It’s almost a mandate: if you want to surf, you’ll need to know the surfing terms and slang to be able to socialize with other surfers about your surfing experiences, opinions and dreams. When surfers talk to each other, they often use a special dialect that will confuse many outsiders and it can vary based on the region you are in. The following are general terms and slang broken down in three categories that will be helpful to those who are interested in surfing more than once and learning the surfing dialect.
Talk story– To chat about the waves that day, last month, or during that one epic swell in 1987 (or was it ’88?).
Kook– Someone who surfs and behaves as if they are completely new to the sport, ignoring the rules of etiquette and being an all-around fool.
Snake– Technically, to snake someone is to take off behind them after they’re already riding the wave. However, surfers often use this term to describe someone who cuts them off from the front as well.
Grom, Grommet, or Wahine (female)- A young surfer, perpetually stoked.
Sponger– A bodyboarder.
Locals– The surfers who live nearby and frequent a certain spot. They’re often known for being unfriendly to outsiders.
Goofy– A goofyfoot is someone who rides with his right foot forward.
Regular– A regular foot rides with her—you guessed it—left foot forward.
Backside– When a surfer rides with his butt facing the wave. For regular footers, this means going left.
Frontside– When a surfer rides the wave while facing it. Goofy footers ride a left frontside.
Charge– To surf particularly well or bravely.
Clean– Glassy or offshore, generally; when the waves break unimpeded or aided by the wind.
Epic– When swell, weather, tide and timing synchronize perfectly to create optimal surf.
Macking- Used to describe especially large and dangerous conditions.
Gnarly– Especially gruesome, challenging, or awe-inspiring.
Heavy– Used to describe a particularly dangerous situation or person.
Stoked– Excited, jazzed, psyched.
Pumping– The act of hopping up and down to gain speed on a wave. Also: a word used to describe when the surf is especially big, consistent and/or clean.
Firing– When conditions align and the surf is consequential. See epic.
Flat– No waves.
Mushy– Less critical and powerful waves.
Glassy– A description for the ocean when there is no wind, giving the water surface a smooth appearance. Almost invariably, glassy conditions are good for surfing.
Peeling– When a wave breaks perfectly left to right or right to left without interruption.
Bathymetry– The topography of the land beneath the water.
Victory at Sea– The opposite of glassy. This happens when conditions are so blown out, rough, and disorganized that surfing is nearly impossible.
Mysto– Anything that defies typical explanation or is shrouded in an air of mystery, usually ascribed to the surf gods.
Pointbreak– A setup that features waves that break along the shore, rather than toward the shore. Pointbreaks often provide longer rides. Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa and Rincon in California are classic examples of pointbreaks.
Reefbreak– A setup featuring waves that break because of underwater reefs. The Pipeline in Oahu and Teahupoo in Tahiti are both reefbreaks.
Beachbreak– Waves that break at a beach.
Rivermouth– A setup formed by sand or rock deposits by the outflow of rivers.
Sandbar– A shallow section caused by the buildup of sand. Sandbars can create great, but often fleeting, conditions at beach breaks.
Section– A part of the wave that has a distinct characteristic. For example, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa has a section that is known for providing barrels, a section that is known to be especially powerful, and so on. It can also describe a part of one specific ride, e.g. ‘she hit that massive air section.’
Peak– The highest point in an open-ocean swell. Also: the part at which a given wave breaks first. Many surfers sit just outside of the peak to maximize their ride length.
Shoulder– The part of a wave that breaks after the peak.
Skeg– An old-fashioned name for fins. Longboarders often still call their fins ‘skegs.’
Hollow– An adjective used to describe a condition or surf spot where the wave provides barrel sections.
Hurricane– An especially strong storm system. Called a ‘typhoon’ in Japan and nearby areas and a ‘cyclone’ in Australia and Oceania, hurricanes can create strong, large surf but also cause massive amounts of destruction.
Groundswell– Waves created by a storm far away that can take multiple days to reach the shore.
Windswell– Waves created by a local storm. Sometimes defined as a swell with a wave period under 10 seconds.
Quiver– a surfer’s collection of surfboards; his arsenal.
Trough– The low space in open-ocean swells, which have peaks and troughs.
Tombstone– When a surfer is sucked so far underwater that the tail of the board is pulled down by his leash. This causes the board to point straight out of the water.
Wipeout– A fall taken while surfing a wave.
A-Frame– When a wave breaks at its peak and peels both left and right, providing ample opportunities for surfers headed either way to ride the wave well.
Backing off– The phenomenon that occurs when a wave moves from shallower to deeper water as it travels towards land. Waves that back off appear as if they will break soon, but then return to a more gradual, gentle slope as they hit a deeper patch of water.
Bowl– A steep, powerful section of any wave. Waves that create bowl sections also frequently barrel.
Face– The front of the wave just before it breaks. Much of surfing is done on the face of the wave.
Lip– The part of the wave that pitches forward; the tip of the curl of a breaking wave.
Drop– The initial part of riding a wave when a surfer rides down the face of the unbroken wave. On especially large or critical waves, it is an accomplishment just to make the drop.
Drag– The amount to which a surfer is slowed down as a result of friction created by his fins, leash, or off-balance stance.
Drive– A measurement of the force created when the energy of the wave pushes against the surfboard, giving the surfer a boost of speed and power.
Feathering– Describes the phenomenon just before a wave starts to break, when its lip begins to show whitewater as droplets are separated from the wave by the wind. The stronger the offshore winds, the sooner a wave feathers.
Fetch– The area over which wind blows to create waves. Generally speaking, the larger the fetch of a given storm, the larger and more powerful the waves it creates will be.
