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Rules of Surfing 101

487490_10102065945615257_508861242_nAs a female surfer in San Diego I get a lot of attention in the water. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but every time I hit the surf it seems like all eyes are on me — and my pack of beautiful female surf buddies.

This past weekend was no different.

A friend and I went for a mid-day surf in Ocean Beach and as we started our paddle out, we could sense that everyone was watching to see if we could actually make it past the break — no pressure.

Luckily we did it no problem and proceeded to have a great surf session, holding our own against the crowd of guys in the water.

I was sitting in the line up, watching the crowds converge. Beginner surfers mingled and often tangled with more advanced surfers and visitors from out of town bobbed in the middle, when I started thinking about the concept of surf etiquette.

I’ve learned a few things here and there, like don’t drop in and hold onto your board (that’s a story in and of itself — basically if you bail your board to get under an overhead wave and it goes flying at a bunch of people, you WILL be yelled out of the water, and rightfully so).

In an attempt to help fellow San Diego surfers stay safe and have a great time in the water without getting a stern talking to from some locals, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

Hold Onto Your Board: Although the imminent doom of a big wave crashing on your head may seem like the worst thing in the world, it’s a lot worse when someone’s board is caught in the wave as well.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT bail your board EVER. I know sometimes your board gets ripped out of your hands and it goes flying whether you want it to or not, but always do your best to hold onto it. I learned this lesson the hard way with an overhead day at Cardiff Reef. I paddled way past the break and was far ahead of the line up when a close out set came out of nowhere.

There are plenty of things to keep in mind when hitting the surf.        Courtesy photo
There are plenty of things to keep in mind when hitting the surf. Courtesy photo

I paddled my hardest to get over it and when I couldn’t, I bailed my board and dove for my life. When I reached the surface, it looked like the whole line up had been taken out by the wave so I thought I was in the clear until I heard a man yell, “it’s pretty hard to get past a wave with a big telephone poll flying at your face.” That’s when I realized my board was the telephone poll and all eyes were on me — in a bad way. Oops! That was an embarrassing moment, but luckily no one got hurt.

Don’t Drop In: This can be a little tough while you’re still learning to understand the surf in San Diego. The surfer closest to the peak has the right of way. If you are sitting to the right of a surfer paddling for a “right” wave and they catch it, you need to pull off. Granted if they don’t make it into the wave or immediately fall, you are welcome to go but don’t drop into the wave in front of another surfer going down the line or you will get a whistle, cat call, or flat out yelled at until you move.

Learn Where To Paddle: It may seem as though paddling over an oncoming wave is the most important thing when you’re out in the water. Seeing the ocean rise in front of your face and come towering toward you can be terrifying, but keep in mind if you see a surfer coming down the line as you’re paddling out, it’s important that you paddle behind them. It’s not OK to cut off someone who is on the wave already. It may seem rough to duck dive or turtle to get past the breaking wave, but you’ll appreciate it the next time you’re on the wave heading toward oncoming traffic.

Don’t Snake: What does it mean to snake someone on a wave? Well, basically it means you are paddling around another surfer as a wave is coming in order to position yourself inside the peak. This is a great way to really upset someone and when it happens to you, you’ll understand. Be respectful and let the surfer with the best position go for the wave and wait your turn. We all know surfing is amazing and we all want to get as many waves as possible but patience is a virtue in life and in the water.

Don’t Paddle Out Through The Line Up: Sometimes it’s hard to stay out of the way as a new surfer, or even a veteran for that matter, but it’s important to do your best. Don’t paddle out in the middle of the line up where everyone is catching and surfing waves; instead try paddling into the channel around the side of the break so you are out of the way of other surfers.

Share The Stoke: This is a rule for surfers of all kinds. No matter how great the surf may be or how long it’s been since you’ve been on a board, always share the stoke. What’s the stoke? The stoke is that excited, all encompassing feeling when new or old surfers see the waves and just cannot wait to get in the water. It’s the smile you see on a 12-year-old’s face when she first stands up on a foam board in the white water or the grin on the veteran surfer who caught an insane wave. Surfing is something we all love and the best days in the water are when everyone is happy to be out there. So share the stoke, get your friends on boards, and be kind to those surfing around you.

Respect The Beach: We all love the ocean and beaches of San Diego. Remember to keep them clean so we can all enjoy our beautiful coastline. If you come across trash in the water, take the time to paddle back to shore and into a trashcan.

Apologize: If you do happen to send a board flying through the line up or accidentally drop in on someone, it’s always appreciated to flash a smile and sincere sorry (this works especially well for us female surfers). We are all having fun and enjoying the beautiful San Diego surf so don’t be hostile. Share the love and see how a smile can calm even the rowdiest surfer.

With so many beautiful beaches and great surf spots in San Diego, this area is ideal for a fun surf vacation. I was lucky enough to grow up in North County with some of the best surf spots — and surfers — in my backyard. My first wave was caught at Turtles in Cardiff and I honed my skills over the years at Cardiff Reef, Grandview, Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs. Now I surf every free minute I have and share my love of surfing with those around me.

Surfing is something that soothes the soul. After a long workweek or stressful situation, there is no better way to wash away your worries than a dip in our beautiful ocean. Catching waves is the goal, but the experience of being in the water is what we crave. Nothing is better than a bright sunny day in the water when it’s clear enough to see the bottom, watch the kelp sway, and catch a glimpse of the vibrant orange Garibaldi beneath the surface or even a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf. So grab your favorite group of friends, pack the car with wetsuits, boards and sunscreen, and hit the surf!

Carli Leavitt is a Cardiff native who spends her free time surfing, blogging, and enjoying all San Diego has to offer. Follow her on Twitter @CarliLeavitt