While almost every sport has a unique vocabulary, the sport surfing is in a league of its own when it comes to terms. For non-surfers, this terminology might seem like a foreign language. If you've ever sat on the beach and listened to a couple of surfers describe the waves, you know what we mean.
To keep you from looking like a kook, we want to help you out.
Continue down below and check out our glossary of surfing terms.
Board & Equipment Terms
A blank, also known as a foam blank, is a piece of rough polyurethane foam that will eventually be formed into a surfboard.
The top part of the surfboard where you will lay down to paddle, pop-up, and ride.
A leash or leg-rope is the cord that connects your surfboard to your ankle so that it doesn't get lost in the deep when you inevitably wipe out.
Leashes are often made out of lightweight yet durable materials, such as urethane, and come in a variety of sizes. The bigger the waves, the thicker the leash should be.
A wettie is a colloquial term for wetsuit. Wetsuits come in all shapes and sizes for every season. A spring suit might be perfect for someone surfing California in the winter while someone looking to surf Portugal in the winter will need something much thicker.
Wetsuits are usually made out of a material known as neoprene, which is a stretchy type of rubber.
Fins are hydrofoil mounted on the bottom of the tail end of the surfboard. They come in various sizes and configurations and help provide control and stability while riding.
A twin-fin is any surfboard that has two fins. These boards first came around in the 1940s, though it wasn't until the early 1950s that the California surf community began refining the design.
It was eventually phased about by the thruster when performance surfing became popular, though is now making a comeback on retro-style surfboard designs.
The thruster was invented back in 1980 by Simon Anderson, a famed Australian surfer, and is another way to describe a surfboard with three fins. In today's surfing community, the thruster is one of the most popular types of surfboards.
Mal's, Malibu's, or Mini-Mal's are terms used to describe longboards. Generally, a mal surfboard falls anywhere between 9 and 11 feet. A mal surfboard will also have forgiving rails and tons of buoyancy. Thanks to its sturdiness and large surface area, this surfboard is a great choice for beginners. You can find them in soft-top form too!
A funboard is any type of surfboard that shares the design combination of a mini-mal and shortboard. Funboards are great for surfing in a wide range of surf conditions.
When you have multiple boards, you have what is called a quiver. Talk to most professional surfers, and they'll tell you that they have hundreds of surfboards in their quivers.
The front end of the board opposite the fins. Can be rounded or pointed.
The back end of the board opposite the noise. Some of the different tails include squash tails, pintails, fishtails, or round tails.
The edge or side of the surfboard. Rails can come in many different thicknesses.
A stringer is a piece of wooden material that runs throughout the center of the surfboard, giving it stability, flexibility, and strength.
The rocker on your surfboard is how concave the surface is from the nose to the tail.
To reduce the slipperiness of your board and add a bit of traction, you'll have to apply wax, which is a paraffin-based product. Different types of wax are used depending on the climate.
Tail Pad/Traction Pad
A tail pad, also known as a traction pad, is a piece of non-slip rubber that is placed near the tail of a surfboard to create grip without the need for wax.
A dent, hole, or any type of small, accidental damage on a surfboard is known as a ding.
A gun is a large, high-performance surfboard that has been shaped specifically to ride big waves. These boards tend to have much narrower noses and tails compared to other surfboards, which allows them to maneuver around big waves quite quickly.
These surfing terms are all used to describe boards that are made with a soft foam surface. These boards are much easier to ride, perfect for a young surfer or anyone who is just getting into the sport.
The whitewash or whitewater is where you'll start your surfing journey.
This section, created by wave breaks, is what you will paddle into when you first start learning how to surf, as it has far less energy than the rest of the wave.
A beach break is an area on the beach where the wave breaks. Typically, the beach break is the perfect place to go out and surf.
In the glossary of surfing, glassy is used to describe the ocean condition when there isn't any wind on the face of the wave. Surfers love glassy waves, as they make for a really smooth ride.
A set is a group of two or more waves that come simultaneously. Almost every surfer wants to catch a good set, as they often provide longer rides and far more power.
If waves are getting tons of wind, whether onshore or offshore, they are often referred to as chop. Waves that are choppy don't break cleanly.
Any wave that is good enough to surf, though gets broken up by choppy winds, is said to be a blown-out wave.
A wave that is taller than the average surfer is known as an overhead wave. Waves that are twice as tall as a surfer are known as double-overhead waves.
The highest point where the wave breaks is known as the peak. A peak will generate a shoulder, which will either move to the right or left.
The face of a wave is the forward-facing part of the wave.
A channel is a trench between reefs of sandbanks. Typically, channels are associated with strong currents. Sometimes surfers will also use the word channel to describe a unique board design feature that helps guide water along the underside of the surfboard.
A barrel or barreling wave is one where the lip curls over the top of the wave to create a hollow, tube-shaped opening.
This hollow part of a wave is one all surfers hope to experience.
