Surfing Terms

Surfing Terms

Definition and explanation of the most commonly used surfing terms:



Flammable, volatile, toxic chemical solvent used to clean polyester resin from tools, etc.


Complex small-wave manoeuvre in which both surfer and board launch into the air off the top of a wave, before dropping back down into the same wave. The surfer often grabs a rail of the surfboard for stability and to control the surfboard's rotation in the move.


A peak-shaped wave, with left and right shoulders, and the highest point of the crest in the middle of the peak.


A heavy wipe out, usually involving the wave's lip impacting directly on a surfer. Also called drilled, pummelled, etc.



The act of taking off deep behind the peak or a section on a hollow wave, and surfing through the barrel or tube of the wave to the other side of the peak. Also a proper noun that refers to the reverse side of Pipeline in Hawaii.)


Surfing with your back to the wave, a goofy foot going right, or a regular foot going left. (Also called 'backhand'.)


A reflected wave, caused by water pushed up onto a steep grade of beach, which then rushes back out to sea against the general wave movement. This can create spectacular explosive wave effects, as the backwash and incoming waves collide.

Bail, Bail out

To abandon or ditch one's surfboard before getting wiped out by the wave, either paddling out, or while riding the wave.


The space inside a breaking wave between the lip and face. A surfer may be completely hidden from view during a barrel ride, especially from shore. One of the most difficult, best and most enjoyable acts in surfing, but often very difficult to complete due to changing variations in every different wave. Barrel is another name for tube.

Beach break

Waves breaking over a sand bottom.


The original block of foam used to shape a surfboard. A blank often comes from a pre-shaped mould with a basic outline and rocker depending on the length and type surfboard being shaped. Usually made from polyurethane foam.

Bottom Turn

A turn made at the bottom of a wave, following the drop down the wave face. Often (but not always) the first real move of a ride, a bottom turn is a sweeping, powerful move that enables the surfer to establish speed and direction for the ride. The bottom turn also establishes or re-sets the rhythm of turns to be completed during the course of the ride. Probably the most important turn in surfing as it sets up all other manoeuvres.


The name given to a section of a given wave that bends or appears to bend, toward the shore. The bend creates added intensity, often causing the wave to build into a peak, or grow hollowed or steeper throughout its general curve.


When a wave passes from deep water to shallow water it steepens as the wave energy is forced upward. We call this "shoaling". With increasing steepness, the wave face finally becomes too unstable and the crest or top part of the wave tumbles or "breaks" down the face of the wave.


Bumps on the ocean surface created by wind, usually between 6-10 knots in velocity. Definitely not clean but not choppy or blown out either.



A surfing technique in which the surfer creates big, deep turns by sinking much, or all, of the rail of the surfboard during each turn; when a good surfer slices up a wave using his board like a large knife.

Caught inside

A circumstance in which a surfer is trapped between the shoreline and breaking waves. This usually means the surfer will have to wait for a lull between the larger breaking waves for a chance to slip into clear water.

Channel Bottom

A shape dating back to 1970, credited to Jim Pollard of Australia, in which grooves are cut lengthwise along the surfboard, usually through the tail half. Many different types of channels have a variety of effects on performance; generally they add drive and direction to turns, especially in the most common modern variation, the six-channel "clinker" bottom.


Bumpy ocean and wave conditions that are rough due to strong winds and/or currents. Wind velocities are usually over 12 knots to create choppy conditions.


Good surfing conditions with decent wave energy, a smooth or glassy ocean surface and very little onshore wind. Offshore winds blowing into the faces of the waves can create clean, groomed conditions.

Clean-up set

A much larger wave or a set of waves, which breaks further outside than normal. A clean-up set usually "cleans" the line-up of surfers caught further inside.


When all parts of the wave-down the line or crest of the wave-break at the same time. (Opposite of closeouts, the ideal waves for surfing are ones that break from one side to the other so the surfer can angle across the face of the wave.)


Design feature involving a slight scooping out of an area of the board, usually the bottom from rail to rail, during the shaping process. Concave is a paradox because it provides both lift (a skatey freeing up of the board) and drive (from pressure on the water along the exit rail).


Describes the vision of a series of swells marching in from the horizon.


Damage to a surfboard caused by heavy general impact, in which the surfboard flexes further than the glass and resin allows. Usually indicated by a fracture line running across the board on bottom, deck or both. A bad crease may shatter glass around the rail and lead to a complete break in the affected board


The top part or lip of the wave or swell.


