SURFING TERMS & SURF SLANG

Understanding the Surfing Terms and Surf Slang

If you want to learn how to surf, you need to know surfing terms and slang. Surfing is a lifestyle, not just a sport, and every subculture has its own lingo. Surfer slang is probably one of the most recognisable and can be found all over the world.

Most countries with an established surfing culture usually have surfing terms in their native language as well. However, most widely used surfing terms were first coined by American, Hawaiian, South African and Australian surfers, so they remain untranslated and are usually used in English.

Check out our glossary of surfing slang for some common terms used by most surfers around the world.

A-Frame

A wave with a peak breaking left and right. It has the shape of the letter A, therefore it’s called an A-Frame.

A-frame wave - surfing terms

A-frame wave – surfing terms – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Aerial

A trick in which you jump off the top of a wave with your board and land on a wall, continuing the ride. It is often combined with a rotation around your own axis. It can be executed in 360 or 720 degrees. When it is popped out in the backside, it is called the Alley Ооp. At the moment these tricks are considered the most difficult in surfing and are performed well by only a few professional surfers.

Aerial - surfing terms

Aerial – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Backdoor

Catching a wave from the opposite side of the peak to get straight into the barrel created by the falling lip. On many high-level waves, this is the way people surf. Beginners should avoid this kind of surf spots, in order not to get hurt.

Backside

Surfing position with your back to the wave.

Backside - surfing terms

Backside position – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Barrel

A barrel is the most hollow and radical part of the wave. It can be near the power pocket or further along the wave where the ground temporarily becomes shallower and then deeper again, allowing the surfer to literally get covered by the crashing lip and get out. Usually, it requires wind from the shore side to make the wall hold up better, allowing you to get barreled. This surfing manoeuvre requires a lot of skills and ocean knowledge.

Surfing a barrel – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Beach Break

A surf spot where waves crash on a sandy bottom. The advantages of these spots are safety, as the bottom is soft, and the availability of lifeguards and surf schools. On the downside, sandbanks are in constant motion and are not always as easy to read as reef breaks. In addition, the currents are often strong and swimmers should stay within sight of the lifeguards. Beachbreaks can be calm, like Lacanau or our home spot Famara, or they can be very strong and totally unsuitable for beginners, like Puerto Escondido.

Caleta de Famara, beach break - surfing terms

Famara beach, best Europe’s beach break for beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers – (Source :REDSTARSURF)

Blown-Out

Bad surfing conditions due to the wind. It’s either blowing too much or from the wrong direction, making the surf unpleasant or even impossible.

Bottom Turn

The bottom turn will most probably be your first manoeuvre in surfing. That’s the base of everything. The turn is made at the bottom of the wave. It can be executed front side, like on the example photo, or backside, with your back showing towards the face of the wave.

bottom turn - surfing terms

Bottom Turn on a wave in Lanzarote – (Source : REDSTARSURF).

Break

A break is called a place where waves break. It can be any kind of surf spot.

Carve

Carve is a turn on the face of the wave whereby one of the rails of the board is submerged in the water.

Carve – (Source :REDSTARSURF)

Caught Inside

Being caught or stuck between the shoreline and the breaking waves.

Channel

A channel is a current pushing you through a deeper water area where waves hardly break, making it easier to paddle out. 

Choppy

Rough, bumpy waves due to wind conditions.

When It’s choppy, better kitesurfing – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Close-Out

When a wave breaks at once covering the whole face of the wave, making the ride impossible. Аvoid close-outs. 

Curl

The top part of a wave, that breaks towards the shoulder of the wave.

Cutback

A cutback is a manoeuvre, where you turn the board back towards the pocket, ideally hit the curling lip and turn back into the wall. This basic manoeuvre gives you speed for the next turn.

Cutback – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Dawn Patrol

Sunrise surf check

Deck

The top part of a surfboard is called Deck.

Ding

Damage done to your surfboard by dropping, collision etc.; dings should be dried out and repaired to prevent the surfboard from filling with water.

Drop

The first part of a ride. Straight after popping up the surfer “drops” down the face of the wave, preparing for the turn.

Drop-In

To get in the right of way of a surfer who is already surfing a wave.

From our perspective, the surfer to the left droped in the surfer to the right – (Source : REDSTARSURF).

Duck-Dive

The technique of getting through the waves and get to the line-up. Just before the broken wave is about to give you a punch, you push the nose under the water, then the tail, and finish it diving to our board. Important is to dive deeply and to stick to your board until you get out on the other side. Duck-dives are usually performed on shortboards.

Eskimo Roll

The technique of rolling over with a surfboard that gets a surfer through a wave without being washed to shore. Eskimo Rolls are usually performed on longboards and funboards; same as Turtle Roll.

