Here you are, on the red continent, surrounded by beautiful turquoise ocean with plenty of waves for all levels. There are probably a few better places to get into surfing than here. On the Australian coast, surfing is simply part of the culture. It’s a sport just as popular as soccer or rugby elsewhere. Maybe you have already given it a go, joined a surf camp, or just tried it by yourself? No matter if you are already an intermediate or if you are just thinking about renting a board and having a play-around, there are a few very important surf rules – what to do and not to do – to be aware of before entering the water.
Choosing the right surf spot
Depending on how advanced your surfing level is, you will have to decide where to play in the waves. When making the decision whether a surf spot is suitable for you, take your time and consider all factors. Just because it is a beach break, meaning the waves are braking on sand, not on rocks, does not mean that it is safe for a beginner for example. On the contrary, beach breaks can be very heavy with hollow waves and strong rips. These make entering and exiting the water rather difficult, especially if the spot is surrounded by cliffs or a steep beach.
Surfing is all about fun and excitement. So if you want to go surfing and there are no lifeguards around, it is a good idea to head out with a guide, a surf instructor, or somebody who would be able to help out if something goes wrong. Safety first! For example, you could get caught in a rip or your leash snaps. Then you would put other people in the surf into an unpleasant situation if they had to rescue you. So be sure of what you are doing and don’t overestimate yourself.
After choosing a suitable break, you’re excited to get to the line-up and catch your first wave. First things first. Greeting the other surfers is always nice. Have a little chat if you feel like it, so others are aware of you being in the water as well. Aussies usually love their chats. This can be especially helpful if you are on your own, so somebody knows you’re out there, just in case.
Now it depends on what kind of break you are at. At a point break or a reef for example, the waves break pretty regularly. Thus, when you paddle out you should wait your turn. Make sure the people who had been sitting and waiting there before you go first. However, some people might actually not try to get onto the incoming wave, so observe and then choose which wave you want to go for.
At a beach break it is a different story, as peaks shift quite a bit. Hence, when you paddle out and a wave is rolling towards you, better make sure nobody is already sitting there waiting for this wave. In general it is more fun for everybody if you look out for each other and make sure everybody get their fair share of waves.
Surf Rules on right of way
Now, when you are in the water catching waves, you follow the surf rules on who has right of way, just like when driving a car really. For the sake of everybody’s well-being and to avoid conflict, all surfers should be aware of this unwritten law. Especially for experienced surfers it can be a pain if there are people dropping in on them or constantly sitting and paddling in their ways.
To begin with, no matter if you are on a beach, a point or a reef, the person closest to the peak, the place where the wave will break, has right of way. If there are three people paddling for a wave for example, you’ll have to quickly check who is closest to the peak and pull out if it’s not you. This is the most important rule, but of course there are some exceptions. If another surfer has started paddling for a wave before you for example, he or she should have the right of way. However, if you are on a long board or SUP, you can get much quicker on waves than with a short board. So don’t take advantage of these surf rules if you want to avoid angry looks.
It also happens that you are sitting too close to the peak or even inside it. If you notice this quick enough and figure you might wipe out, safe yourself the pain. Just shout out to the person next to you, who is probably in a better position, to have the wave. Even if other surfers ignore these surf rules, it is good practice to make sure you’re on the safe side. This way you get the most out of your session.
After your wave
You are super stoked you got your wave, but now you are in the impact zone. Quickly getting out of there is sometimes easier said than done. Maybe, if you got the first wave of the set, you’ll have to wait it out, duck dive a few waves or just hang on to your board until you get out of there. When you are heading out of the impact zone it is important to observe the surfers on the incoming waves. Those guys have priority! Even if you are just about to make it out of the white wash. If you are not sure whether you can make it over the wave before the next surfer cruises by, you will have to head for the white wash to avoid collision.
Imagine you grew up by the beach, you surf your local spots regularly, and then suddenly all those tourists turn up and absolutely overcrowd the place and the water. Of course, just because you were born in a place, doesn’t mean that you own it. You know the place and the surf very well though and certainly a lot better than people visiting. It must be upsetting sometimes that ignorant visiting surfers spoil the peace of the place. There is a lot to be said about localism and many people have strong opinions about it. In some places you can even get into serious trouble just by trying to catch a wave at a local surf spot, which might unofficially be ‘reserved’ for locals only. Not so much in Australia though, you meet the friendliest people in the water, that’s why we love it here! The ocean belongs to everybody and we should all share the fun as much as we possibly can. However, you should definitely always respect the locals because they are sharing their waves with you after all.
In the end surfing is all about the fun, so don’t forget to throw out a few Shakas and ‘Yewww’s and enjoy yourself!
Updated on the 5/11/19. Initially published on the 27/8/2018.