Independent Surfer

GLOSSARY OF SURFING TERMS & SURF SLANG

For many surfers, surfing is not only a sport – it is a lifestyle and an identity.  Understanding this lifestyle and the unique language that comes along with it can be confusing.  We have created this glossary so that you can understand what everyone in the lineup is saying, follow along during surf movies, and figure out what the WSL announcers are going on about.  Throughout this list, we have focused on surfing terms & surf slang that are most relevant in today’s world.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z

A

A frame – Wave with a peak that resembles an A and allows surfers to go either left or right, with both sides having a clean shoulder to work with.

Alley oop – An air maneuver where the surfer launches above the lip rotating clockwise going to the right and counterclockwise going to the left. 

Air reverse – Aerial maneuver in surfing where you launch yourself into the air, while rotating your body and board clockwise while going left and counterclockwise when going to the right. 

Ankle biter – A term used for small waves, when the waves are so small they break at ankle height. 

Aerial – A maneuver in surfing where you launch yourself into the air, above the wave, with your board. 

B

Backdoor – A term used when a surfer is riding a wave and enters a barrel that is already barreling from a deep position. He ‘backdoored’ that one. Also, the name of a famous surf break in Hawaii. 

Backside – Surfing with your back to the wave. Going backside is considered harder than surfing frontside. Not optional, if you surf with your left foot in front when you go left, you will be backside and when you have your right foot in front, when you go right you will be backside. 

Barrel – A wave that is is hollow, or cylindrical, and plunges forward creating an air pocket inside of it. Examples of usage include “he is in the barrel” or “that person got barreled.” 

Backwash – Backwash happens when a wave hits an object and causes the wave to move back out to sea and disturb other waves coming in. 

Bail – A term used in surfing for falling.  This can also be used as a term for dismounting a surfboard. 

Barrel dodge – When a surfer has a chance to get barreled in while surfing but misses it, either by choice or inexperience. 

Blown out – This can be used in two separate instances. When the wind is really strong and has messed the ocean up to a point where the conditions are borderline surfable.

Or

When a surfer exits the barrel as the barrel spits an accumulation of air and water, we refer to that surf being ‘blown out’ of the barrel. 

Blow tail – An advanced maneuver done at the top of a wave where the fins break free from the wave above the lip while the lip while part of the board is still connected. 

Break – A term used to refer to a specific area where waves are breaking, otherwise known as a surf spot. For example: “that break usually has big waves.”

Boardies/Boardshorts – Short pants that surfers wear (mostly male surfers) in warm water conditions. 

Board transfer – An unusual maneuver where a surfer rides the wave with two boards and changes from one board to the other while surfing a wave.

Body board – A different type of craft used to ride waves. A bodyboarder rides the board on their stomach and knees instead of standing up.

Bomb – A term used for a really good wave within a set of waves. It can also be used for a bigger wave within a set of waves. 

Bottom turn – Turning at the bottom of the wave. A maneuver done that sets up other maneuvers. 

Bowl  – A term used for a part of a breaking wave that resembles bowl. “That wave bowled in front of me” or “that end section has a solid bowl on it.” It is a positive term. This part of the wave allows for high performance surfing. 

C

Carve – A type of top turn maneuver where the board stays below the lip of the wave and the surfer smoothly changes direction to go back down the wave while keeping most of the rail of the surfboard in the water. 

Channel – Area of flat water next to a surf break that allows surfers to get back to the line up easier. More common at reef breaks

Check turn – Type of top turn done more or less mid face of the wave that allows a surfer to slow down quickly to set up for a barrel or another maneuver. 

Clean-up set – A larger group of waves that breaks way out in front of any of the other waves on a day. The wave generally ‘cleans’ the surfers up and washes them towards the beach .

Close out – A wave that breaks all at once, this kind of wave doesn’t allow for maneuvers. The wave does not have a defined low point and high point and no shoulder for the surfer to be on while surfing. 

Concave – Curve at the bottom of the surfboard that curves inward from rail to rail 

Crest – The top of a wave before it breaks. Defined by the hgh point between two low points.

Cross-step – Maneuver done in longboarding where the surfer walks up and down on their board, stepping over each foot while riding the wave.