Face

The surfable part of a wave, that is just about to break. The face of a wave is the place for turns and manoeuvres.

Fins

Rudderlike devices attached to the bottom of a surfboard. Fins provide the ability to steer, give the board speed and direction. Fins are usually used in sets of three (see Thruster).

Fish

A rounded, short and wide surfboard design, that is easy to paddle and allows to surf mushy waves, while allowing maneuverability and speed (5-6ft).

Flat

Tiny or no waves at all. We are so happy to be based in one most swell consistent places in Europe. Flat days are extremely rare in Lanzarote.

Foamies

Foamies are soft beginner surfboards constructed out of foam (7-9ft). Very safe and easy to surf. Beginners should always start to learn how to surf on a foamie. Watch out, surf schools, where the lessons take place on hard boards, should not be considered as professional. 

Surfing with a foamie – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Front-Side

The position when surfing a wave facing the wall with your chest.

Funboard

A medium length surfboard with a round nose usually ranging from 6’8 to 7’10 feet long.

Glassy

The smooth surface of a wave, when no wind disrupts. Perfect surf conditions.

Goofy Foot

Surfing with the right foot forward on the board.

A goofy surfer – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Gnarly

Heavy, big and dangerous surf. Extreme conditions. 

Green Room

The inside of a barrelling wave. The place to be.

A surfer inside the green room – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Green Wave

An unbroken wave that has hit a sand bank or reef, opening room for a ride.

Groundswell

Swell that travelled a long way through the ocean, created by storms offshore and usually creating powerful waves.

Grom

A young surfer; aka grommet.

Gun

A big, pointy surfboard made specifically for big wave surfing and usually designed for a specific wave (i.e Mavericks gun or Waimea Gun); aka rhino chaser.

Hang Five

Riding a longboard with 5 toes off the nose of the board.

Hang Loose

A Hawaiian expression for an easy-going attitude; see shaka.

Hang-Ten

Riding a longboard with all 10 toes off the nose of the board.

Heat

A competitive period held in surf contest.     

Hollow waves

Barrels, tubes.

Hybrid

A surfboard design that combines the high performance of a shortboard with the width, tail, and sometimes nose of a fish. A hybrid is a good choice for mushy waves or for surfer seeking extra volume.

Impact Zone

Impact zone is where the waves break. Avoid the impact zone when paddling out.

Inside

Anywhere between breaking waves and shoreline.

Kick-Out

To go over or through the back of the wave when ending a ride.

Bailing – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Kook

A surfer, acting inappropriately according to the surfing etiquette. Usually, a kook has a very low surfing level, absolutely clueless about being a hassle or even a hazard for other surfers in the water. Furthermore, a kook can be somebody, who doesn’t understand surfing culture or lifestyle

Left-hander

A wave breaking to the left from the surfer’s perspective.

A wave breaking to the left from the surfer’s perspective – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Line-Up

The spot where the waves break. Surfers line up in order to catch waves.

Lines

The lines of waves, approaching the shore.

Lip

The part of the wave that pitches out as it breaks; where most of the power is located.

A surfer that touches the lips of the wave during a maneuver – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Localism

The aggression of local surfers toward non-local surfers. How to avoid localism? Read our article about the Surfing Etiquette.

Locals

Local surfers. The guys usually know their home spots best. Always respect local surfers when you travel.

Longboard

Long surfboard, 9 ft or more with a round nose. Longboarding is the classic style of surfing. 

Messy

Irregular, unpredictable surfing conditions.

Mush

Non-powerful waves, too soft to surf.

Nose

The front part of the surfboards, differs with shapes.

Nose-dive

Digging in with the nose of your surfboard into the water, usually performed by beginner surfers after or during the take-off.

Offshore

Best wind for surfing. Wind is blowing from the shore into the ocean, slowing down the wave, making it hollower and smoothing its surface. Perfect for barrels.

Onshore

Wind blowing from the ocean to the shore, usually destroying the waves, creating chop.

Overhead

Approximated wave height measured on surfer’s height. The lip of an overhead wave is slightly higher than the surfer on the wave. In conclusion, double overhead waves would be twice the surfer’s height.

Surfing a triple overhead wave in Lanzarote – (Source :REDSTARSURF)

Peak

The highest part of a breaking wave, creating both left and right shoulders to ride.

Left and right shoulders riding – (Source : REDSTARSURF).

Pit

The most hollow part of a barrelling wave.

Pit – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Pitted

When a surfer gets barrelled.

Pocket

Pocket also called wave pocket is the most powerful and steepest part of the wave, just next to the breaking lip. Progressive surfers surf very close to the pocket, in order to execute more radical manoeuvres, generating more speed.

