Over time and through no planning or reason, people of the ocean seemed to have developed their own set of Surfing Terms. This has come together through the enjoyment of shared experiences and having to describe things that had no worldly description. We hope you enjoy our glossary of Surfing Terms
Board – Not just a surfboard! ‘Board’ can mean any type of wave riding instrument, including body board, surfboard, SUP, and many, many more. Kelly Slater once surfed on a table. Afterwards he probably said: ‘Dude that board was sketchy’, or something like that. When your surfboard is dinged or snapped in two (it happens every now and then, but never under the safe guidance of Freewave Surf Academy), don’t be afraid to give the ironing board a go, or maybe even take the legs off the kitchen table and have a drash. Maybe you don’t even need to take the legs off. What’s the worst that could happen?
Bomb – A huge, heavy wave that explodes in its own power, blasting huge shoots of water everywhere. When you see a bomb in action you find yourself shouting ‘Yeeeeewwwwwww’ without even thinking about it. Your heart starts beating like mad and you chase the next set like there’s no tomorrow. The best bombs are steep firing barrels. The idea is to get as deep as possible, but not so deep that the bomb sucks you into oblivion. Bad bombs engulf you, landing heavily on your head and then they suck you into the washing machine for what feels like hours. Don’t worry, Freewave Surf Academy will never take people out in that sort of surf. When you’re ready for bombs like that you won’t need us anyway.
Boots / Booties – Watermen wear neoprene boots to keep their feet from going numb in the cold water. In hotter countries surfers might also wear boots to protect against the sharp reefs they’re surfing. Reef boots also protect you from sea urchins and other dangers to your feet. No one really likes boots, but when you’ve got feet so numb they feel like they’re going to fall off, or once you’ve stepped on sea urchins a few times, you’ll probably start to appreciate them a little more.
Bottom Turn – This is one of, if not THE most important turn in surfing. They say you can tell everything there is to know of a man by his bottom turn. You drop in, pop up, fly down the wave, and then you need to make a nice turn to get into the next best position on the wave, which varies depending on the type of wave and its shape. On a fatter wave a good bottom turn can get you flying up towards the lip, generating more speed as you go and readying you for another manoeuvre at the top. On a hollow, barrelling wave, a good bottom turn would get you deep under the lip.
Choppy – When the surf is choppy, the waves aren’t breaking cleanly. No one likes choppy surf. The waves are trickier to catch and usually shorter, bumpier rides. High onshore winds and a short wave period make choppy surf. Winds mess the wave up, stopping it from breaking the way god intended (smoothly and cleanly). The words choppy and messy are often used interchangeably to refer to the same thing: waves not breaking as we like them to, or as they shoulda woulda coulda.
Cat Flap – When you’re in a barrel and you see no way out so you just punch through the top of the lip to make sure it doesn’t eat you up. Better than no barrel at all. Sometimes also called the doggy door.
Comb – Not intended for hair. See Wax Comb.
Cranking – A bit like firing. Means its gurt lush. Sick. Good. Epic. Heavy. Strong. Time to surf.
Ding – Damage to your board. Dings come in all shapes and sizes. Glassed surfboards are more delicate than they look. It is almost impossible to keep a board perfectly undamaged unless you just stick it on the wall for everyone to look at. There are some people that do that, but we prefer the type that surf with their boards. The main types of dings are: cracks, which occur from hitting the board against something solid, be it rocks or the pavement, and pressure dings, which are more like big round dents. Pressure dings often happen on the top of your board from the weight of the balls of your feet pressing down on it.
Doggy Door – When you pull into a barrel and you can’t make the clean exit so you just either punch your way through the top of the lip (actually called the cat flap, but often interchangeable), or you straighten up and let the lip close behind you. Better than no barrel at all, but still, you took the doggy door.
Double Overhead Mush Burger – A wave that is twice the size of a surfer, containing heaps of foam created by the wave had broken previous to this one.
