The Surfers Dictionary: A Definitive Glossary of Surfing Terms
Over the years, surfers have developed a rich vocabulary of technical terms, slang names and unique expressions.
This definitive illustrated guide includes almost 300 surfing terms, so you can use the lingo with confidence.
This definitive illustrated guide includes almost 300 surfing terms, so you can use the lingo with confidence.
A-frame: A perfectly shaped wave breaking both left and right (shown in the header for this page).
Aerial: A surf manoeuver where the surfer hits the crest of the wave and soars through the air.
Aggro: Aggression. Describes aggressive surfing or an aggressive surfer.
Air: When a surfer and his board fly through the air. A good air is when the surfer lands in control of the board.
Alaia: A thin wooden surfboard used by Hawaiians in the late 19th century.
Aloha: An Hawaiian greeting that means ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’.
Amped: Really keen for a great surf. Pumped, stoked or frothing.
Angling: Riding across the wave face at an angle to the shoreline, rather than straight towards the beach.
Backdoor: Pulling into a hollow tube from behind the section.
Backside: When a surfer rides with his back to the wave.
Backwash: When waves rebound off the beach and sweep back to the ocean, colliding with incoming waves.
Bail: Jumping or diving off your board to avoid a wipeout or to avoid another surfer.
Barney: An inexperienced surfer.
Barrel: When the wave resembles a cylindrical hollow peeling wall. A tube.
Bathymetry: The study of the underwater depth of lakes or ocean floors.
Beach Break: Waves that break over sandbars and sandbanks on the ocean floor.
Billabong: An Australian watering hole. Also one of the largest surfing equipment and clothing manufacturers.
Blank: A block of foam that will be shaped into a surfboard.
Blown Out: When an onshore wind blows the ocean surface to a point where the waves are no longer surfable.
Boardies: Quick drying, lightweight boardshorts. Can be worn while surfing or at any time.
Bodyboard: A compact and portable soft board ridden in a prone position. Bodyboarders may be called boogers, spongers, esky lid riders or speed bumps.
Bodysurf: The sport of riding waves with just your body. Fins and handplane are optional.
Bogging: What happens when a surfer's weight is too far back. The surfboard nose lifts up and the board slows down.
Bomb: A wave that is much larger than normal for the conditions of the day.
Bombora: An offshore, deep water reef break, located beyond the normal line-up and often some distance from shore.
Boogie Board: Bodyboard.
Bottom Turn: When the surfer turns at the bottom of the wave to begin trimming along the face of the wave. An important move that enables you to travel left or right.
Bowl: A section of a wave in which the line of the wave bends toward the shore, creating intensity and growing steeper or hollower.
Break: The point where swells start to form into surfable waves.
Bro: Or brah. Slang for brother or mate.
Carve: A sharp turn across the face of the wave.
Caught Inside: When you’re paddling out, or you wipe out, and get caught in the impact zone where waves are breaking.
Chandelier: Water falling at a tube opening while riding a barrel.
Charging: Surfing aggressively. Really going for it.
Chinese Wax Job: Getting the bottom of your surfboard waxed (usually as a prank).
Choppy: Bumpy, messy ocean and wave conditions usually caused strong onshore wind or cross-shore wind.
Clean: Smooth ocean and wave conditions when the ocean is groomed by a light offshore breeze, or no wind at all.
Clean-up Set: A much larger wave or set of waves, which breaks further outside than normal, cleaning up the surfers caught further inside. Also called a sneaker set or sleeper set.
Clidro: A leg pumping action that causes the surfer to gain speed while going up and down the face of the wave as they head down the line.
Closeout: An unrideable wave that breaks all at once, usually causing you to wipe out as soon as you take off. Also known as a straight hander.
Clubbies: Surf Life Savers
Clucked: Afraid of the waves.
Corduroy: The appearance of a series of swells lining up along the ocean to the horizon.
Cowabunga: 1960s surf culture slang, cried out enthusiastically when surfing.
Cranking: Going off. Pumping. Awesome surf conditions.
Crest: The peak of a wave (the opposite of a trough).
Crew: A group of people. A gang of surfers.
Cross-shore: Winds that blow sideways across the surf zone.
Cross Stepping: Walking up and down a longboard, one foot over the other.
Cutback: A turn performed on the flats or the shoulder of the wave to return the surfer towards the breaking part of the wave.
Dawn Patrol: Going for a surf at sunrise.
Deck: The top of your surfboard. The part you stand, lie or kneel on.