Older term used to describe the concave face of the wave just before breaking; the area just before the barrel. ("Shoot the curl" was a popular long board expression from the '60s.)


A classic surfing move used to change direction when streaking ahead of the curl of a wave with a powerful turn back towards the breaking part of the wave. Cutbacks are an important element in surfing as the manoeuvre repositions the surfer closer to the power of the wave. See also Roundhouse cutback.


Dawn patrol

Early morning surf session before the sunrise. This time usually offers the least crowded and cleanest conditions before the winds pick up. It is the name of Surfline's early morning surf report.


The top surface of a surfboard on which you apply wax for traction.

Deck Grip

Rough-surfaced material patch, usually a fraction of an inch thick, which can be glued to the deck of a surfboard to increase traction instead of wax.


A breakdown of the bond between the fiberglass and foam of a surfboard, where the fiberglass becomes separated from the foam. Usually caused by water seeping in under the fiberglass due to a ding, or sometimes due to exposure to excessive heat.


Damage to surfboard caused by dropping or collision with another hard object or surfboard. Dings must be dried out and repaired immediately otherwise water will weaken the strength of the board.

Double up

When two waves combine, often creating an extra powerful wave with twice the amount of energy. Double up waves often create the best waves to get barrelled or tubed on because the interaction of the waves forces the waves to break in shallower water than normal, which creates hollowed, steeper waves.


A reference to the direction further along the crest of a wave from the location from where a surfer drops into the wave or the direction toward which the surfer is riding. Waves can also be described as "down-the-line" when the wall is long and fast.


This results from friction between water flow and wetted surface, and it's not altogether a bad thing; without some elements of Drag, a surfboard would be virtually impossible to control.


The effect of water pressure pushed against a surfboard's surface, which creates acceleration down the line on a wave. It is aimed: purposeful, not random. Almost without fail, wherever you create the possibility of Drive, you'll also have the possibility of Drag. Getting that balance right is the key to great surfboard design.


The initial part of a ride when a surfer slides down the face of the wave.


When a surfer initially goes down the face of the wave after catching a wave. Also a term used to describe catching a wave in front of another surfer who is already riding, which is a general breach of surfing etiquette.

Duck dive

To duck under a broken wave by pushing the front of your surfboard under the water, then levering the back of the board with pressure from your knee or foot as the wave passes overhead. The desired result is to pass your body and surfboard underneath the powerful white water to pop out the back of the wave. Originated by Shaun Thompson and the South Africans in the '70's.


Used to describe waves that are very hollow and hard breaking.



A type of plastic resin used by some manufacturers in place of polyester resin. Usually an epoxy-user also uses a polystyrene blank, which can be badly affected by polyester resins.



The steepening shoreward front of a wave, where most wave riding occurs.


A) When a surfer drops in and angles back into the power of the wave to get deeper and closer to the breaking part of the wave. B) A wave may fade or weaken as it passes from shallow water to deeper water closer to shore.


The woven glass cloth that is saturated with resin, which is used in surfboard lamination to produce the hard outer surface of a surfboard.


A) Rudder like device(s) used beneath a surfboard to assist control, direction and drive usually designed to resemble a dolphin's dorsal fin.. B) Rubber swim fins worn on the feet of body boarders to help catch waves in deep water.

Fin System

A phrase referring to various inventions that allow fins to be attached and removed easily and quickly, i.e., Fin Control Systems.


Really good surf. Also called pumping, or going off.


A surfboard design invented by Steve Lis of San Diego, California, which features a wide nose and broad swallow-type tail design, with a twin-fin setup. In recent years, it refers to almost any short, stubby, wide surfboard.


A manoeuvre in which the surfer rides over and/or along the top of a breaking wave, sliding across broken foam or a pitching lip, then drops back down into the main part of the wave. So named due to the floating weightless sensation induced by the move.


1) The liquid polyethylene material used to mould surfboard blanks, which hardens or cures into a soft but firm foam, and is then shaped by hand. 2) Also the white water of a breaking wave and/or the bubbles left over from a breaking wave.

Front side

Facing the wave while surfing such as a goofy foot going left or a regular foot going right. Also called forehand.

Fun board

A compromise surfboard design, combining the superior paddling attributes of a long board, but stripped of some of the unwieldy length and bulk so the rider may have a taste of short board manoeuvrability.