Curl – An older term used for the falling part of the wave when the wave barrels, this term isn’t used as frequently these days. 

Current – Constant movement of water in a specific direction. For example: ‘the current was strong today’.

Cutback – A maneuver where a surfer turns from the shoulder of a wave back towards the breaking part of a wave.  Check out our post “How to do a Cutback” to learn how to do a basic cutback and see one in action.

D

Dawn patrol – Waking up early to go and surf, usually around sunrise.

Deck – Top of the surfboard, the part that you wax and stand on when surfing. 

Deep – When a surfer is far behind the ideal place they should be to ride the wave. 

Devil wind – When the wind blows offshore but blows in the opposite direction to the wave breaking and makes it difficult to surf. 

Ditch your board – Purposely letting go of your surfboard, usually when a wave is coming toward you.

Ding – A term used for a small part of the board being damaged and the fiberglass breaking. For example: “that board has a ding.”

Doggie door – A small area where a surfer exits the barrel as it is about to close out or finish. For example: “that surfer snuck through the doggie door.”

Double up – When two waves meet and cause the wave to break unusually. They can double in height and/or cancel each other out.

Drag – When a surfer uses their arm or part of their body to slow them down on the wave. 

Drift – A term used when a surfer moves out of position while waiting for a wave. For example: “that surfer is drifting out of position.”

Or

A term used when a surfer does a carve or snap and the tail slides along the water while the fins are still in the water. For example: “drift the fins.”

Drop In – When one surfer is already surfing on a wave, and another surfer catches the same wave.  This is greatly frowned upon because it prevents the first surfer from surfing the wave as they please.  For example: “man, that dude just dropped in on me for the second time today!”

Or

To take off on a wave.  For example: “I can’t believe I made that drop!”

E

Edge – Another term used for a rail. For example: “he caught an edge and it caused him to fall.”

Epoxy – A specific type of foam and resin used for making surfboards.

F

Face – Refers to the walling part of the wave between the very bottom and the very top.

Floater – A maneuver where the surfer will ride up towards the top and ride on the falling part of the wave. 

Fiberglass – The hard coating on the outside of the surfboard. 

Fins – Shaped pieces of plastic or fiberglass that attach to the bottom of your board and help give you direction and can be used to generate speed. 

Fins out / Fins free – A variation of a top turn where the fins of the board are seen out of the wave. 

Foam – Inner part of a surfboard.

Foam ball – The white water inside of a barrel.  

Foamie – A soft top surfboard, as opposed to a hard top surfboard.

Frontside – Opposite to backside, when a surfer surfs with their chest facing the wave.

Frothing – A term used to describe a feeling of emotion like excitement or happiness. For example, “I’m frothing on the sur.,”

G

Goofy – A surfer that surfs with their right foot in front.

Grab – When a surfer holds onto the rail during a carve or aerial. 

Grom – A young surfer, up to the age of 16 but can also be used to refer to the youngest people in the group.

Ground swell – A swell created far away, in deep water with a lot of energy and a long period. 

Grovel – When a surfer catches a lot of waves, specifically smaller waves. For example: “that surfer is grovelling on the inside.”

H

Hang ten – An advanced longboarding maneuver.  The surfer stands all the way at the front of the board with both feet side by side while the toes hang off of the front of the nose.

Heavy – A term used to refer to waves when they are big and powerful. For example: “the conditions were heavy today” or “that wave was heavy.” 

Hold down – Being held under the water by a wave for a certain period of time after a wipe out or while trying to get back out into the line up. 

Huntington hop – A form of speed generation where the surfer will bounce the board side to side while using the fins to propel themselves forward across flat sections of the wave. 

Hydrofoil – A new type of craft that has a surfboard attached to a metal shaft and a carbon fiber wing that lifts the surfer up into the air while being propelled forward by the wave. 

I

Impact zone – The general area of white turbulent water where the waves are always breaking. 

Inside – A term used to describe an area of the line up that is closer in towards shore where waves can break and people are able to catch them. For example: “that surfer is sitting on the inside.”

Or 

A term used to describe the position of a surfer who is sitting closer to the breaking part of the wave than another surfer. 