When a surfer gets barreled surfing, they will often refer to it as "getting barreled."
Some other popular surf terms used in this situation include pitted, kegged, slotted, and tubed.
A surfer will typically refer to the direction that they are going in saying that they are moving down the line, or further along the wave's crest. Some surfers will even describe waves as "down-the-line" if they have long and fast walls.
Many surfers also refer to the inside of a barrel as the green room.
A rocky underwater point that creates great waves for surfing is known as a point break.
A very large wave coming from a set of waves is known as a bomb.
The portion of the wave that is closest to the whitewash or the curl is known as the pocket. Surfers who want to generate maximum speed should be in the pocket. Some surfers call this the energy zone and it can be identified as the steepest point in the wave.
If a surfer says that it looks flat out today, it means that there aren't any waves worth surfing.
Off The Hook
When the waves are performing really well, a surfer might refer to them as off the hook.
The shoulder is the part of the wave that sits just beyond the pocket. While you don't get as much energy on this part of the wave compared to the pocket, you do get tons of room to maneuver.
The part of a wave that breaks, perfect for surfing, is known as a section. There are usually different sections within a breaking wave.
Surfers will often refer to surf conditions as mushy when the waves are weak and don't have a ton of energy. Mushy surf days aren't very favorable in the world of surfing.
A set of waves that have come a long distance from an ocean storm is known as a swell. Once the swell reaches a shallow point, it will turn into breaking waves.
When a wave breaks all at once without providing a surfer with any shoulder or shape, it is known as a closeout.
When performing an aerial, the ramp is the point at which you will eject off the top of the wave. A ramp is usually an oncoming section or the lip of the wave itself.
A reformer wave is one that breaks out the back and allows whitewash to recede before breaking again. Because reformers break close to shore without much power, they are great waves for beginner surfers and longboard surfers.
Past the breaking waves is where you will find surfers waiting in the lineup, otherwise known as the back. Once you've learned how to paddle out past the shore break, or the area where the waves meet the sand, you'll get to the back.
Bombora is an Aboriginal term used to describe a submerged reef or rock that is located a bit offshore.
A double-up wave is a wave created by two waves merging into a single, powerful wave. Double-up waves, sometimes referred to as humpback waves, can be incredibly difficult to ride and are far stronger than your average wave.
Surfer or not, you should know about rip currents if you're going anywhere near the ocean. A rip current is a strong current on the surface of the water that flows into the sea from the shore. Some people will refer to this as a riptide or simply, a rip.
The place where the waves are breaking the hardest is often referred to as the impact zone. Beginners should stay out of the impact zone until they are comfortable riding.
No Man's Land
If you ever find yourself in no man's land, you may just have to wait it out. When you're in no man's land, you're essentially in between a set where the waves are breaking and the shoreline. Typically, a surfer will have to wait for a delay in the breaking waves before slipping out of the water.
Onshore/ Offshore Wind
When the wind is onshore, it is blowing towards the shore from the ocean. Onshore wind pretty much destroys wave quality. Offshore wind is when the wind is blowing to the ocean from the shore, which helps smooth out the face of the wave and holds the curl. For more info, see our onshore vs offshore wind guide.
The very first maneuver that you'll need to learn how to perform in order to ride waves is the pop-up, in which you rise from a lying position to a standing position to drop onto a wave.
If a surfer rides goofy, then they surf with their left foot towards the tail of the surfboard. Goofy surfers are much less common than regular surfers, who ride the opposite way.
A surfer that rides Switchfoot is a surfer that can surf either goofy or regular.
To get underneath an approaching wave and continue paddling out, you must learn how to duckdive.
3Duckdiving is a technique where a surfer submerges their board underwater, very similar to the way that a duck dives beneath the surface of the water when looking for fish.
When you hit the lip of the wave vertically before coming back down onto the face of the wave quickly, it is known as re-entry.
Another technique used to get through breaking waves is the turtle roll. A surfer will hang onto the rails and turn their surfboard over so that they are fully submerged and their fins are in the air.
A surfer that wants to show confidence while surfing while retaining a casual demeanor might stand with a soul arch, which is a slight arch of the back.
Hit The Lip
Hit the lip, also known as 'smack the lip,' is a maneuver where a surfer will move towards the peak of the wave after performing a bottom turn.
Any kind of turn is known as a carve, though carves are often pretty accentuated.
When you surf, you'll either ride facing the wave or with your back to the wave. For example, someone who rides goofy foot (with their right foot forward) would surf backhand if they were on a right-handed wave.
When a surfer takes off toward a breaking wave, they will turn very sharply and surf into the direction where the wave is breaking.
Out of the many surfing maneuvers out there, a cutback should be the first one you learn. To perform a cutback, you must carve on the open face of the wave and bring your surfboard around in an arc until it rebounds off the whitewash.
Cutbacks are often the first maneuver beginner surfers learn thanks to the fact that they are easily performed on the flat parts of a wave.