Ding: A hole, crack, or fracture in your surfboard that should be repaired.
Dirty Lickings: Taking a gnarly wipeout or beating in the surf.
Double Up: When two waves combine to create an extra powerful wave with twice the energy.
Down the Line: Further along the wave from where the surfer takes off. The direction in which the surfer is riding.
Drilled: Worked. The result of a wipeout.
Drop: Taking the drop. The moment after paddling in and standing up, as you drop down the face of the wave.
Drop In: To take off on a wave when there is already a surfer riding it. The surfer who takes off closest to the breaking part of the wave normally has priority. Refer to the Surf Etiquette section of this site.
Drop Knee: Riding a board with one knee on the deck.
Duck Dive: When paddling out, the technique of pushing the surfboard under and through a breaking wave.
Dude: A cool person or surfer.
Dumping: When a wave folds over all at one, making it unsurfable. A closeout.
Eating It: Wiping out on a wave.
Epoxy: A plastic resin used to create surfboards.
Eskimo Roll: To get a longboard though a breaking wave, the surfer rolls the board over in front of the oncoming wave, and then hangs under the board until the wave has passed before rolling back.
Esky Lid: Bodyboard.
Face: The unbroken part of the wave that you ride. Also known as the wall.
Fade: On take-off, aiming toward the breaking part of the wave, before turning sharply and surfing in the direction the wave is breaking.
Fakie: Riding backwards on the surfboard, tail first.
FCS: Fin Control System. A type of fin that is fully removable from the surfboard. Makes it easy to replace fins and travel with your board. See also Futures.
Feathering: A wave state just prior to the wave breaking, when the crest begins to show some whitewater as the wave face steepens. Usually seen with offshore winds.
Fetch: The uninterrupted length of water over which the wind has blown to create a swell.
Fins: Hydrofoils at the tail of a surfboard. Fins improve stability and control. May be configured as a single fin, twin fins, thruster (three fins) or quad (4 fins). Five fins are used rarely.
Firing: Pumping. Cranking. Going off.
Fish: A short, thick, wide board. They work well in slow and weak waves.
Flat: No waves or surf.
Flats: The flat part of a breaking wave, also known as the shoulder.
Floater: A manoeuver where the surfer rides up and along or over the top of a crumbling wave section, and then comes down with the wave.
Foam: Frothy whitewater created by broken waves.
Foamie: A soft surfboard made out of polystyrene foam for beginners or kids.
Foil: The rate of change of thickness of a surfboard from the nose to the tail.
Free Surfing: Non-competitive surfing. Surfing that isn’t part of a contest.
Frontside: When you surf facing the wave. A regular footed surfer going right or a goofy footed surfer going left will be surfing frontside.
Frothing: Stoked, amped or pumped. Excited.
Frube: A surfer who doesn’t catch any waves during a session.
Fun Board: Wide and thick, mid-length, conventionally shaped board, designed for beginners or small waves. Also known as a mini-mal.
Futures: A type of fin that is fully removable from the surfboard. Makes it easy to replace fins and travel with your board. See also FCS.
Gidget: A small female surfer (a contraction of ‘girl midget’).
Glass Job: The protective fiberglass and resin coating applied over the foam of a surfboard.
Glasser: A person who laminates surfboards using resins and fiberglass.
Glassy: Optimal conditions when there is no wind on the ocean, creating a smooth surface.
Gnarly: Difficult, dangerous, or challenging.
Goat Boat: A derogatory term for a kayak or waveski.
Going Off: When the surf is pumping with great waves and conditions.
Goofy Footer: Someone who rides waves with their right foot forward. Also applies to stakeboarders and snowboarders. Tom Carroll is a famous goofy foot surfer.
Green Room: The inside of a deep tube.
Grommet: A young surfer, generally under the age of 16.
Groundswell: A long period swell (10-20+ second interval) that has travelled thousands of miles through the ocean to the coast.
Groveller: A high volume short board designed to ride very small weak waves.
Gun: A large board designed for surfing big waves.
Hang Loose: To keep a relaxed, easy-going and carefree attitude.
Hang Five: Riding a longboard with one foot on the nose of the board, five toes hanging over the edge.
Hang Ten: Riding a longboard with both feet on the nose of the board, ten toes hanging over the edge.
Haole: An Hawaiian word meaning a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person.
Hawaiian Scale: The wave measurement convention used in Hawaii, Australia and South Africa. The stated height is half the height of the wave face, so a 2-foot wave has a 4-foot face.