Drop in – A ‘drop in’ is usually when one surfer closest to the peak or curl of the wave has caught the wave, only to find someone dingbat further down the line has also caught the wave. The second surfer has ‘dropped in’, on the first surfer. The first surfer might be like ‘Don’t drop in on me you dingbat!’ Dropping in on someone is very dangerous, and unforgivable. Unless you skilfully drop in on your mate and shout ‘SHOTGUN’, whilst charging so fast he can’t catch you, then you might be okay. Otherwise, the surfer closest to the peak has the right of way, that’s a surfing rule written in stone. Dropping in can also mean the act of catching a wave, popping up and surfing down it. The bit where you surf down the wave, is most notably known as the ‘drop’. In context it would be said ‘I just dropped into the biggest bomb of my life’.
Duck Dive – Duck Dives save lives. When you’re paddling towards the line-up and a wave is coming towards you you have a few options, and usually a duck dive is your best one. This is a manoeuvre in which the surfer dives himself and his board under the water to pass under the wave. If you play chicken with the wave, the wave wins 99 times out of 100. Be a duck. When you get far enough under the water, the force of the wave is less, and getting low enough stops you from getting dragged around by the rough broken water of the wave. It is one of the most important skills in surfing, and almost essential in any surf above two feet tall.
Falls, the – The falls. As a big and/or powerful wave is jacking up it might throw you upwards with the lip and then send you right back down with the lip. This is called the falls. A bit like a huge waterfall bashing down on you combined with a big falling drop. Going over the falls on more dangerous breaks like a reef break is not much fun, unless you’re one of those whackos that likes danger a little too much. Gets your adrenaline pumping like crazy. Freewave doesn’t take you out on waves like that until you’re ready. When you are ready, we’ll see you on the line up!
Firing – Firing like a rifle, as in super fast and clean and accurate, just like we like our surf, or firing as in on fire, as in hot hot hot and so sweet you leave the office early to get a splash. It can mean both at once, or either of them, take your pick.
Goat Boat – Derogatory term for Kayakers. Most waveriders despise anything less elegant and sleek as their own vessel, so there’s a bit of a pecking order in hatred. Of course surfers see themselves at the top. Surfboards are small and agile, and it takes serious skill to catch waves, pop up and manoeuvre. Then it probably goes bodyboarders. Even though most don’t stand, they take gnarly waves and they can drop knee and other skilful things like that. Lower down the list are Stand Up Paddle boarders, they sit far out and their boards are so chunky they can take even the smallest of swells until it turns into a breaking wave. Not cool for patient surfers waiting their turn closer to the peaks. Then you have the Goat Boats, big chunky things propelled by a paddle that can catch waves from way back, but without control or finesse so they come flying at you like a flailing, panicking goat with no direction. Whether you paddle left, or right, they somehow magnetise to your and and so you dive under to save your skin but your board stays floating up there and it gets annihilated. Damn those Goat Boats.
Going off – Not like stale bread, or when your partner says ‘you’re going off of me’, because you’ve been ditching him/her for surf trips at every opportunity. No, in surfing, where everything is a little backwards when it comes to the English language, ‘going off’ is a good thing. When the surf is going off it means a spot is handing out some of its best waves. It means its firing, cranking, and… oh look, more words that don’t necessarily make sense.
Gloves – Watermen in colder places like the UK wear neoprene wetsuit gloves to keep them warm in the winter. They tend to make your hands feel heavier and sloppier. Gloves are liked even less than boots are. Poor gloves. Nobody likes gloves.
Gnarly – Quite an old word to describe something as good, or as better than good. ‘That wave was gnarly’, means it was epic, amazing, spectacular, wicked, whatever you like. Gnarly is used less often these days, it seems to have been replaced by ‘sick’, as described further down the glossary. Gnarly can also be used to mean something challenging, sketchy and dangerous. Both uses of the word make you sound like a bonafide surfer.
Grom – A little whipper snapper that surfs better than you. There are many of these little gremlins floating about, and you can only marvel in realisation that the 4ft wave you just learned to cutback on is a double overhead beast for this grom, who would have no doubt rodeo flipped, or alley-ooped it, depending on what mood she/he was in. Always fun to watch!
Gurt lush – A South Western word for anything extra good, wicked, lovely, nice, beautiful, epic… You get the gist.