Coming down on the breaking part of a wave after riding up on top of it is known as a floater.
The drop occurs right after you are done paddling and standing up. It is the moment before you get up and turn on the face of the wave.
A surfer can perform a layback maneuver on his or her board by leaning back on it during a cutback.
A bottom turn is a turn that is made at the bottom of the wave. It is one of the most important maneuvers when learning to ride waves, as it sets the ride's tone.
When carving up and down the face of a wave to generate more speed, it is said that a surfer is pumping. Pumping is a necessary skill when it comes to riding shortboard.
An aerial, otherwise known as a punt, is when a surfer propels his or her board into the air above the lip of the wave. Only experienced surfers should attempt aerials, as they require a fair amount of speed and agility.
A drop-in is when one surfer hits a wave while another surfer is already riding it, interfering with the other surfer's ability to finish riding the wave. In surf culture, dropping in is a BIG no-no. Whether you mean to do it or not, it can be incredibly dangerous and lead to some pretty nasty aggression.
If a tube is coming up behind you, you might use a stall to allow it to catch up to you so that you can get caught inside the tube.
In big-wave surfing, a surfer will typically require a tow to the backside of the waves with a jet ski.
A common longboard maneuver known as a nose ride is when a surfer moves from the middle to the front end of the board.
To get into a nose ride or a similar maneuver, a surfer will typically cross-step down the center of the board, moving one foot over the other.
When riding on a surfboard with your ten toes placed over the nose, it is known as hang ten.
An experienced surf maneuver in which a surfer turns their board at a 360-degree angle while surfing the face of the wave.
When a surfer moves the board in a 180-degree or 360-degree motion underneath themselves while riding a wave, it is known as a shove-it.
When a surfer steals a wave from another surfer that has the right away by taking off in front of them, it is considered snaking. Snaking is a major breach of surfing etiquette very similar to dropping in.
The term wipeout is probably one of the most popular terms in the glossary of surfing. The Surfaris even named a song after it! To keep it quite simple, a wipeout is an act of falling off of your board while riding a wave. Beginner surfers should definitely get used to this term.
If you're ever about to wipe out or get caught inside a wave, you might choose to bail off your surfboard. A bail is an evasive maneuver that keeps you from wiping out.
If you haven't been ragdolled, then you've never truly wiped out. Ragdolling is when a surfer gets tossed around below the water after falling off of a wave. The idea here is that you completely lose control of your body as the ocean flips you around. Make sure to hold onto your head!
When you don't hit the drop properly and you and your board end up diving face-first into the bottom of the wave, this is known as a pit dive.
Over The Falls
Over the falls is a type of wipeout when a surfer falls off their surfboard and gets sucked up by the wave in a circular motion, typically with the lip of the wave.
If your weight is too far forward when riding a wave, the surfboard will nose dive underwater.
When a surfer has his or her weight pushed too far back on the surfboard, the nose will lift up.
When a surfer tries to swim out from underwater, though they are pulled down by their leash that is attached to their surfboard, it is called a tombstone.
The lineup is at the back behind the breaking wave and is where surfers will wait for their chance to hit a set. Some people refer to this as the "takeoff zone." In the lineup, you should always give the right of way to the surfer closest to the breaking part of the wave.
A hodad is someone who frequents a surf spot and pretends to surf, though can't surf at all.
Though the glossary of surfing terms defines "hang loose" in many ways, it is often defined as "relax", "chill", or "laid-back." To send out the hang loose message, a surfer will typically throw up a shaka sign.
Gnarly is surfer slang for awesome or exciting, though can also mean crazy or dangerous depending on the context.
The Pipeline is a must-know surf spot and one of the most famous in the world. This surf spot sits on the North Shore of Oahu and get its name because of the wild barrels and tubes that it produces, very similar looking to a pipe.
A hand sign used to tell another surfer to hang loose. A shaka has the pinkie and thumb up in the air with the other three fingers folded atop the palm.
While many people refer to beginners as kooks, we like to think of a kook as anyone who doesn't understand surfing etiquette and gets in the way of other surfing. Even the most experienced riders can be kooks if they endanger others while in the water.
A name given to a surfer that is not very cool or not good at surfing is often referred to as a Barney.
A young surfer, or a surfer who is inexperienced, is often referred to as a grom.
If you're so happy and excited to be out in the water, then you're a surfer who is stoked! If you want to speak like a surfer, you need to start using the word stoked. It's a great way to let people know that you're amped up and feeling good about life!
A shubie is anyone who wears surf clothing but doesn't surf.
Dawn patrol is going surfing the first thing when the sun comes up. Some surfers refer to this type of surf session as a dawny.
The concept of Pura Vida comes from Costa Rica and in a large sense, it is a way in which they live their lives. Any local will tell you that Pura Vida is an emotion, an attitude, and a content feeling. This sentiment has traveled far and wide and can be heard at surf camps across the world.