The surfing lingo glossary
How many words do we have to describe a wave?
Surf culture is full of surf-specific terms and references, here is your guide to a bunch of them.
- A-Frame: A wave that breaks from a peak in the middle towards both left and right and can be surfed in both directions by two different surfers at the same time.
- Air / Aerial: An advanced surfing manoeuvre where the surfer and board go past the lip and leave the surface of the wave for a moment and then return to keep riding the wave.
- Backside / Backhand: When you surf with your back towards the face of the wave
- Banks: The formation of sand on the sea floor of a beach break. Beach break waves are dependent on the quality of the sand banks to provide good, surfable waves.
- Bail: When you ditch or leave your surfboard before a breaking or broken wave hits you. This action should almost always be replaced by a duck-dive or turtle-roll.
- Barney: An inexperienced surfer, or someone who’s no good at surfing.
- Barrel / tube: A barrelling wave is a wave that is hollow when it is breaking and creates a space between the face of the wave and the lip. For many surfers, being inside the barrel is what surfing is all about.
- Beach break: An area where waves that are good enough to surf break just off a beach, or on a sandbar farther out
- Blank: The block of foam used to shape a surfboard
- Blown out: When waves that would otherwise be good have been rendered too choppy by wind
- Bomb: An exceptionally large set wave
- Bombora / Bommie: An aboriginal term for a wave that breaks over a shallow reef, located beyond the normal lineup and often some distance from the shore.
- Booger / Boogieboarder: Slang for body boarders.
- Bottom Turn: This is the turn made at the bottom of the wave when coming down off the face. It’s often the first move made after dropping in. Get it right for great positioning for your next manoeuver.
- Carve / Carving: The classic surfing manoeuver, carving is basically making big, deep turns on a wave.
- Caught Inside: A surfer who is caught inside is too far in, and the waves are breaking further out. It can be dangerous in big surf.
- Charging: A surfer really going for it, as in “that girl charges!“.
- Choppy/chop: When the surface of the ocean is rough / bumpy because of strong wind or current
- Clean: When the waves have a smooth, glassy surface and break from one point steadily along it’s length providing an open face for a surfer to ride on. Often accompanied by offshore winds. The opposite of messy.
- Clean Up Set: A wave or set of waves that are larger than average and break before the line up, resulting in clearing the line-up of surfers
- Close-out: A wave is said to be “closed-out” when it breaks at every position along the face at once, and therefore cannot be surfed
- Cranking: When the waves are good, it’s said to be cranking.
- Cross step: crossing one leg over the other across the board (usually to make it to the nose)
- Cutback: A turn cutting back toward the breaking part of the wave
- Dawn Patrol: Going surfing first thing in the morning
- Deck: The upper surface of the board
- Ding: A dent or hole in the surface of the board that needs to be repaired
- Drop, The: The drop is where a surfer first gets up on the waves and drops down the face of the wave. It’s also referred to as “taking the drop.”
- Drop in: Dropping in is a crime in the surf world. A drop-in is where a surfer catches a wave without having priority, i.e. there is already a surfer on the wave.
- Duck dive: Pushing the board underwater, nose first, and diving under an oncoming wave instead of riding it
- Eskimo Roll: (See Turtle Roll)
- Face: The forward-facing surface of a breaking wave
- Fin or Fins: Fin-shaped inserts on the underside of the back of the board that enable the board to be steered
- Fins-free snap (or “fins out”): A sharp turn where the surfboard’s fins slide off the top of the wave
- Firing: Firing is the same as “going off”, where the surf is really good and the waves are breaking nicely.
- Fish: A type of surfboard shape, shorter and thicker than a standard shortboard. Fish boards are for surfing smaller waves
- Floater: Riding up on the top of the breaking part of the wave, and coming down with it
- Flat: No waves
- Floater: A surfing maneuver where the surfer rides on top of or along the lip/top of a breaking wave and then drops back down.
- Foamies: These are either whitewater waves or surfboards that are made out of foam. (They’re ideal for beginners.)
