This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, The Salt Sirens earns from qualifying purchases.
There are few sports around the world that have cultivated their own slang as iconic as surf culture. In this guide to surfer slang, we’ll show you the most common surf terms so you don’t sound like a kook out in the water.
Feel overwhelmed when you listen to glimpses of the World Surf League announcer?
As Marlin says in Finding Nemo, “It’s like he’s trying to speak to me, I know it!”
Fear not, friend. Aside from surfer slang, we’ll also define common surf terms and contest lingo as well.
Glossary of Surfer Slang Terms
When a wave breaks right and left, forming what looks like an A.
An aggressive surfer who brings bad vibes into the water.
The act of being excited, usually before a surf session.
Surf slang for small waves, as if they’re lapping at your ankles.
Taking off behind the peak and surfing through the barreling part of the wave.
To surf with your back facing the wave. Most surfers prefer to surf with the front of their body facing the wave, as it offers a bit more control.
To ditch your surfboard or to jump off a wave before it ends.
When a wave forms a hollow tube. Getting barreled means you surf inside of the barrel of the wave.
Waves that break against the beach or shoreline instead of at a point or reef.
An older surf term for female surfer.
When the wind ruins the waves, usually caused by howling onshore winds flattening waves.
Swim shorts or trunks used for surfing.
A piece of foam used for the sport of body boarding, also called boogie boarding. Bodyboarders tend to ride a wave on their belly and wear short fins.
A massive wave, oftentimes the largest wave of the set or the day.
Neoprene socks/shoes that keep feet warm and protect feet from getting scraped by reef or rock.
When a surfer turns at the bottom of the wave.
The place where a wave forms, usually known as a surf break.
A surf friend.
The act of turning on a wave; usually surfers carve the face of the wave.
Deep water between the reef where waves typically don’t break. Surfers often use the channel to paddle out to outer reef waves.
Going for big waves oftentimes beyond the surfer’s comfort level.
When the surface of the water is bumpy, usually caused by competing swells or wind.
When the surface of the water is smooth, creating ideal surf conditions.
When a large wave or set of waves comes and catches surfers off guard. Usually this means surfers are stuck in the whitewash.
When a wave walls up and breaks at once without providing a way for a surfer to turn right or left. The opposite of a peeling wave.
When a surfboard bends without snapping, forming a crease in the surfboard itself.
The highest point of a wave. The opposite of a trough, which is the lowest point of a wave.
The part of a wave that forms a C shape. Surfers prefer to surf within the curl of the wave.
When a surfer completes a sharp turn on the face of a wave.
Surfing at sunrise, when waves tend to be best around many parts of the world.
The top of the surfboard where surfers place their feet.
When a surfer is sitting close to the peak of the wave.
Surf slang for bodyboarder, usually used as an insult.
A dent in a surfboard, typically means the fiberglass of the surfboard has been cracked and the inner foam core is exposed.
When a surfer stands up on their board and rides down the face of the wave.
Drop In On Someone
When a surfer takes a wave that another surfer is already on, surfing in front of the surfer who is entitled to that wave.
To paddle underneath a wave by pressing down on the surfboard and ‘ducking’ underneath the wave.
Glass or plastic fins are placed at the bottom back part of the surfboard to aid with steering and speed.
A part of the surfboard that secures the fin to the surfboard.
A surfboard shape that tends to be short, wide, and has a tail with two V-cut outs, resembling a fish tail.
When a surfer surfs with the front side of their body facing a wave.
A surfer who surfs with their left foot back and right foot forward.
When a surfer is inside of a barrel and able to look around them. The unbroken part of the wave usually looks teal, green, or turquoise depending on where the wave is located.
A wave that is unbroken with a wide, clean face. The opposite of whitewash wave.
A kid who surfs and is obsessed with the sport of surfing.
A large surfboard shape used for big wave surfing.
Hanging 5, 10, 11
Hanging five means hanging five toes off the nose of a longboard. Hanging ten means standing with both feet on the nose of a longboard. Hanging eleven is when a surfer noserides a longboard in the nude.
To be relaxed, happy.