Tube, Barrel, Cave, Keg, Green Room– The cylindrical area created by a wave breaking. The ultimate move in surfing is to position oneself inside the barrel and ride the wave while it breaks.
Pit Barrel– When a surfer rides in the barrel, he or she is ‘pitted.’
Impact zone– The area where most of the waves break at a given surf spot, usually just inside the lineup.
Over the falls– When a surfer falls at the top of a wave and is brought down along with the wave, limbs flailing, he or she has gone ‘over the falls.’
Overhead– Surfers measure wave height in terms of how big the wave is relative to them. Overhead waves are taller than the surfers. Related: ‘knee-high,’ ‘chest-high,’ etc.
Onshore– When the wind blows from the ocean toward the shore, causing the waves to crumble and become less organized.
Offshore– When the wind blows out toward the waves, grooming them and allowing them to break in more organized form.
Lineup– The general area where surfers sit on their boards and wait to catch waves.
Inside– The space between the breaking waves and the shore.
Outside– The space farther away from shore where larger waves often break.
Set– Groups of larger waves that come in succession.
Lull– A period of time where few waves break large enough for surfers in the lineup to catch them.
Period– The amount of time in between waves.
Shifty– Conditions that result in waves breaking in unpredictable locations throughout a lineup.
Pearl– To pitch over the front of the board and take a nosedive.
Tow-in– The act of using a rope and a jet ski or personal watercraft to pull a surfer onto a wave so that she can ride.
Tow-at– The act of using a rope and a jet ski or personal watercraft to pull a surfer at a wave to give him additional speed. Often used for practicing aerials.
Rip, Rip Current or Riptide– An area of water that rushes from the beach out to sea. Rips present a danger to surfers and swimmers, as they can carry someone out to sea. However, surfers with advanced lineup knowledge may use rip currents to easily access the lineup when the waves are difficult to paddle past.
Spit– The spray that comes out of a particularly powerful barrel as it closes.
Aerial or Air– A surfing trick that involves the surfer using the wave as a ramp to launch himself and his board into the air. An aerial is completed when a surfer lands and continues to ride the wave. Also called a punt.
Duckdive– A maneuver that allows surfers to dive underneath a wave with their boards to avoid getting swept into shore while paddling out into the lineup.
Turtleroll – A maneuver usually used by surfers with high volume boards that allows them to minimize drag during approaching whitewash by turning upside down with their board.
Turn– Basic surfing move that involves a surfer changing directions while riding a wave.
Pump– A surfing maneuver that surfers use to gain speed. It often looks as if they are hopping up and down. Also: When the waves get bigger and more consistent, many surfers say that it’s beginning to ‘pump.’
Cutback– A surfing maneuver that involves a surfer turning back towards the breaking part of the wave in an effort to return to the most critical, powerful section of the wave.
Floater– A surfing maneuver that involves the surfer riding on top of the breaking wave for an extended period of time.
Stall– A surfing maneuver that involves a surfer purposefully trying to slow himself down in order to put himself in a particular section of the wave.
Layback– A surfing maneuver that involves the surfer bending backwards so that his back is on or in the water. To complete a layback, the surfer uses the momentum of the wave to propel himself into an upright position.
Tail– The back end of a surfboard.
Nose– The front end of a surfboard.
Stringer– The thin wood strip that runs up the center of a foam board.
Rail– The rounded sides of a surfboard.
Rocker– The measurement of how extreme the curvature of the nose and tail of a surfboard is.
Leash– The rope used by surfers to attach their boards to their ankles or calves.
Traction Pad– A foam pad stuck onto the back of the board where surfers place their back foot.
Bodyboard or Boogieboard– A board that some people choose to ride. It is smaller and made of softer foam; it can be ridden in the prone position or on one’s knees.
Shortboard– A surfboard around six feet in length used for technical style of riding which include sharp maneuvers and aerial tricks.
Fish– A style of surfboard design that uses a forked tail and wide nose. Typically, fish designs also feature a thicker, shorter board with less rocker and are used for smaller waves.
Gun– Thinner, longer boards with fairly extreme rockers used to surf very large waves.
Thruster– The most common fin setup. One fin is placed in center of the board near the tail and two are placed a little farther forward along the rails.
Quad– A fin setup that has gained more popularity lately. Quad setups feature two fins instead of one closest to the tail.
Funboard– Shorter than a longboard, but longer than a shortboard. Funboards often have rounded edges and small rockers.
Roundtail– A tail design that involves a gradual rounding out of the surfboard’s contours. Improves speed and drive, but limits maneuverability.
Pintail– A tail design that involves the end of the surfboard coming to a point. Often used in very large waves, the pintail increases drive and speed.
Squashtail– A tail design that involves a flat, abrupt end to the surfboard. The rails bend into the tail at almost 90 degrees, creating a chopped look. The corners or the tail, however, are rounded slightly.
Ding– A fracture in the surface of a board, often caused by rocks or kooks.
Blank– A rough piece of foam waiting to be formed into a board by a surfboard shaper
Deck– The top surface of a surfboard.
Crease– An area of structural weakness in a board caused by damage it sustains while being used.
Fullsuit– A wetsuit that covers the entirety of a surfer’s legs, arms and torso.
Springsuit– A wetsuit that covers a surfer’s entire torso but not their forearms or calves.
We hope after reading this article you have vastly expended your vocabulary with a wide variety of surfing terms and slang. Now we all know these will not directly make you surf better, but it will help you socialize with other surfers without coming across as a complete outsider. As a result of that, maybe they will give you a few tips and pointers that will make you a better surfer.