Point-Break

Point-break is called a type of wave which breaks on land or rocks which are part of the coastline. Waves usually wrap around a point-break. In conclusion, point-breaks can be either lefts or rights.

The move a surfer performs to get into standing position on the surfboard and surf the wave.

Pumping

Great surf conditions. Doesn’t have to be big, but nice and consistent.

Quiver

Basically, a quiver means surfboards. On one side, it can be the surfer’s private surfboards collection. In the same way, a quiver means the complete range of a certain surfboard model in all available sizes or shapes.

Rails

The sides or edges of the surfboard. The thickness of the rails has a huge impact on the buoyancy of the surfboard and its manoeuvrability. 

Reformer

A wave created by a previously broken bigger wave further out. The white water of a broken wave continues travelling towards the shore. When it hits the next sand bank, or reef, it begins to reform, and to break again. That’s a reforming wave. Usually, it’s much smaller and weaker than the previously broken mother wave. This makes reformers very popular amongst beginner surfers.

Regular-Footed

Surfing with your left foot forward (opposite: goofy).

A regular surfer- (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Right-hander

A wave breaking to the right from the surfer’s perspective. 

A wave breaking to the right from the surfer’s perspective – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Right of way

Priority for a wave given to the surfer closest to the breaking part of the wave.

Riptide

A strong surface current flowing from the shoreline into the sea aka rip current or rip.

Rocker

The curve of the surfboard from nose to tail, or from one rail to another. Low rocker makes paddling easier, good for fat beachy waves. More rocker makes the board more manoeuvrable. Equally important are the nose and the tail rocker. Nose rocker, f.e. prevents nosediving in hollow waves. More info about rocker in surfboard design.

Section

A segment or part of a wave. A section can be fast, slow, hollow, fat, or close out. A wave usually has several sections.

Set

A group of waves, heading towards the shore.

Shaka

A Hawaiian hand gesture used by surfers to express “hello”; “cool”; “great”; done by extending their thumb and pinkie finger.

Shaka – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Shape

When talking about a wave: A term describing the quality of a wave as it breaks. 

When talking about surfboards: A shape means the design of the surfboard.

Shaper

A designer and producer making custom made surfboards.

Shorebreak

Usually unsurfable waves, breaking right at the shore.

Shortboard

A short surfboard ranges from 5 to 7 feet, usually with a pointed nose, designed for performance surfing with radical manoeuvres.

Advanced surfers with shortboard – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Shove-It

Moving the surfboard 180° or 360° under the surfer while riding.

Shove-it – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Sick

Awesome, impressive. Sick, also can be called amazing surfing conditions or a very radical and nicely performed manoeuvre. 

Slotted

A surfer, perfectly situated inside a barrel.

Snaking

Paddling around, under or over another surfer to get right of way; a way of “stealing” a wave. When you snake someone, most probably you won’t make yourself popular among other surfers in the water.

Softboard

Beginner surfboard; see Foamies.

Soup

The foam of a wave or whitewater. Comes usually straight after the washing machine. 

Spat-Out

When a surfer exits a barrel getting pushed from the back by the water splash from inside of the barrel.

Spit

Water that is sprayed out from the inside of a barrel as the wave breaks.

Stick

A stick is another word for a surfboard.

Stoked

Pumped, extremely happy or excited. The Stoke is also excitement or enthusiasm.

Stoked after our surf lessons – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Stringer

The small wood band incorporated along the board, acting as a spine. One of the main components of a surfboard, essential for the solidity of the surfboard.

Swell

Basically swell refers to water masses, travelling through the ocean. The swell can come from different directions and can be differentiated into groundswell or wind swell. Swell influences wave height, shape and power.

Tail

The back end of a surfboard.

Take-Off

Catching a wave.

Thruster

A three-fin surfboard design created in 1982 by Simon Anderson; the most common fin setup today allowing control and maneuverability.

Tube

Barrel, hollow part of a curling wave.

A tube in Lanzarote – (Source : REDSTARSURF)

Turtle Roll

The technique of rolling over with a surfboard that gets a surfer through a wave without being washed to shore; see also Eskimo Roll.

Wall

Another word for a face of the wave. 

Washing Machine

Being rolled-around underwater by a breaking wave.

Wave Hog

A surfer, unwilling to share waves.

Wax

A substance used to rub on the deck of a surfboard for better grip.

White Water

The foam of a breaking wave.

Wipe-Out

Falling off a wave while surfing it.

Worked

Being knocked off a wave and going through the washing machine.

If you like this surf glossary, feel free to look at our other pages to learn more about Surfing Etiquette and Surfboard Design.

Find our surf school and surf camp in Caleta de Famara, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. We are looking forward to welcoming you to our beautiful island!