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Surfing Dictionary: Surf Talk, Surf Slang, Surf Expressions

I think I’ve come to this realization that when you surf, when you are truly immersed into the world of surfing and pick up the surf jargon, then it is almost like talking in a completely different language, so you need a separate surfing dictionary.

So we’ve put together this extremely handy guide of surfer slang, surf expressions and surf jargon for your friends and family to have some kind of clue what you’re talking about!

A-Frame

When a wave forms a peak and breaks both ways, like this:

Air Or Aerial

Part of a manoeuvre where the surfer and board leave the water and are airborne.

Backdoor

This is where the surfer takes off on a wave on the edge of a peak and then surfs through the hollow part.

Backhand

Surfing in a direction that means your back is towards the wave. A bit more tricky to master than forehand.

Back Off

When good surfable waves go flat and lack power.

Bail Or Bail Out

When you get off your board in order to avoid being knocked over, usually in rough conditions.

Banks

The undersea sand deposits which play an important role in determining the size and shape of the waves.

Barrels

As a noun it can refer to the hollow part of the wave and as a verb it can refer to surfing in that hollow part.

surf-barrel

Beach Break

Should be pretty obvious – beach break means waves that are good enough to break at the beach. Not all of them get that far.

Blank

Like a blank canvas, the block from which a surfboard is crafted.

Blown Out

When the wind makes good waves too choppy. (See ‘choppy’ below)

Boardies (AKA Board Shorts)

Knee-length, lightweight quick drying shorts popular with surfers.

Bomb

A large set of waves

Bombora

A mainly Australian term – it refers to a large set of waves that break a little way out from shore.

Bonzer

A surfboard with at least 5 fins.

Bottom Turn

A manoeuvre where a turn is made at the bottom of the face of the wave

Bowl

A shallow patch which can make waves break harder

Carve

To turn the board on or through waves

Caught Inside

When you’re stuck shore-side and can’t get out far enough to catch a wave.

Channel

A deep spot where waves won’t normally break.

Choppy, Chop

Choppy waves means that there is a strong cross wind, giving the waves a rough surface and stopping them from breaking cleanly.

Clamshell

When a wave doesn’t break cleanly and smoothly but clamps down on a surfer riding it – like a clam snapping shut.

Clean

The kind of waves you really want. The waves are smooth, rideable and breaking cleanly with the right amount of offshore wind.

Clean Up Wave

A wave that break early, ahead of the line up.

Close-Out

Close-out is when a wave breaks evenly all the way across the bay or channel at the same time, making it unridable as you can’t get out far enough to actually surf it.

Cooking

Great surf conditions

Cranking

Also great surf conditions

Cross Step

A fancy manoeuvre where the surfer steps or walks down the length of their board whilst riding a wave

Cutback

A 180° turn, which basically changes the direction you’re surfing in to head back towards where the power is in the wave.

Deck

The upper surface of a surfboard.

Ding

A dent, depression or scratch in a surfboard, usually caused by accidental damage.

Drilling

Getting thrown around a little bit by big waves after you fall off your board,

Drop

The initial downward slide, which gets you into the wave. Not to be confused with ‘drop in’ below. 

Drop In

Being a d!ck and jumping in on a wave someone else is already riding.

Drop Knee

Riding your board with one knee down.

Duck Dive

Pushing your board underwater when faced with an oncoming wave to avoid riding it.

Dumping

When a wave breaks in big sections, making it difficult to surf.

Eating It

Falling off your board. Same as wipe out.

Elephant Gun

A board designed for surfing very big waves.

Face

Basically the front of the wave – the bit which starts to curve over.

Fade

Turning sharply and surfing in the direction the wave is breaking in.

FCS

Fin control system. Having removable fins on your board so that if one breaks it is easily replaceable.

Fetch

The distance the wind blows over water.

Fin

The fin goes on the underside of the board to help you steer it.

Fins Out (Or Fin Free Snap)

A sharp turn where the surfboard fins are out of the water.

Fish

A short wide surfboard for surfing smaller waves

Flat

Like the name says – no waves.

Floater

Riding your board along the top of a breaking wave or foam.

Forehand 

Surfing a wave so that you are facing it.

Gas Chamber

When you have a big wave that rolls over, but leaves a “tunnel” of air with the surfer inside.

Glassy

Kind of like the name – when the waves are clean and smooth.

Gnarly

When waves are dangerous or a bit intimidating to ride.

Goofy Foot

Riding with your right foot forward and left foot back.

Green Room

A slightly older term for barrels

Gremmie

Someone new to surfing or who cant surf well

Grom Or Grommet

A young surfer

Gun

A board designed for big waves. Usually long and narrow.

Hang Heels

Facing backwards and putting your heels over the edge of your board.

Hang Five, Hang Ten

Putting your toes from one foot (hang five) or from both feet (hang ten) over the nose of your board.

Hang Loose

Chill out or relax

Heavy

A term to describe powerful waves.

Hodad

A non surfer who pretends to surf and often visits popular surf spots

Hollow

The inside of a barrel wave – like ‘gas chamber’

Impact Zone

The spot where waves are breaking.

In The Soup

The white foam after waves have broken – like whitewater.

Inside

When waves get more powerful, steeper and faster as they come in

Keg

Unsurprisingly, same thing as barrel.

Kneeboarding

When a surfer decides to kneel on the surfboard to ride waves.

Kook

A surfer of limited skill, usually they think they’re much better at surfing than they actually are.

Layback

A manoeuvre where the surfer lies back into a wave

Leash

The cord attached to the end of a surfboard, from which the other end usually goes around the surfer’s ankle. Also known as leg rope.