A windless surf condition in which the texture of the ocean surface is ultra-smooth, like glass.

Going off

When the surf is very good and firing or pumping. Also refers to a surfer who is surfing particularly well, i.e., "Kelly Slater's going off."

Goofy foot

A surfer who surfs right foot forward and faces the wave on lefts, and doesn't face the wave on rights.

Grom or Grommet

A young surfer generally less than 16 years of age.


A swell with over 11 seconds between successive waves. As a rule, the harder and longer the wind blows in a storm over a long distance of ocean, the bigger the swell, the longer the swell period between successive waves, and the deeper the swell energy extends below the ocean surface, which interacts more with the ocean floor, or the "ground" so to speak.


A special surfboard designed to ride big waves. Generally longer than normal surfboards so the surfer can paddle faster to catch the bigger, faster moving waves, with a pulled-in tail to handle the high speeds.


Hang Ten

A long boarding manoeuvre where the surfer hangs ten toes of both feet over the tip or front of the surfboard. (Hanging five is also possible.)

Hard core

Extremely dedicated surfing or committed to the surfing lifestyle.

Hit the lip

An advanced move in which a surfer turns the surfboard up to strike the falling lip of the wave, and allows the board to be swung back down with the impact. Generally seen as an aggressive, powerful move requiring excellent timing.


A wave state in which a tube or barrel forms underneath the lip or crest of the wave. When you get tubed on a hollow wave, you ride in the barrel.


Impact Zone

Spot in the line up right where the waves are generally breaking. Surfers want to avoid being caught in this area when sitting or paddling out.


The take off position on a wave closest to the curl than any other surfer. Also "caught inside": being located inshore of the breaking waves or inside the impact zone or break line.



A wave condition in which a swell rises very quickly as it passes from deeper water to shallow water. A radical shoaling process caused by an extreme variation in water depth as the swell hits the shallow reef or ocean floor. Often creates very hollow and intense waves that appear to grow suddenly in height; thus "jacking up".



A term referring to amount of rocker in the tail.


A ride-ending manoeuvre in which the surfer turns out through-or over-the back of the wave.


A person who has an exaggerated idea of his/her surfing capacity, and who as a result interferes with other surfers' enjoyment of the waves. Often-but not necessarily only- applies to beginner surfers.


Leash Plug

A small plug with a crosswise metal or plastic bar used to attach a leash to a surfboard, usually inserted in the deck near the tail of the board.


A manoeuvre where the surfer leans back off his/her board, usually either in the barrel, or during a cutback.


The urethane cord used to attach the surfer to a surfboard or body board. Also called leg rope.


A wave breaking towards the left from the vantage of a surfer riding the wave. From a beach viewpoint, a wave breaking toward the right as the onlooker is facing the ocean.


The area where surfers sit waiting for waves, generally just outside of the break line or impact zone. The line-up may vary depending on the size of the waves and will move with the tides and currents. Surfers in the line-up can also use a marker on the beach, or points of land, to create bearings so they can maintain their position in the line-up.


The swells approaching the shore before they break. Also refers to the track a surfer takes on a wave.


The part of a wave that pitches out from the top as the wave begins to break. This is where most of the moving power of a wave is located. This is also the part of the wave to avoid if you're paddling out.


Long-time regulars at a particular surf spot or area who have particular knowledge and experience of the local conditions. Locals can be very protective of their surf spot and visitors need to be very aware of the fact.

Long board

A surfboard distinctly longer (usually over 9 feet in length) and broader (22" or more in width) at the nose and tail than a conventional ‘short’ board and based on surfboard designs pre-1968.. Long boards are great for learning because they are more stable, float better, and catch waves more easily.


A period of time when there is a break in the consistency of the waves.



A surf condition in which waves are crumbly and soft without any steepness or much energy, often referred to as gutless and weak.



‘Discovered’ by Jack O'Neill in the '40s in the aisle carpeting of a DC-3. Wetsuit neoprene is ultra stretchy rubber made from melted-down petroleum. It is made up of hundreds of tiny cells that don't allow water to flow from cell to cell, which is why it works so damn well. One damaged cell doesn't affect the whole suit.

Nose guard

Trade name, becoming generic, for a silicon tip designed to be glued to the nose of a surfboard, theoretically blunting the destructive effect of its collision with the human body or another board.



