to prove or lack the skills to prove anything."

There are also various niche styles, such as the "Egg", a longboard-style short board targeted for people who want to ride a shortboard but need some more paddle power. The "Fish", a board which is typically shorter, flatter, and wider than a normal shortboard often with a split tail (known as a swallow tail). The "Fish" board often has two or four fins and is specifically designed for surfing smaller waves. For big waves there is the "Gun", a long, thick board with a pointed nose and tail (known as a pin tail) specifically designed for big waves.



Surfing, like all water sports, carries the inherent danger of drowning. Although a surfboard may assist a surfer in staying buoyant, it cannot be relied on for floatation, as it can be separated from the user. The use of a leash, which is attached at the ankle or knee, keeps the surfer connected to the board for convenience but is not used as a safeguard to prevent drowning. The established rule is that if the surfer cannot handle the water conditions without his or her board then he or she should not go in.

Some drownings have occurred as a result of leashes becoming caught on reefs, holding the surfer underwater. In very large waves such as Waimea or Mavericksmarker, being attached to the board may be undesirable, as the board can be pulled for long distances in the whitewater, holding the surfer underneath the wave.

Surfers will often surf in pairs or groups as a safeguard.


A surfer exiting a closeout
Under the wrong set of conditions, anything that a surfer's body can come in contact with is potentially a danger, including sand bars, rocks, reefs, surfboards, and other surfers. Collisions with these objects can sometimes cause unconsciousness, or even death.

Many surfers jump off bridges, buildings, wharves and other structures to reach the surf. If the timing is wrong they can either damage themselves or their equipment, or both.

A large number of injuries, up to 66%, are caused by impact of either a surfboard nose or fins with the surfer's body. Surfboard fins can cause deep lacerations and cuts, as well as bruising due to their shape. While these injuries can be minor, they can open the skin to infection from the sea; groups like SAS campaign for cleaner waters to reduce the risk of infections.

Being knocked off your surfboard by a wave, a collision with others, or generally hurting oneself whilst surfing is commonly referred to as a wipeout.

Sea life

Various types of sea life can sometimes cause injuries and even fatalities. Depending on the location of the surfing activity, animals such as sharks, stingrays, seal and jellyfish can sometimes be a danger to surfers.


Local surfers can sometimes use intimidation and violence, in an attempt to guard their surf break against use by outsiders in an attempt to avoiding crowding. This is called "localism." Some surfers have been known to form gangs that surf a certain break, and fiercely protect their spot from outsiders. These surfers are typically referred to simply as "locals".

See also


  1. History of Surfing Surfing for Life
  2. [1]
  3. surf camp
  4. The quick guide on how to surf
  5. Ocean Safety
  6. Hard Bottom Surf Dangers
  7. Dangers of Surfing - Sharks, Sandbars, and More
  8. The Dangers of Surfing
  10. Surf Dangers Animals

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