Heat: A competitive period in surf contests.
Heavy: Big, gnarly, powerful waves. Teahupoo, Mavericks and Pipeline are good examples.
Hit the Lip: When after performing a bottom turn, the surfer moves upwards to hit the peak of the wave, or the area above the face of the wave.
Hog: A surfer who catches all the waves without giving other surfers a chance to catch any.
Hodad: A non-surfer who pretends to surf and frequents surfing beaches.
Hollow: Tubing, barrelling waves.
Impact Zone: The area where waves are breaking. Surfers want to avoid being caught in this area when sitting or paddling out.
Inside: The area of white-water where waves have broken, as opposed to the outside where waves are unbroken.
In the Soup: When a surfer is caught in the white foam after the wave has broken.
Jacking Up: When the swell rises very quickly as it passes from deep water to shallow water, creating very hollow and intense waves that seem to grow suddenly in height.
Kahuna: Hawaiian term meaning a wise man or shaman. An important person. The boss. Can also mean a very large wave.
Kick Out: Exiting the wave at the end of a ride by turning back out over the top of the wave.
Knot: A unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour, equivalent to roughly 1.2 mph on land.
Kook: A beginner, inexperienced or bad surfer. Someone who doesn’t follow surf etiquette.
Layback: A manoeuver where the surfer lays backwards on a wave. One of surfing's more difficult tricks. Simon Anderson was renowned for this move
Leash: The cord that attaches a surfboard to the surfer’s leg (or arm for bodyboarders). Also known as a leg-rope or leggie. Stops you losing your board after a wipeout.
Left Hander: A wave that breaks from right to left from a surfer’s point of view when facing the shore.
Leg-rope: See Leash.
Line-up: The spot in the ocean where surfers line up to catch waves, just behind the breaking zone.
Lines: Unbroken waves heading towards the shore. Corduroy.
Lip: The pitching tip or curling part of a breaking wave. Also the leading edge of a hollow breaking tube.
Localism: An aggressive territorial protection of a surf spot by local surfers
Locals: Surfers who surf regularly at the same location and live close by.
Locked In: When a surfer is tubed on a wave, or rides in the barrel.
Longboard: Wide surfboards that are over 8ft long and have a rounded. Also known as a mal or log.
Lull: The period between sets when no breaking waves arrive.
Mal: Longboard. Short for Malibu.
Macking: Big, heavy surf. Not necessarily good surf – just very big.
Men In Grey Suits: Sharks.
Messy: Waves that close out or break irregularly and are not ideal for surfing. Usually caused by onshore or cross-shore winds. The opposite of clean surf.
Mush: Weak, slow, messy waves.
Mysto Spot: A surf spot that breaks on a distant reef.
Nailed: Worked. The result of a wipeout.
Natural Footer: A surfer who rides with their left foot forward and their right foot on the tail. Kelly Slater is a famous natural footer. Also known as a regular footer.
Neoprene: A soft, stretchy rubber used to make wetsuits.
Noodled: Being exhausted or having tired arms (noodle arms). Sometimes called ‘rubber arms’.
Nose: The front part of the surfboard.
Offshore wind: Wind blowing from the shore to the ocean, smoothing the wave face. Light offshore winds provide ideal conditions for surfing.
Old Mate: Refers to a surfer whose name you don’t know. That guy. Him over there.
Old school: Manoeuvres from the past, like full rail cutbacks and stylish tube riding skills.
Onshore Wind: Wind blowing from the ocean toward shore, creating choppy, lumpy, messy conditions that are not ideal for surfing.
Out the Back: Beyond the breaking waves.
Outline: The shape of a surfboard.
Outside: The area beyond the line-up. Surfers sometimes shout "Outside!" as a warning that a larger than usual wave (a bomb) is approaching, which will break further out that normal.
Overhead: Waves that are bigger than a standing surfer. Used as a scale for wave measurement. For example, double overhead or triple overhead.
Over the Falls: When a surfer is sucked over the lip in a circular motion as the wave breaks. The worst kind of wipeout, as the surfer can be driven into the ocean floor or reef.
Paddle Battle: A race between surfers to get to the breaking part of the wave first, and thus gain the right of way.
Paddlepuss: Someone who stays in the whitewater close to the beach.
Peak: The part of ocean where the wave is breaking or is about to break.
Pearling: Or Perling. When your weight is too far forward and the nose of the board dives under the water. Comes from ‘pearl diving’.
