Surf Priority: What It Is and How It Works

If you thought surfing was just a normal hobby, you might just be wrong. Surfing in its own right is not only exhilarating, fun, and addictive, but it can also be exhausting, intense, and a tad bit competitive.

Oh, it’s not competitive because it’s a sport; it’s competitive because of the nature of the sport itself, with waves being unpredictable and scarce at times factor in the increasing number of people who now have taken to surfing. Surfing priority is born. 

What is surfing priority? 

A lot are saying that surfing priority is non-threatening but a significant part of a long-standing tradition of surfing etiquette. It’s an unspoken rule for all surfers out there, whether they like it or not. 

Etiquette is respecting the locals, not causing trouble intentionally, and apologizing when you’ve hurt someone. Now, surfing priority as a surfing etiquette is also known as the right of way, and it is the way for surfers currently in the water to determine who gets to ride the wave that is coming to them.

But just how do they do it, though? How do surfers choose who gets priority to a wave? 

How surfing priority works

Well, certain situations will warrant different ways of giving priority to surfers. One simple way to determine priority is the proximity of surfers to the peak of the breaking wave. If there is a line of surfers waiting for a wave to break, whoever is closest to the peak or the first point where a wave picks up and then goes to break gets to ride it down. It sounds fair enough.

Taking into consideration that those surfers in line waiting for the wave to break might still need to paddle a small distance while there is someone perfectly positioned right up next to the peak. This is a surfing priority; those who are nearer the peaks of the waves take precedence. 

Another situation where surfing priority can be observed is when a surfer deliberately chooses to wait outside and beyond the impact zone for what might be the biggest and possibly the best set of waves on that particular day.

These are the surfers who have an incredible gauge of the swells in that particular day, time, season, and location.

You could say that they have that certain ‘intuition’ telling them what particular wave to surf even if they have to wait the entire day and surf only a few several times when that swell that they were waiting for comes, they have all the priority to ride it, it’s just the unspoken rule. 

How did it begin?

As you know, most of the rules observed in surfing or the so-called surfing etiquettes for amateurs and pros alike are based on the captivating traditions of the first true surfers, and that inevitably resulted in these unspoken rules that have now come into existence.

The point here is there is not one specific date when all of these surfing etiquette rules began, and although many would argue that these rules or etiquette do not serve everyone, but only those who don't follow them. Well, there is nothing to lose if you follow rules that serve not only you and your safety but that of everyone else on the water as well. 

Just to give you a little taste of what these surfing etiquettes are, here is a short list of what is globally considered acceptable behavior when you surf. One is, of course, the topic of our discussion today, ‘surfing priority’; the next is ‘surfing localism,’ ‘don’t ditch your board,’ ‘the art of paddling out,’ ‘not dropping in front of other surfers,’ ‘share the waves,’ ‘respect the ocean and its seas’ and ‘surf only the waves you can surf.’

These are the standard etiquette, but there might be some that are more localized, so always test the waters first. It is vital to keep the peace and fun in surfing. 

Beware of Snakes Snaking the Waves

However, not everyone is as cordial and friendly, even at sea. Some sly and renegade surfers will always find a way to ruin everyone’s peaceful surfing. Some do this with what is called 'snaking.'

Snaking is an underhanded way to catch almost every wave there is. Do you remember what we talked about when it comes to surfing priority and whoever gets to surf based on that surfing priority? Well, for those who love snaking, all of that is a load of nonsense.

You see what they do is if they want to surf a wave, it doesn't matter if they are not the closest surfer to the peak the moment the wave breaks because they will do whatever maneuver and paddling they have to do to just to cut off the surfer or surfers who have the right of way.

Pretty annoying, right? Well, because it is. So don't be a slithering snake of the waves. 

Wave Hog Hogging Waves

On a similar note, snaking snakes are not the only ones you have to worry about; you also have to worry about the heavy wave hogs. No, it's not about their weight; it's more like the feel they bring like a heavy atmosphere because, right, you’ve guessed it, hog every wave they can get their greedy waxed-out boards on.

So they can snake around a surfer and hog out every wave they like. Their principle is simple: the ocean and mother nature are free, and no signboards say you can't do this or that.

What is not written does not exist. Of course, there will be accidental hoggers too, those who do not mean to be hoggers but just one of those honest mistakes due to them being new to the sport or something like that.

But if you think that snakes are bad, so are the hogs. So try your best and don't be one of them. It is always better to be more thoughtful of others apart from your own. 

James Davis

Written by James Davis

I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.

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