Hang-Five – Half of a hang ten, the surfer puts one foot on the nose and hangs his toes off the edge.
Hang-Ten – One of the most famous terms in surfing. Used in practise a lot less than you’d think. It’s when a surfer (usually a longboarder) hangs all ten toes off the nose of the board, riding down the wave. Takes a lot of skill, very impressive.
Johnny Drop Wallet – When a surfer performs a maneuver where he lays back and drags his hand on the surface of the water whilst performing a tight turn. At speeds this could be mistaken for a poor surfer dropping his now soggy wallet containing what little shreddies he may have.
Kook – A term usually used for someone either so stereotypically surf that they look like they were modelled on the 1970’s front cover of Surfer Magazine, and can’t actually surf, or a modern day ‘all the gear and no idea’ kind of fellow. If you’re genuinely just trying your best to surf without worrying about your surfer image, and someone refers to you as a kook, they’ve definitly used the word wrong, and therefore, they are probably stuck up, or a kook themselves. Surfing is a vein old world sometimes. Good job there’s none of that amongst the Freewave Surf Academy community.
Leash – A leash is attached to your board and strapped to your ankle (for surfers) or wrist (for body boarders). Leashes stop you becoming separated from your board, meaning you don’t have to swim after it every time you fall off. Leashes also make surfing in busy areas less dangerous, so boards don’t go flying into people. It is rare to see someone surfing without a leash.
Line-up – The line-up is the position in the water that a surfer wants to be in so as to catch the best waves. On beach breaks, line-ups are generally spread out and variable because of the many different factors that cause the wave to break that the beach is exposed to, including sand banks shifting on the sea bed. Many consider themselves to be at the line-up when they are past the breaking waves, so they can sit calmly waiting for an unbroken wave to ride. On reefs and point breaks, the line-up can be much more consistent and smaller, because the rocks and reef bed usually stay the same, so there are less factors affecting the way the wave breaks. In areas prone to rips, or when it is windy and you are likely to move, it is a good idea to mark your position by triangulating yourself between two static points on the shore. If that last sentence didn’t make much sense to you, avoid rippy areas until it does.
Lip – The lip is the tip of the wave where it is breaking. To smack the lip is to pull off a big top turn on it, essentially hitting it with your board and letting it throw you back down the wave again. Lip-smacking is an impressive and fun move.
Logger – This is a term given to those that ride a longer surfboard known unusually as a Longboard. Longboards are typically over 9 feet in length and are ridden in a style that involves the surfer moving up and down the surfboard. The more gracefully that you move up and down your longboard shows your level of skill.
Messy – When the surf is messy, the waves aren’t breaking cleanly. This means it is usually tricky to find the right take-off spot on the wave, and messy waves are usually shorter and bumpier rides. Messy surf usually happens in high winds and when the swell period is short. Messy surf can go home. We prefer the crystal clean peelers.
Neap Tide – This is when the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun works in a way that causes the sea water move less further up the beach at high tide and further not so far away at low tide. Neap tides happen twice a month in between Spring Tides
Nose – The pointy end, or tip of a surfboard. Different shapes of nose will see surfboards handling differently. A bit like different shaped noses of people sees them smelling differently. Except nothing like that at all really.
Peak – The peak of a wave is its tallest part, which is the section that is about to break. This is also known as the curl, as it is the bit that’s curling over and breaking.
Pop-up – To pop up is to go from lying down on your board to up to your feet. In surfing, once you have popped up, you are considered surfing the wave. Some skilled body boarders also pop up on their board, usually into a drop-knee position.
Poo Stance – When you pop-up, placing your feet excessively far apart to ensure balance, and squat a bit, rigidly, to ensure you don’t fall. Once in a poo stance it’s almost impossible to manoeuvre and so you just ride generally quite straight down the line, looking a bit lost for options. Mostly seen in beginners, but we all pull out a poo stance once in a while. Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve done it until you see a photo or a video or it was so bad your mates had to laugh and make a big scene about it.
Rails – These are the side edges of the surfboard. The thicker the rails are the more buoyant the board will be, but it will also be slower to turn.