Peeling: When the wave breaks perfectly from take-off all the way down the line, creating a smooth curved wave face to surf from start to finish.
Pocket: The most powerful part of the wave, just ahead of where it is breaking.
Point Break: A wave formed when the swell hits a point of land jutting out from the coastline.
Pitching: When the lip throws forward creating a very hollow wave face, barrel, or tube. Occurs when the wave transitions quickly from deep to shallow water.
Pitted: Tubed, barrelled.
Polyurethane: A material used in surfboard manufacturing.
Pop-up: The quick move a surfer makes to transition from a lying to standing position when taking off on a wave.
Post Surf Nasal Drain. When surfers wipe out, water flows into the nasal cavity and settles there. Later, the water unexpectedly gushes out, usually at the most inappropriate time.
Primary Swell: The dominant swell in the ocean at a specific location such as a buoy or beach. The next most dominant swell is the secondary swell.
Propagation: The movement of swells through the ocean. Waves and swells propagate from the storm source to other destination.
Pull In: To turn the surfboard into the wave or barrel.
Pumping: Strong powerful waves and great surfing conditions. Also refers to a surfer trying to generate speed on the wave by pumping the board up and down.
Punchy: When the waves are powerful, but not massively so. Often used to described short interval beach breaks.
Punt: To perform an aerial manoeuver.
PWC: Personal watercraft. A Jet Ski.
Quad: Four fins, two on each side. Provides more speed as there is no centre fin.
Quiver: A surfer's collection of different boards for different conditions.
Rad: Radical. High performance surfing. Awesome or impressive.
Rag Dolled: When underwater, the power of the wave shakes the surfer around as if he were a rag doll.
Rail: The outside edge of a surfboard.
Rail Grab: Grabbing the rail of a surfboard to maintain control. Commonly used in backside tube riding and aerial surfing.
Rash Guard: Or rashie. A form-fitting shirt made of nylon-polyester-spandex mixture. Protects the stomach and chest from rashes caused by rubbing on board wax.
Reef Break: A wave that breaks over reefs of rock or coral. A favourite of surfers as they provide a consistently shaped wave and fixed take-off point.
Re-entry: Hitting the lip vertically and re-re-entering the wave in quick succession.
Reflection: When a wave strikes an object like a seawall, jetty, or rock, and merges back into the original swell, creating bowly, peaky waves, which are good shape for surfing.
Refraction: When a swell moving along a point of land slows down when it reaches shallow water.
Regular Footer: A surfer who rides waves with his left leg forward. Also known as a natural footer.
Rhino Chaser: A big wave board. See Gun.
Right Hander: A wave that breaks from left to right from a surfer’s point of view when facing the shore.
Right of Way: Priority given to the surfer closest to the breaking part of the wave.
Rip: To surf really well. Can also refer to a Rip Current.
Rip Current: A strong current flowing seaward from the shore. Surfers can use rips to get out back faster, but swimmers can drown if caught in a rip.
Rock Dance: Getting into or out of the surf zone over rocks.
Rocker: The bottom curve of the surfboard from nose to tail.
Rogue Wave: An open ocean wave that’s bigger than the prevailing sea conditions.
Roundhouse Cutback: A 180-degree directional change where the surfer turns from the shoulder all the way back into the curl before completing the ride.
Sandbar: A long mass or low ridge of submerged or partially exposed sand built up in the water along a shore or beach by the action of waves or currents.
Sections: Self-contained, rideable parts of a breaking wave. A perfect wave will peel without sections, but sections create opportunities for manoeuvres like floaters and re-entries.
Set: A defined group of several waves that arrive shortly after one another. Between sets there may be a lull when no waves arrive.
Shacked: Getting completely barrelled. Riding a tube.
Shaka: a Hawaiian hand gesture used to say "hello," "great," "cool" and "alright". Commonly used by surfers, with an extended thumb and little finger.
Shaper: Someone who creates, designs and repairs surfboards.
Shoaling: When waves enter shallow water and increase in height.
Shore Break: A wave that breaks right on the beach. Usually a closeout wave. Also known as a shore dump or shorepound.
Shortboard: A performance surfboard, generally 5 to 7 feet long, with a tapered pointy nose.
Shorty: See Springsuit.
Shoulder: The unbroken part of the wave.
Shredding: High-energy, performance surfing with powerful snapping moves.
Sick: Awesome or impressive, for example ‘that was a sick cutback’.
Significant Wave Height: The average height of the highest 1/3 of all the waves at a given location. Most wave model charts show significant wave heights.
