This skills article was originally published in Adventure Kayak magazine.
As the popularity of surf kayaking, surfing and SUP continues to grow, so too does the use of popular surf spots and the tensions between users. Some of this conflict is a carryover from old prejudices—think Dogtown and Z Boys—but a lot of it stems from the very real frustrations of sharing waves with those who don’t understand the rules of basic surf etiquette.
Etiquette starts with an understanding of the various zones in the surf break. The crucial zones are the green room, the take off zone, the impact zone and the transit zone.
The green room is where folks take a breather outside the surf break. If you are in the green room, you are not in the line-up. The take off zone is where folks wait in line to catch a ride. Kayakers generally catch waves further out, so their take off zone is different than board surfers. The impact zone is where folks actually surf. Unless you are surfing, stay out of this zone. The transit zone is the easiest and safest route back out to the take off zone or the green room. It is considered very rude to travel back out through the impact zone; instead, use the transit.
There are seven well-established rules for sharing waves.
1. The most important rule is to choose your break wisely. Not every break, or every wave, is for every surfer. If you can’t visualize the zones or don’t have the skills to control your boat as you move from zone to zone, then consider another break, especially if it’s crowded.
2. Don’t cut off other surfers if they have right of way. The surfer closest to the power pocket—the steepest, tallest, green part of the wave just before it breaks—has right of way. When in doubt, watch for a while to see where the line-up is forming and how the break is being used.
3. Give way when heading out; the person surfing has right of way. That said, if you are consistently out of control, broaching or careening through other line-ups while surfing, then reread rules one and two.
4. Take turns. Kayakers have an easier time catching waves than board surfers. With this advantage comes responsibility. Just because you can catch the wave doesn’t mean you should cut someone else off.
5. Help out if someone is in trouble. Period.
6. Take responsibility for your equipment and actions. If you cut someone off, apologize and try not to do it again. If you damage or lose someone’s gear, apologize and offer to fix or replace it.
7. Relax—watch the clouds, encourage others, smile and converse with your fellow surfers. In other words, be the surfer you want others to be.
Michael Pardy is based in Victoria, B.C., where he is the director of SKILS and is one of the nicest dudes you’ll find ripping a wave, bru.