Inside paddle – When a surfer paddles to take the priority position even though it is not their turn. Imagine someone cutting in line – that’s the equivalent of inside paddling. 

J

Jack up – A term used for when a wave dramatically increases in height in a short period of time and space. 

K

Kick out – When a surfer voluntarily exits the wave we say they ‘kicked out’ of the wave. 

Kink – Refers to backwash, reverb or when there is a bump in the wave. For example: “that wave had a kink in it.”

Kitesurf – A discipline of surfing where the surfer’s feet are attached to a smaller board and uses a kite to propel themselves forward. 

Knee high – Referring to size of wave. For example: “the waves were knee high today.”

Kook – A derogatory term used for a beginner surfer, or a surfer who does not know what they are doing. 

L

Late drop – When a surfer catches the wave later than preferred, further into the beach.

Leash – A piece of equipment that connects the surfers board to their foot so that they don’t lose the board when falling. 

Left – Referring to a direction that the wave breaks in, always spoken about from the perspective of a surfer catching a wave. 

Line up – The general area where surfers wait to catch waves.

Lip – The very top part of the wave that plunges forward as the wave breaks. 

Lip line – The defining part of the top of the wave that helps surfers read and understand what the wave is going to do next. 

Longboard – A board that is at least 9 feet long.

Lull – A break between a set of waves.

M

Mid break – Refers to an area of waves that break between the waves breaking furthest out to sea and waves breaking furthest in to the beach.

Mini mal –  A surfboard between 7 and 8 foot, otherwise known as a mid-length. 

Mush/Mushie – A word that describes small messy waves with little power. 

N

No grab – Opposite of grab, when a surf completes an aerial maneuver without grabbing the rail of their board.

Nose – The front of the surfboard, can be pointed or rounded.

Nose dive – A term used for when a surfers nose of the board pentetrates the water and causes them to fall off. 

Nose ride – Similar to hang ten.  When a surfer walks to the front of their board and stands with both feet side by side at the nose of the board. 

O

Offshore – When the wind blows from the land onto the sea, otherwise known as a land breeze. Creates groomed conditions.

Onshore – When the wind blows from the sea onto the shore, otherwise known as a sea breeze. Creates messy conditions.

Over the falls – When a surfer fails to stand up on the board or wipes out and gets picked up and thrown over by the lip of the wave. For example: “he went over the falls on that one.”

P

Paddle deep – Paddling towards the wave to get closer to the peak or breaking part of the wave. 

(To) Paddle in – To paddle in to the beach either to get out of the water or to adjust to be in the optimal position to catch a wave. 

Paddle out – Paddling out to sea to be in the right position to catch a wave. 

(To) Paddle wide – To paddle away from the wave to get out of the way of other waves or other surfers. 

Or

Paddling with intensity by reaching deep into the water with each paddle stroke.

Peak – A part of the wave that defines the highest point of that wave.  As if referring to the peak of a mountain. 

Pearl – An older term for nose diving, ‘a term used for when a surfers nose of the board pentetrates the water and causes them to fall off’, not as commonly used today. For example, “he really pearled on that one.”

Pig-dog – An advanced maneuver surfers use to fit inside the barrel on their back hand. The surfer grabs the rail of their board and kneels down on their back knee while standing on their front foot. 

Pit – Another term for a barrel.  For example: “that surfer was in the pit” or “that surfer got so pitted.” 

Plunging wave – A wave that rises in height and breaks abruptly causing the lip or falling part of the wave to plunge forward. 

Pocket – The pocket is a defined area of a wave next to the white water where the wave is curved. Considered the power zone for surfers and the most critical part to be in. 

Pop up – The movement a surfer moves from the prone position to the standing position. 

Pull out – A term used for a surfer that is paddling for a wave and at the last minute stops and decides not to go. 

Push through – A technique for longboarders and beginners to get back into the line up by pushing themselves up and over the wave while the board goes through the wave. Only recommended for small waves. 

Q

Quad – A surfboard with a four fin configuration

Quiver – A collective word used to refer to the group of boards a surfer owns. Like a troop of monkeys or a set of clubs, “a quiver of surfboards.”