- Foil: The rate of change of thickness of a surfboard from the nose to the tail
- Frontside/forehand: Surfing with your front towards the wave. A regular footed surfer going right or a goofy footed surfer going left will be surfing frontside. The opposite is backside.
- Froth: The foam left after a wave has broken
- Funboard: A mid-length surfboard, often know as a minimal
- Gas chamber: The effect when a big wave rolls over, enclosing a temporary horizontal tunnel of air with the surfer inside
- Gidget: This is the nickname of the title character created in a novel by Frederick Kohner (and adapted for three further films). Gidget is a contraction of “girl midget,” which is why it went on to be used to describe small female surfers.
- Glass Job: The fibreglass finish on a surfboard
- Glassy: This is ultra-clean surf without a ripple that often looks like glass.
- Gnarly: Particularly large, difficult, dangerous surf conditions
- Goofy / Goofy Foot: Surfing with your right foot forward
- Going off: If the surf is really good, you could say it’s going off.
- Green Room: Inside the tube or barrel
- Grommet/Grom: A young surfer
- Groundswell: A good swell with long periods created by pressure systems far away, rather than winds closer shore.
- Gun: A surfboard designed for big waves
- Hang-five/hang ten: Putting five or ten toes respectively over the nose of a longboard while riding a wave
- Heavy: When used as in “heavy waves,” it means big, gnarly, kick ass waves. Teahupoo, Mavericks and Pipeline are three waves that would have to be described as heavy with a capital “H.” The same term can be used to describe the locals at a spot.
- Hollow: Tubing waves, barrels
- Impact Zone: The spot where the waves are breaking
- Indo: Slang for Indonesia
- Inside: The area of whitewater where the waves have broken, between the shore and the line-up. Also, inside can be used to describe the section of a wave that breaks towards the end of the ride, closest to the shore
- Kook: A beginner or someone who thinks their surfing ability is greater than it is. A try hard. Someone who surfs to try and look cool. Someone who does not follow the rules in the lineup, drops in etc.
- Leash: A cord that is attached to the back of the board, the other end of which wraps around the surfer’s ankle
- Layback: The layback is a surfing manoeuver where the surfer literally lays backwards on a wave. It’s one of surfing’s more extreme tricks.
- Left: A wave that breaks from right to left from a surfer point of view when facing into the shore.
- Leg rope: See Leash above.
- Line-up: The area where most of the waves are starting to break and where most surfers are positioned in order to catch a wave
- Lip: The tip of the breaking part of the wave
- Locked In: When a wave crashes and the surfer is inside of it
- Log: Other word for longboard.
- Logging: Surfing with a longboard
- Longboard: A long, wide surfboard with a rounded nose.
- Lull: This is when the ocean goes flat between sets and everyone sits around waiting for the waves to arrive
- Messy: Waves that close out, break irregularly and that are not ideal to surf on. The opposite of clean surf, generally caused by an onshore or cross-shore wind
- Mush / Mushburger: Poor quality, slow, or non-powerful waves, often onshore winds
- Nose: The front part of the surfboard, that points away from you when you are paddling and riding
- Nose dive/pearling: When the nose of your board accidentally penetrates and digs into the water. Normally happens as you take off on a wave.
- Off the hook: A positive phrase meaning the waves are a very good size and shape
- Off the Top: A turn on the top of a wave, either sharp or carving
- Offshore: Winds blowing from the shore towards the open ocean
- Onshore: Winds blowing from the ocean towards the shore
- Outside/ out the back: The part of the water’s surface that is farther from the shore than the area where most waves are breaking
- Over the falls: When a surfer falls off the board and the wave sucks him or her up in a circular motion along with the lip of the wave. Also referred to as the “wash cycle”, being “pitched over” and being “sucked over”
- Party Wave: A wave surfed by several people at once
- Pearl/Nosedive: When the nose of your board accidentally penetrates and digs into the water. Normally happens as you take off on a wave.