Significant Wave Period: The dominant swell period of the highest 1/3 of all the waves at a given location.
Skeg: An old expression for surfboard fin.
Slab: A heavy reef break coming out of deep water and breaking in shallow water.
Slotted: Positioned perfectly in the tube or under the curl of a wave. Barrelled or tubed.
Snaking: The aggressive act of paddling past another surfer to steal right of way. See Surf Etiquette.
Soup: The broken foam part of a wave.
Soul Arch: When a surfer arches his back through a critical section of the wave to demonstrate casual control.
Spat Out: When a surfer completes a tube ride and exits the barrel along with air and spray (spit) compressed within the tube.
Spilling Wave. A soft wave where the crest breaks gradually as the wave travels to the shore.
Spin Cycle: See Washing Machine.
Springsuit: Or shorty. A wetsuit with short arms and legs.
Spray: Water that is displaced by your board when you perform a powerful manoeuvre.
Sponger: See Bodyboarder.
Stall: When a surfer deliberately slows down the speed of his board to let the wave catch up. Accomplished by shifting weight to the tail of the board or putting one hand in the water.
Stance: The position of the surfer's feet on the board.
Steamer: Or full suit. A wetsuit with long arms and legs.
Stoked: Pumped, amped.
Straight Hander: A closeout wave.
Stringer: A length of wood running down the middle of a surfboard to give strength and flexibility.
Sucking Dry: Where breaking waves cause all the water to be drawn off the sea bed, leaving exposed sand, reef or rocks.
Surf Zone: The area along the coast or beach where there are breaking waves.
Surfer's Ear: An exostosis or abnormal bone growth within the ear canal, caused by long-term exposure to cold water and wind.
Surfer’s Eye: A benign but sometimes irritating or cosmetically undesirable growth on the conjunctiva caused by spending a lot of time outdoors in the sun.
SUP: Stand Up Paddleboard.
Surging Wave: A wave that doesn't get time to break because the transition from deep-water to shallow water is too rapid.
Swell: Ocean energy created by strong winds that produces waves.
Switch Stance: Riding the surfboard standing the other way round - i.e. if you're normally regular footed, you would be surfing goofy footed.
Tail: The rear end of the surfboard, where the fins are located.
Take-off: The beginning of a ride, when the surfer paddles for the wave, and then pops up to a standing position before dropping down the wave.
Tandem Surfing: Two people riding one board.
Thruster: The most common, three-fin configuration. The fins are the same size, with two parallel fins at the side, and one in the middle sitting slightly further back towards the tail.
Tidal Bore: A rare phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave that travels up a river.
Tides: The rising and falling of the ocean caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun.
Tombstone: When the surfer is held underwater and tries to climb up their leash while the board is sticking straight up out of the water into the air, like a tombstone.
Tow-in: When surfers use personal watercraft to get towed into waves that are too big to paddle into.
Traction Pad: A permanent replacement for surf wax, stuck directly to the tail of the surfboard deck. Also called deck grip or a riser pad.
Tri: See Thruster.
Trimming: Finding the optimum line for cruising smoothly down the line of the wave.
Trough: The bottom of the wave (the opposite of a crest).
Tsunami: A long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance.
Tube: The hollow interior of a wave. Also known as barrel.
Turtle Roll: See Eskimo Roll.
Twin-fin: A surfboard with two fins, side by side.
Wahine: Hawaiian word meaning a female surfer.
Washing Machine: Getting spun around underwater by a wave. The spin cycle.
Wave Height: The vertical distance between the crest and trough of a wave.
Wave Period: The time between two consecutive wave crests or troughs.
Wave Train: A group of swells of similar wavelength.
Wavelength: The horizontal distance from the crest of one wave to the crest of the next wave.
Wax: A sticky product applied to the surfboard deck to increase grip traction and reduce slipperiness. Stops your feet sliding out of position.
Wedge: A steep wave.
Wetsuit: A garment made of neoprene rubber that provides thermal insulation while in the water.
Whitecaps: When the wind is so strong it breaks the surface tension of the ocean creating small choppy waves.
Whitewater: The white foamy froth created by breaking waves.
Windswell: Waves generated by local winds. Usually smaller and less powerful than a groundswell.
Wipeout: To fall off your board when surfing or catching a wave. Eating it, taking a pounding.
Worked: Wiping out and taking an epic spin in the washing machine.
Wrist strap: A leash that connects a bodyboard to your wrist, preventing you from losing your board.
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