R

Rail – The outer edge of a surfboard.

Reef bottom – A specific surf spot or break that breaks over the reef. For example: “that particular break is a reef bottom break.”

Reverb – A term used to describe the disturbance left behind after a wave has broken.

Reverse – When a surfer and their board spins rotating their chest to the beach on their forehead and chest out to sea on their backhand. 

Rib – A term used to describe a particular disturbance in a wave that resembles a rib, created by wind or reverb. 

Ride out – A term used for when a surfer completes a wave.  For example: “she was able to ride out of that one and get the score.”

Rip current – A dynamic area of water that moves back out to sea. Rip currents are not stationary, neither are they constant. 

River mouth – A place where a river meets the sea.

Rocker – The curve in a surfboard from nose to tail

Rodeo flip – An advanced maneuver created by Jordy Smith where the surfer must do an aerial 360 while rolling in the air. Similar to a maneuver bodyboarders are called an ARS (Air Roll Spin). 

Roundhouse cutback – An advanced maneuver in surfing where the surfer projects out towards the shoulder, then rotates back to the white water and does a snap at the end and goes back to the original direction they started with. 

S

Sand bar / Sand bank – A shallow deposit of sand

Section – A term used to describe a particular part of a wave. For example: “did you make the section?” or “that section was critical.”

Set – A group of waves. Used like the terms a troop of monkeys or a gaggle of geese.

Shaka – A hand gesture that represents a greeting, farewell or positive emotions like happiness and excitement.

Shoulder – The lowest, least defined point in the wave. 

Shred – A term used to describe good surfing. For example: “that guy shreds” or “she’s a shredder.”

Shoot the curl – An older term for getting barreled, seldom used these days. 

Short board – A board shorter than 7ft.

Side shore – When the wind is blowing parallel to shore we refer to it as side shore. 

Sick – A descriptive word that’s used for just about anything that is good.  For example: “that wave was sick.” or “today is a sick day.” or “she is a sick surfer.”

Slab – A particular surf spot where the wave breaks over a flat rock shelf. The term slab can also be used to describe a wave that would behave similarly but does not have a flat rock shelf bottom. For example: “that wave is slabbing.”

Snap – A type of quick sharp turn done at the top of the wave.

Soft top – A surfboard with a foam deck. 

Speed generate – Using the fins of the board to help generate speed by ‘pumping’ up and down the face of the wave.

Stall – Slowing oneself down by using the hands, dragging the body or putting pressure on the tail of the board. 

Straight hander – A word that refers to a wave that is closing out.  For example: “that guy caught a straight hander.”

Stringer – The wooden or carbon fiber line that runs through the middle of a surfboard. Gives the board rigidity.

Stoked – A term used to describe a positive emotion like happiness or excitement. For example, “I’m so ‘stoked’ to be able to surf today.”

Sunnies – Slang for sunglasses.

SUP – Stand Up Paddle, a type of craft ridden where the surfer is always standing on the board and propels themself through the water using a paddle. 

T

Tail – The back of the surfboard.

Tail pad – A rubberlike pad that’s applied to the deck of the surfboard above the fins. The tail pad ads extra traction for the back foot.

Tail slide – Similar to fin drift and blow tail, when a surfer completes a top turn and slides the tail.

Through – The low point between two crests of a wave.

Thruster – A surfboard with a configuration of three fins. 

Top turn – A broad term that describes turning at the top of the wave. 

Twelve O’Clock – When a surfer points their board vertically to the sky to complete a top turn. 

Twin Fin/ Twinnie –  A surfboard configuration with two fins.

Washed – A term used for when someone is getting pushed towards the beach or out to the channel in the impact zone by the white turbulent water. For example: “he got washed by that set.”

White water – Aeration created by the impact of a wave on the surface of the water. 

Wind chop – Lump and bump on the surface of the ocean created by wind, specifically onshore wind. 

 To learn how to do the maneuvers mentioned in these terms, check out our surf courses

For more information about the weather and scientific terms mentioned here, check out Surf Science Class (coming soon)! 

Please leave us a comment and let us know if you found this list of surfing terms / surf slang helpful, and if there are any additional terms you would like us to add.

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