Line-Up

A bit like if you’re in a race, the line-up is basically like the start line where most surfers wait to catch a wave.

Lip

Also known as the crest of a wave. The bit that surges forward when the wave breaks and gives rise to foam/whitewater.

Longboard

A fairly long, medium width board designed for surfing medium to small waves.

Loose

A more dynamic surfboard that turns easily. Great for smaller waves.

Macker

A wave big enough that it would cover a whole American-style Mac truck.

Mal

Another word for longboard.

Messy

Same as choppy.

Mullering

An epic wipe out

Mushy

Low quality waves

Nose

The front tip of the board

Off The Hook

Basically means awesome!

Off The Lip

A manoeuvre where the surfer turns his or her board to the top of the wave and pivots on the lip. 

Off The Top

A sharp turn at the top of the wave

Offshore

The wind direction you really want. The wind blows into the face of the wave, so it slows down and breaks with more power.

Onshore

The wind direction blowing towards shore, and can create choppy and messy waves.

Outside

Like the back of the wave, the section that breaks further out to sea.

Over The Falls

When a surfer falls off their board and gets carried along the lip of the wave. Also referred to as ‘wash cycle’.

Pearl Or Pearl Dive

When the nose of your board dips underwater – usually manages to end your ride.

Pin Tail

A fine, narrow tail of surfboard. Some will be rounded, some will be slightly pointed. Usually found on longboard.

Pit

The bit right in front of the crest. If you wipe out, you will usually end up going here first.

Pocket

The arc bit below the crest of the wave

Point Break

When waves break onto a rocky point

Pop Out

A board made from plastic and injected with foam – ideal surfboard for beginners.

Pump

An up-down manoeuvre used to generate speed and power on a wave.

Quad Fin

A board with 4 fins, set in two lots of two, one set just behind the other.

Quiver

A surfer’s collection of boards, usually for different types of waves.

Rails

The side edges of a surfboard.

Re-Entry

When a surfer hits the lip of the wave and then enters it in quick succession.

Regular Foot

The normal stance – right foot at the back of the board and left foot forward

Rhino Chaser

A surfboard designed for huge waves, like a gun or elephant gun.

Rip

A strong current as water flows back out to sea. Try to avoid getting caught in one!

Ripping

Not to be confused with rip of tide or current, ripping is performing dramatic manoeuvres on the wave

Rocker

The curve of a board from nose to tail.

Rolling Or Turtle Roll

Similar to a duck dive, this involves flipping your board upside down to get past a breaking wave to get to the line-up.

Sections

The parts of a breaking wave that are rideable

Set Waves

A larger group of waves within a swell (see swell below)

Shacked

Another word for barrelling.

Shorey or Shore Break

A wave that doesn’t break until it reaches the shore

Shoulder

The unbroken part of the wave

Shubee

Someone that regular buys surfing gear, and maybe has an interest in surfing but has never surfed before.

Sick

Awesome. Yes, really.

Skeg

Another word for fin.

Slash

A drastic turn off the top of a wave.

Slop

Like sloppy, meaning a low quality surf.

Smack The Lip

Performing a bottom turn and then riding up to the lip or top of the wave

Snaking

Don’t do it! Basically stealing someone else’s wave.

Snap

A quick sharp turn off the top of the wave

Soul Arch

Arching your back to show your confidence when riding a wave

Spray

The extra water thrown up by a surfer’s board when he makes a powerful turn. Always a delight to see.

surf-spray

Squaretail

A board with a straighter tail, ideal for surfing small or medium waves and is the most common shape around.

Stall

Slowing down by putting your weight towards the tail of the board or by putting your hand in the water

Stoked

Happy or excited

Stringer

The line (usually made of wood) that runs down the middle of a board to give it strength and sturdiness.

Surf’s Up

A phrase meaning there are awesome waves worth surfing

Swallowtail

Another type of surfboard tail, to go along with square tail and pin tail, it has more of a V or W shape.

Swell

When conditions are stormy and a group of large waves have traveled from their point of origin to shallower water where they start to break. Can make for excellent surfing conditions

Switch Foot

Being able to surf both regular foot and goofy foot

Tail

The back end of the board.

Tailside

A move where the surfer allows the tail of the board to slide across the lip of the wave.

Take Off

The start of your ride on that wave

Tandem Surfing

Two people surfing together on one board. Can’t say I’d recommend it, but it’s been done plenty.

Thruster

A board with 3 fins.

Tight

A surfboard that isn’t very easy to turn. In stronger or faster waves, this can be useful as it will be more stable.

Tombstone

Not quite as grim as it sounds, but basically when a surfer gets knocked underwater and tried to climb up the leash of their board, the board sits upright in the water.

Tow In

Using a jet ski to get towed to the line up because the waves are too fast or powerful to paddle to.

Tube

Like you imagine, the hollow part of the wave when the crest falls over creating a hollow tube. Surfers paradise.

Tube Riding

Riding inside the hollow part of the wave (see gas chamber)

Twin Fin

A board with 2 fins.

WAM Chart

A wave animation chart, it shows the size of a swell for the coming few days. It’s great for surf forecasting.

Wax

A special kind of wax which surfers apply to board to give them more traction and grip and so that their feet don’t slip off.

Whitewater

Basically what it says in the name. When a wave breaks, the white foamy bit.

Wipe Out

Falling off your board. Yes it can be very painful

Worked

You should avoid this one. When you get wiped out and the force of the waves hold you underwater. You don’t really want this to happen to you – it carries a high risk of death!

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