Rip – The word rip can be used in two ways. First and foremost it refers to a rip current, which is a potentially dangerous movement of water. It is always wise to look for rip currents before entering the water. We will certainly do a blog post about how to spot them in the future. Rips can also be used by more experienced surfers to get themselves to the line-up easier, when the rip is flowing that way.
Rip is also used as a word for describing a surfer’s ability. ‘That girl/guy rips,’ generally means they surf very well, with the ability to ‘rip’ the wave with big, shredding turns. There are two types of ripper. The first is the graceful and subtle surfer on the line-up that patiently waits for his wave, and when he gets it he coaxes beautiful patterns out of it and all that jazz. Then there’s also the charger that gets every wave he wants, and when he gets it he absolutely annihilates it, cutting it up in ways a butcher wouldn’t even imagine, only then to rocket off the lip like superman, and just when you start thinking, hell, that’s a lot of hang-time, surely he can’t land it, sometimes (depending on their personality) kind of hoping he doesn’t, he slams the board back on the green like it was nothing. A ripper is a ripper, kudos to them all.
Rocker – This is the overall curvature of the board from nose to tail (banana-ness!). You want enough rocker for the nose not to dive every time you catch a wave, but too much rocker and the board will be wobbly and slow. The less rocker that a board has the more stabile the board will feel. Less rocker will also make your board travel faster along a wave, however less rocker will also increase the risk of nose diving which is not what you want!
Shelter – Shelter in surfing generally refers to a spot’s protection from the wind. Protection from the wind makes the waves cleaner than unprotected spots. You can also have a spot that is sheltered from the prevailing swells. These are usually surfed when the swells are too big for the usual surf spots to work. Large, protruding cliffs are good for providing shelter.
Shred / shredding – This is when a surfer gets a lot of spray with big turns that essentially shred or cut up the clean water on the wave using their surfboard. To shred is therefore the ability to have such control over your board that you master turns over the sections of the wave with great confidence.
Sick – In surf language, if anything is ‘sick’, it is a good thing. ‘That wave was sick’, or, ‘Your board is sick,’ does not mean it is ill in any way. It means it is impressive and sought after. ‘Bude is a sick place’, must be said about a thousand times per day. Rest assured Bude is generally a very healthy place. In this case it means that everyone quite rightly loves the place.
Spring Tide – This is when the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun works in a way that causes the sea water move further up the beach at high tide and further away at low tide. Spring tides happen twice a month in between Neap Tides
SUP – Stand Up Paddle board. SUP’s allow the surfer to stand on the board at all times and use a paddle to generate speed. They’re big and buoyant, and are often seen catching waves way sooner than others in the line-up, which can sometimes be very annoying. SUPing is rapidly growing in popularity.
Superlegendarysurfdudesanddudettes – Possibly one of the longest legitimate words in the English Surfing dictionary. Exclusively refers to the Freewave Surf Academy team, even their writer. We didn’t make it up, honest!
Swell – Swells are the surges of energy in the ocean created by the high winds of weather systems out at sea. Swells then travel through the water, and as water is such a good conductor of energy, swells travel over great distances and eventually hit our shores. When they hit the shores, they break, turning into the waves we surf. The longer the swell period (the distance between each surge / wave), the better the surf generally is. For example, a swell with a period of 12 seconds and a height of 2.5ft will produce better waves than a swell with a period of 8 seconds and a height of 5ft. The further the swell has travelled, generally the better it is, because it has more power in it to travel greater distances to get to us.
Tail – The bottom of a surfboard. Tails come in different shapes and sizes, each difference will affect the handling of the surfboard in the water.
Tail Pad – This is a rubber grip glued to the back of the board, near the tail. It is used to create more grip for the rear foot than a waxed board can.
Washing Machine – When you’re sucked into the swirling force of a wave that spins you around like you’re in a messy, vertical whirlpool.
Wax – Wax goes on your board so it becomes less slippery when you lie or stand on it. It is rare to surf without wax these days.
Wax Comb – A Comb for putting grooves in the wax that is already on your surfboard. When your board has quite a lot of wax on it, you can rough the wax up using the comb to create more traction, meaning you stick to it better whilst surfing.