How Do Surfers Not Hit Each Other?

Surfing is a popular sport, and there may sometimes be dozens of people out on the waves. With that many people all trying to catch waves, it seems impossible for them to not run into one another all the time.

Surfers avoid colliding with each other by following surfer etiquette, paying attention, and not surfing the same wave at the same time as another surfer. The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way and other surfers get out of the way to avoid dropping in and hitting each other.

Colliding with other surfers is painful for both of you, so surfers want to avoid running into one another as much as they can. There are a few important rules of surfing etiquette that, if they are followed, can help you avoid hitting other surfers.

Right of Way

One of the reasons surfers collide is when two of them go for the same wave. Surfing etiquette dictates that two surfers should not ride the same wave because it doesn’t give either of them the control or flexibility they need because they will get in one another’s way. The person with the longest potential ride has the right of way for that wave. So, whoever is closest to the peak gets the wave, and the other surfer needs to back off and let them ride it. If the surfer with the right of way falls off or doesn’t catch the wave, then the other surfer can take it. (Source)

Stealing waves is not only a recipe for a painful collision, but it is very impolite to other surfers. Remember that you are sharing the water with other people, so you all need to respect one another. There are a couple of ways that surfers tend to steal waves from others: dropping in and snaking.

Dropping In

Dropping in is common and typically unintentional. This is when someone is already on their feet and riding a wave when another surfer that is closer to the shore stands up and starts riding the wave. Most surfers have done this a couple of times. (Source)

To avoid drop-ins, you should look both ways to see if someone else is already riding the wave or has the right of way. Listen for a whistle or someone yelling for you to get out of the way. If you accidentally drop in on someone, try to back off the wave by going over the shoulder; you may be able to avoid disturbing them at all.

If you do mess up their ride, make sure to acknowledge them and apologize, otherwise, it is even ruder. A head nod, a wave, and a genuine “sorry!” as you go past will help them know that you really weren’t trying to steal their wave. You will probably drop in on someone at least once while you’re surfing. It’s not a big deal as long as you try to avoid it. (Source)


Snaking means paddling around someone who has priority to get to the peak of a wave before them. This forces the person with priority to back off the wave and let the other person have it or risk running into them. It’s the surfing equivalent of pushing someone out of the way to get the last piece of pizza. Snaking is rarely unintentional and very impolite.

It’s easy to avoid snaking. Since it is almost always intentional, you just need to decide not to snake. If you see someone with the right of way, don’t pass them to the get to the wave. Back out, let them have the wave, and you can go for the next one. After all, you wouldn’t want someone else to snake a wave away from you. (Source)

Paying Attention

Another reason why surfers often collide is because they aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. When surfing, you need to notice where other surfers are and do what you can to avoid hitting them. If a surfer is coming in on a wave and heading directly toward you, get out of the way as quickly as possible. Pay attention to see if another surfer is riding a wave or paddling toward one that they have the right of way for; you won’t drop in on anyone if you are noticing where they are and if the wave is theirs.

When you are paddling out, make sure that you paddle wide to avoid getting in the way of other surfers that are coming in. Notice where the surfers are headed and where they tend to come in and go around that area. It may be a bit of a roundabout loop, but it will help you avoid getting hit. You have more control over avoiding surfers on waves than they have of avoiding you. (Source)

You also need to make sure that you hang onto your board. Losing control of your board, especially in a crowded area, can be dangerous because it can hit other surfers or you, even if it is attached to your leg with a leash. Keep control of your board and know where it is at all times.


Surfers need to make sure that they are communicating with one another to avoid running into each other. If you announce your intentions of going for a wave or shout which direction you are going, it can help other surfers know what you’re doing and adjust. There is less of a chance that surfers will drop in or head toward one another. If someone is in your way and you can’t go around them, make sure to shout and get their attention so they can move out of the way. That way you can avoid running them over and getting thrown off your board. (Source)

Every surfer is going to have collisions and make mistakes. It’s important that you learn from these mistakes and try to do better the next time. Do your best to respect the surfers around you, and make sure that you are paying attention and following surfer etiquette.

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