- Pocket / In the Pocket: The pocket is the most powerful part of the wave, just ahead of where the wave is breaking
- Point break: Area where an underwater rocky point creates waves that are suitable for surfing
- Pop-Out: A mass producted surfboard made by machine
- Pop Up: Describes the move a surfer makes to go from lying on the surfboard, into the standing position to ride a wave
- Priority: Which surfer has the right of way
- Pumping: An up/down carving movement that generates speed along a wave. Also describes a decent swell where the waves are nice and powerful
- Quiver: A surfer’s collection of boards for different kinds of waves
- Rag dolled: When underwater, the power of the wave can shake the surfer around as if he/she were a rag doll
- Rails: The side edges of the surfboard
- Rash Guard: A lycra shirt you wear when surfing to protect yourself from board rash and sun. Used in climates hot enough to not wear a wetsuit.
- Re-entry: Hitting the lip vertically and re-reentering the wave in quick succession.
- Reef break: Surf that breaks over a solid base, usually rock or coral. Usually more consistent over time than beach breaks that breaks over shifting sand bars.
- Regular/Natural foot: Surfing with the right foot on the back of the board
- Rip / Riptide: A riptide is water finding it’s way back out to sea creating a strong current. For a surfer it can be an easy and quick way to get out back, for an inexperienced swimmer it can ber vey dangerous.
- Rocker: How concave the bottom of the surf board is from nose to tail
- Rolling, Turtle Roll: Flipping a longboard up-side-down, nose first and pulling through a breaking or broken wave when paddling out to the line-up (a turtle roll is an alternative to a duck dive)
- Sections: The parts of a breaking wave that are rideable
- Set waves: A group of waves of larger size within a swell
- Shaka: A common hand signal used by surfers, with an extended thumb and little finger. Hang loose!
- Shoulder: The unbroken part of the wave
- Smack the Lip / Hit the Lip: After performing a bottom turn, moving upwards to hit the peak of the wave, or area above the face of the wave.
- Snaking, drop in on, cut off, or “burn”: When a surfer who doesn’t have the right of way steals a wave from another surfer by taking off in front of someone who is closer to the peak (this is considered inappropriate)
- Snaking/Back-Paddling: Stealing a wave from another surfer by paddling around the person’s back to get into the best position
- Snap: A quick, sharp turn off the top of a wave
- Soul Arch: Arching the back to demonstrate casual confidence when riding a wave
- Spit: Where spray blows out of the end of a barrel. Tube spit.
- Stall: Slowing down by shifting weight to the tail of the board or putting a hand in the water. Often used to stay in the tube during a tube ride
- Stringer: The bit of wood that runs up through the length of your surfboard.
- Surf’s up: A phrase used when there are waves worth surfing
- Swell: A series of waves that have traveled from their source in a distant storm, and that will start to break once the swell reaches shallow enough water
- Switch-foot: Having equal ability to surf regular foot or goofy foot (i.e. left foot forward or right foot forward)
- Tail: The back end of the board
- Tail pad/traction pad/grip pad/deck pad: A pad on the tail if the board to provide extra traction or grip to the back foot. It also gives you a sense of where your back foot is on the board without looking and it can make the kick easier when duckdiving.
- Take-off: The start of a ride
- Tandem surfing: Two people riding one board. Usually the smaller person is balanced above (often held up above) the other person
- Thruster: Popular name for a three-fin shortboard
- Tombstoning: When a surfer is deep enough under water for the leash to pull the tail of the board down so that the nose is pointing up above the surface.
- Trimming: When a surfer goes along the face of the wave at the perfect speed without turning
- Tube riding/Getting barreled: Riding inside the hollow curl of a wave
- Turtle Roll: A technique for getting a longboard out though a breaking wave. You flip around with the board so the bottom faces up and hold on to the rails as the wave passes over you.Then you flip back around to keep paddling. (As apposed to duck diving for a shortboarder)
- Wahine: A female surfer
- Washing machine: Getting spun around and around underwater by a wave
- Wax: Specially formulated surf wax that is applied to upper surface of the board to increase the traction so the surfer’s feet do not slip off of the board
- Wipe out: Falling off, or being knocked off, the surfboard when riding a wave
- Whitewater: After the wave has finished breaking, it continues on as a ridge of turbulence and foam, the whitewater
- WSL: World Surf League