When surf conditions are big and waves are powerful. A heavy wave can simply mean a large wave with tons of force.
When a surfer is pushed underwater by a wave and forced to hold their breath longer than what they’re comfortable with.
Someone who hangs around the beach and participates in surf culture without being a surfer themselves.
When a wave barrels and forms a tube.
Where the wave breaks. If a surfer is stuck in the whitewash of a wave and there are waves to come, they are stuck in the impact zone.
A surfer is caught inside when they are in the impact zone of the wave; between the whitewash of the wave and deeper water or the beach, where it’s safer to be. Sitting inside is catching the shoulder of waves that have already broken, or smaller waves in between set waves.
When a wave suddenly grows in height, usually due to an increase in swell size or a double-up of waves.
Hawaiian word for wave.
The sport of surfing on your knees instead of standing.
A new surfer, usually used as a derogatory surf term.
When a wave opens to the left, a surfer is able to go left after popping up on a wave.
Leash, Leggie, Leg Rope
A plastic rope that attaches the surfboard to the surfer, usually at the ankle or below the knee. A leash keeps the surfer from losing their surfboard after a wipeout.
Where surfers sit and wait for waves among one another. Surfers also often line up according to a point on the shoreline, using it as a reference point of where waves will break next.
The top edge of the wave that then curls and connects to the ocean.
When local surfers form a de facto group and act rude or aggressively towards newcomers to the surf spot.
A surfboard that is over nine feet long. Longboard surfboards are more stable and easier to paddle than shortboard surfboards, but are not as agile to turn.
Make the Drop
When a surfer paddles into a steep wave and manages to pop up successfully.
A traditional longboard surfer that is usually around nine to ten feet long.
When a surf break reaches its maximum size, causing the wave to break in an un-surfable or unpredictable way.
Man in a grey suit
Surf slang for sharks.
When the surf conditions are choppy or hard to navigate. Oftentimes caused by wind, currents, pollution, or contradicting swells.
A minature longboard that usually has a wide nose and spans between seven to eight feet long. Very stable surfboard and an ideal pick for beginner surfers.
A powerless wave; also called a mushburger. Usually consists of small waves of whitewash.
The tip or front of the surfboard.
Standing on the nose of a surfboard, usually done on a longboard.
Wind direction; when wind is blowing offshore, it tends to be better for surf conditions. Onshore winds often cause waves to blow out and lose form.
Deeper water, outside of where the waves break. Paddling outside means a surfer is paddling towards deeper water.
Over the Falls
When a surfer gets caught by the lip of the wave and tumbles over the front of the wave, connecting with the water below.
Used to describe wave size; usually means the face of the wave is over five feet tall.
(1) When surfers paddle towards breaking waves. (2) An organized paddle out is usually when surfers gather and paddle their surfboards into the ocean at the same time, usually to commemorate a person or to raise awareness for a cause.
When multiple surfers ride the same wave at the same time.
The part of the wave that is first to break; optimal place to catch a wave.
When the nose of a surfboard dives into the water, causing the surfer to fall off the front of the board and face first into the water.
When a wave breaks slowly and in a predictable fashion.
The crouched body position surfers take when surfing inside of a barrel.
When a surfboard has a narrow tail, usually used on large surfboard to help navigate big waves.
The barrel of a wave. Getting pitted means the surfer is inside of the hollow part of a wave.
The curl of the wave; the optimal place to surf as it has the most energy.
When a wave breaks from the edge of a reef or sandbank; point breaks tend to always break at the same spot.
When a surfer has a very wide stance and squats like a sumo wrestler; commonly seen among beginner surfers.
Surf slang for a standard surfboard made by one of the large surf brands; opposite of a custom surfboard.
The movement of standing up on a surfboard. Surfers go from laying on their bellies to popping up onto their feet.
When a surfer wipes out and is thrashed by the wave.
Part of surf etiquette; when a surfer is entitled to take the next good wave.
The state of being excited before a surf session or after getting a great wave.
When surf conditions are ideal; usually implying big waves.
A surfboard with four fins.
A collection of surfboards.