Winds that blow toward the ocean from the land, usually creating clean and groomed conditions. Offshore winds often hold up the waves so they break in shallower water than normal and become much more hollow.


Winds that blow from the ocean toward the shore. Onshore winds over 8 knots create bumps and chop on the water, making for ugly surfing conditions.


The area outside of the line up or break line where surfers in the line up initially observe sets of waves as they approach. Often a term used to warn other surfers in the line up that a new set of waves is approaching. "Outside!" Same as "out-the-back" (often used by Australian surfers.)

Over the falls

The worst kind of wipe out. A surfer is sucked back over the top of the wave as it breaks, and free-falls down with the lip-the most powerful part of the wave. This type of wipe out can cause bad injuries because the surfer will likely hit the reef or ocean floor.


Wave heights that are greater than the height of the surfer on the wave. Often used as a measurement scale of waves: such as 2 feet overhead, 3 feet overhead, double overhead, triple overhead etc.



A wave with a distinctly higher centre that tapers down toward its shoulders or sides. A peak will offer rides both left and right with most rides starting from the centre of the peak. It is similar to an A-Frame. A peak also refers to a swell at its maximum size.


A wave condition in which the wave breaks perfectly from take off all the way down the line, the lip creating a curve or arc of similar angle from start to finish.

Pig dog

Crouching low and grabbing the rail of a surfboard when going backside to hold in the barrel or tube.


A tail shape in which the two sides of the board come together in smooth curves to form a point. The pintail is a sensitive controlling shape, ideal for powerful hollow surf.


The power pocket of a hollow, intense wave, usually a barrel or tube. This is where you want to be if you're an advanced surfer, but probably not if you're a beginner or paddling out.


A highly crafted shaped blank produced by a top designer as a template for a computer-shaping machine. Also a similarly crafted shape supplied by a designer to a blank manufacturer as a basis for blank moulding.


Wicking material (i.e., it doesn't absorb water) replaced many nylon linings in wetsuits in the late '80s and is often used for insulating rash guards today.


A type of plastic foam and the most common type used in surfboard manufacturing, usually employed together with polyester resin.


The process of a surfer getting to ones feet on a surfboard, just after catching the wave.

Pull in

The process of turning the surfboard up to enter the barrel or the tube.


Excellent surf; a surf condition of very consistent waves with a very strong swell. Also, the act of making deep quick turns on a surfboard to gain speed down the line.



A collection of surfboards combining various lengths, templates, rockers, and bottom contours suited to varying types of surf.



Used to describe dramatic and difficult manoeuvres, situations, or conditions.


The edge of a surfboard where the deck wraps around to meet the bottom; usually used to describe the lower half of the edge.

Rail grab

Holding or grasping the rail of a surfboard to maintain control. Most commonly used in backside tube riding (see "pig dog") but also used in aerial surfing.


A classic manoeuvre in which the surfer goes through and/or over the lip of the wave, almost to the point of pulling out, then drops back down into the wave. A re-entry is the base term for numerous move varieties, such as floaters and off the lips.

Regular foot

A surfer who surfs left foot forward and faces the wave on rights, and doesn't face the wave on lefts. Also called natural foot in Australia.


A liquid plastic that is catalysed (set hard) when mixed with MEKP; used in surfboard manufacturing to seal the shaped blank and repair dings.


A wave breaking towards the right from the vantage of a surfer riding the wave. From a beach viewpoint, a wave breaking toward the left as the onlooker is facing the ocean.


Rips (currents) are created by water piling up near shore after a series of waves, and then escaping back out to sea in the attempt to equalize the water level. Rips usually focus in areas of least resistance, like areas with slightly deeper water or lesser wave activity than the adjacent area. For surfers, they provide an easy access back out to the line up but swimmers caught in one should swim sideways out of the current before attempting to get back to the beach.


The curve of the surfboard bottom from nose to tail viewed from the side. This is probably the single most important factor in surfboard design, because it controls the general flow of water from where it first contacts the bottom to where it leaves the board. Generally, a surfboard with more tail rocker will turn easier but might be a little slower, while a surfboard with less tail rocker will turn harder but might be a little faster.

Roundhouse cutback

This is a very advanced manoeuvre that involves 180-degree directional change in which the surfer turns from the shoulder all the way back into the curl or white water of the breaking wave, before completing the ride.

Round tail

A tail shape in which the two sides of the board come together in smooth curves to form a semicircle. The round tail is a neutral tail shape, not resisting or adding to any turn.



A self-contained part of a wave that breaks prematurely ahead of the original curl of the wave. The curl of a perfect wave will peel off without any sections. Obviously, most waves aren't perfect, but sections can create great opportunities for manoeuvres like floaters or re-entries.


A series of waves approaching the line up. Waves almost always arrive in sets, and the periods in between sets are called lulls.


The term used to rate the quality of waves as they break down the line. Perfect shape is if the waves peel off down the line without any sections. Average shape might be if the waves peel off but have various sections the surfer must navigate around. Poor shape is if the waves are closed out or if a surfer can't make it through the sections down the line. ‘Shape ‘ also refers to the outline and specifications of a surfboard.

Shore break

Waves that break right on the beach due to the fast transition from deep to shallow water. Usually not surfable.

Short board

A smaller, performance surfboard generally in the 5 to 7 foot range, designed for maximum speed through turns.


The unbroken portion of a breaking wave. A surfer will ride from the breaking part of the wave toward the shoulder or unbroken part of the wave. "Rideable shoulders" usually means that the waves are makeable after you take off on the peak. Sometimes called corners.

Single fin

One-fin surfboard design dating back to the first uses of the fin on a surfboard (by Tom Blake of the USA in the 1930s); combines a high degree of control with little drive. Some long boards or big wave surfboards are single fins today.


Disorganized bumpy or choppy waves from the wind, currents, or tides.


Positioned perfectly in the tube or under the curl of a wave. Can also be the same as getting barrelled or tubed.


A person who regularly sneaks around behind other surfers in order to take more waves; the act of doing so. This is done in breach of surfing etiquette and ‘rules’.

Soft board

These are surfboard for beginners with a soft-top or deck constructed of a firm foam-like material. Some older soft boards also have soft but slick bottoms. These are safer for beginners to use when learning as they are less likely to get hurt if the surfboard hits them.

Soul Arch

A classic manoeuvre when a surfer arches his back through a critical section of the wave to demonstrate casual control. Most people equate the soul arch with one man: Peter Townsend.

Spat out

When a surfer completes a deep barrel or tube ride in a hollow wave, and exits the tube at the same time as air compressed within the tube is also forced out of the tube as spray with the surfer.


The spray that exits a hollow tube or barrel, which is caused by compression of the air inside the tube, so the air is forced out through the front of the tube.


A manoeuvre designed to slow down a surfboard so the surfer can let the power portion of the wave catch up.


Slang for a surfboard.


This is an original surfing term that means extremely happy or elated.


The wood or glue lamination point, usually in the centre of a surfboard. Wood stringers add weight but give the board much more strength. Most stringers are single laminations but some Sclassic or older surfboards have three stringers for additional strength and weight. Also used by shapers as a central point for shaping measurements.


Tail slide

A very difficult manoeuvre in which a surfer breaks the fins free from the water so the tail slides around quickly. The surfer must stay above the surfboard, staying in physical contact to maintain control. Popularized in the early '90s by Kelly Slater and friends.


The beginning of a ride when the surfer paddles for a wave, and then pushes his/her body up to a standing position before he drops into the wave. The take-off is crucial for a successful ride as it sets the rhythm for the entire ride.


A three-fin surfboard design created by Simon Anderson of Australia in 1980. The Thruster is the most common fin setup used by surfers as it combines drive and control in most surfing situations.


See barrel.

Twin fin

The two-fin surfboard design is most strongly identified with four-time world surfing champion Mark Richards who rode a twin in most of his contest successes outside Hawaii. The twin fin combines drive with release to create a very free design, which can be hard to control.



A substance rubbed on the top or deck of a surfboard for traction. Surf wax comes in many different varieties: softer wax for colder water temperatures, harder wax for warmer water temperatures and wax that creates a bumpier surface.


Typically made of a synthetic rubber called neoprene, wetsuits are worn by surfers for protection from the cold by allowing the water trapped between surfer and suit to be warmed by body heat.

Wind swell

A type of swell of less than 11 seconds between successive waves. Wind swells are typically "shallow water" swells because they are always generated by local winds with brief duration and over a limited distance of ocean. Wind swell energy doesn't extend very deep below the ocean surface.

Wipe out

The classic term of falling off a surfboard while surfing a wave.

To avoid danger in the surf always respect the rules & know your level of skill

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