Surf slang for amazing, epic, awesome.
The edge of a surfboard.
When a wave breaks over reef rather than sand.
When a surfer hits and cuts their skin on the reef.
A surfer who surfs with their right foot on the back of the board; opposite of goofy foot.
When a wave opens to the right, a surfer is able to go right after popping up on a wave.
When someone ‘rips,’ it’s surf slang for a very good surfer.
Rip Current/Rip Tide
A current that pulls water out to sea or along the shoreline.
When a surfer skins themselves on sand or reef, forming a painful raspberry patch on their skin.
The curve from nose to tail of a surfboard.
The part of a wave with an open face. Some waves have multiple open sections that are broken up by closeout sections.
A series of waves that come in a row. Most sets have between three to six waves in a set.
The largest or best wave in a set of waves.
The act of getting barreled, when the lip of the wave comes over a surfer’s head forming a ‘shack’.
A hand signal with the three middle fingers pointing out and the thumb and pinky extend out. Used as a greeting or positive gesture in surf culture.
Someone who designs and shapes surfboards.
Surf slang for loser. A beachcomber who wears socks and sandals on the beach; rarely used.
Shoot the Pier
When a surfer catches a wave and rides it underneath a pier, dodging pillars as they surf.
When a wave breaks directly onto the shore.
Part of the wave that has yet to break, trailing from the peak of the wave.
Surf slang for surfer who is great at surfing.
A surfboard with one fin, usually a longboard surfboard.
Surfing in dangerous conditions. This can mean the waves are too big, are breaking too shallow, or are very unpredictable.
Pulling into the ideal part of a wave; usually inside the barrel.
When a surfer paddles around another surfer who has priority and steals the next best wave. A sneaky move and poor form when it comes to surf etiquette.
A soft top surfboard has a soft foam deck rather than a hard fiberglass or epoxy deck.
Mushy surf conditions; usually small waves and wind chop.
Surf slang for bodyboarder.
To slow down on a wave; when a surfer drags part of their body into the wave itself. This is usually done to help a surfer tuck into a barrel.
Surf term for surfboard.
To be excited or happy, a feeling of elation after a good surf session or in anticipation for surfing.
A piece of wood that runs along the inside of a surfboard to help keep it stronger and more table.
Surf term for sunglasses.
A retreat where you can learn how to surf or progress existing surf skills. Usually is located near a surf break and includes accommodation, food, lessons, transport, and gear rental.
Surf term for standup padlleboarder as they oftentimes look like they are ‘sweeping’ a broom when they paddle.
A series of waves propagating on the ocean’s surface. Surfers look at swell forecasts to influence where and when they will surf.
The back end of the surfboard, where fins are located.
Tail Pad/Traction Pad
A pad on the tail of a surfboard where a surfer places their back foot and gains traction.
The initial act of paddling into a wave and popping up; the beginning motion of surfing a wave.
When two surfers ride one surfboard at once.
A surfboard with three fins.
When a surfer is held underwater and their surfboard is partially pulled under as well, resembling a tombstone.
When a jet ski or wave runner pulls a surfer into a wave. Commonly seen in big wave surfing.
Hollow, barreling wave.
When a surfer rolls their surfboard upside down to get under a wave.
A surfboard with two fins.
Hawaiian word for woman; surf slang for surfer girl.
When water seeps into the internal foam a surfboard, causing it to become heavy. Usually a result of a ding left unattended too long.
Surf wax is wax made specifically for surfboards. It forms small bumps on the deck of the surfboard, helping the surfer gain traction.
A surfer who catches wave after wave without considering other surfers; poor form of surf etiquette.
An artificial wave created outside of the sea.
A neoprene suit that traps a thin layer of water between the surfer’s skin and the suit, helping the surfer stay warm.
The part of a wave that has already broken; the white foamy part of the wave. Beginner surfers often surf in the whitewash, while more experienced surfers tend to ride along the face of the wave.
When a surfer falls off of a wave, may sometimes result in damage to the surfboard or injury to the surfer.
Getting thrashed around in the water, pummeled by waves.
What surf terms and surf slang have we left off the list?