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Surfing Slang: An A-Z of Surf Terms

Updated on June 01, 2016
'Sponger' goes 'over the falls'!
'Sponger' goes 'over the falls'!

The history of surf talk

Surf speak has been around almost as long as surfing has existed in the English speaking World. It can be traced back as far as the 1920s but it was in the 1950s, with the explosion of surfing in the USA that the language of surf really came into itw own.

With mainstream bands such as the Beach Boys and films such as Gidget (1959) there was no stopping certain words and phrases creeping into the Eglish language at large!

As an example of surf slang we can describe the action in the photo to the right. What you see here is 'some dude on a sponge has wiped-out and is going over the falls on a hollow little right'
If that makes any sense to you - great! If not read on!

A to Z of Surfing

Air

A surfing manouvre where the surfer becomes airborne. Advanced stuff and requires excellent timing and speed

Aerial

See air above

A-Frame

This is where a wave forms in a peak and breaks both ways. The name comes from the fact it is A shaped before it breaks

Backdoor

This is where the surfer takes off on a wave on the far side of the peak. He then proceeds to surf through the barrel.
Backdoor is also the name of the right-hander that breaks off the famous Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii

Backhand
To surf a wave in the direction that means your back is towards the wave. Usually considered more difficult than forehand but easier for some manouvres

Back off

This is where the wave goes from being steep and surfable to being flat and lacking power. It usually accurs when the wave breaks and then hits deeper water

Bail out

To jump or dive off your board when the going gets sketchy - this is usually on the paddle out when confronted with a wave too big to get under

Banks

These is how the sand forms on the sea bed and are what determine the shape of the wave above. Without good banks the surf is at best pretty!

Barrel

One of a variety of names for one of surfing's ultimate goals. Can be used as a noun or a verb, both refer to the hollow part of the wave formed when the top travels faster than the bottom.
The trick is to get into the barrel and is thus be barrelled!

Beach Break

The clues in the name! A wave that breaks at a beach (some don't)

Bomb

A particularly large wave

Bombora

Australian term for a large wave that breaks a long way out to sea on an offshore reef or sandbank. AKA Bommie

Bonzer

A surfboard with no less than 5 fins! Invented by the Californian Cambell brothers in the 70s occasionally makes an appearance in modern designs

Carve

When a surfer performs a long, smooth, often powerful longer turn

Clean
You want clean waves! This doesn't mean there is no poo in the water but that the waves are smooth and breaking well due to offshore winds. The opposite is messy when the wind blows onshore making them ragged

Close out

Waves are supposed to break across - either left or right. A closeout is where the whole wave breaks at once. A very short ride!

Concave

The concave surface of the bottom of a modern surfboard. It helps increase speed

Cooking

Very good surf conditions

Cranking

As above

Cutback
An S shaped manouvre where the surfer changes direction on the wave to head back to where the power is. This is followed by another change in direction back down the line

Drilling

This is what big waves do to you after you fall off!

Drop knee

A style of bodyboarding where the surfer rides on one foot and one knee somewhat like a rifleman would stand.

Drop in

This is an unspeakable act in the surfing World! It is where a surfer is already on a wave (and thus has priority) and another surfer takes off on the same wave. Depending on who does it and where this can sometimes result in violence!

Dude
Not strictly speaking only a surfing term, but for years this was the only place it was used. Strangely enough the word originally meant a tramp /scarecrow

Elephant Gun

A surfboard designed for very big surf

Face

The front of the wave where it hasn't broken - the blue/green part you can see

Fin

The protruberances on the bottom of most surfboards. Used to just be the one, now they usually come in 3s, sometimes 4s and occasionally 2s and 5s!Their purpose is to create latteral resistance or in other words stop you going sideways

Fish
A short wide surfboard designed for surfing small waves

Floater

Where the surfer rides over the top of the broken part of the wave as opposed to the face

Forehand
To surf a wave in the direction so that you are looking towards it. Generally considered slightly easier than backhand

Glassy

Conditions where there is no wind and the water surface becomes so smooth it resembles glass. This is a good thing!

Gnarly

Scary, bad or dangerous

Goat boat

A fond term for a surf-ski

Goofy foot

If you stand with your right foot forward you are a goofy footer!

Green Room

70s term for a barrel / tube

Gremmie

Someone who can't surf very well

Grommet

A young surfer

Gun

A surfboard for riding big waves. Long, thin and usually a pintail

Hang Five

Old school longboarding move where the surfer hangs the toes of one foot over the front of the board

Hang Ten

As above but... well you can probably work it out!

Heavy

Powerful waves are described as heavy as this is how it feels if they break on your head!

Hollow

Tubing / barrelling waves are hollow - duh!

Inside

Waves often get steeper and faster as they come in - this is the inside section

Keg

A more recent word for a barrel

Kneeboarding

A frankly odd form of surfing where the surfer refuses to stand up or lie down but kneels instead. Harmless but not natural!

Kook

Pronounced 'kuke' refers to someone who surfs badly and is generally a bit of an idiot

Layback

A manouvre where the surfer lies back into the wave. Popular in the 70's

Leash

The cord that attaches surfers to their boards. In the old days surfers spent a lot of time swimming!

Legrope

Another name for a leash

Line up
This is where you sit when you're waiting for waves. It's usually just a bit further out than the waves break. It also refers to your postion up/down the beach and what landmark you use to postion yourself

Lip

What people often refer to as the crest. This is the part that plunges forward when the wave breaks

Log

An alternative, slightly derogative name for a longboard

Longboard

A long surfboard! Not to be confused with a gun, these are boards designed for small / medium waves with a rounded nose and are generally 8 ft long or more

Loose

A surfboard that turns easily - better for smaller waves

Macker
Derived from the american Mac truck this means a big wave

Mal

Usually refers to a longboard,Not to be confused with a Malibu surfboard, which is any stand up board

Mat

A term used to describe a bodyboard by those who are not fans

Messy

The opposite of clean of course! Referring to waves this is when the wind blows onshore and spoils the form of the wave giving it a ragged appearance. Not so good for surfing on

Offshore

The ideal wind direction. This blows into the face of the wave, smoothing it and holding it up so it breaks later and with more power

Off the lip

A surfing manouvre where the surfer turns the board up to the top of the wave and pivots on the breaking part (the lip). The steeper the angle up the wave the better

Off the top

As above but instead of pivoting the surfer draws a longer turn across the top of the wave

Onshore

This is the surfers least favourite wind direction. It makes the waves messy and less powerful

Outside

The oppposite of inside! The section of the wave that breaks further out to sea

Over the falls

This is a type of wipeout where the surfer falls from the top to the bottom of the wave as it breaks. Can be fun, especially if done head first!

Pearl (dive)

In this wipeout the nose of the surfers board sticks in the water bringing them to a grinding halt. Usually happens when going down a steep wave

Pin tail

This describes the rounded, or even pointed, tail of some surfboards. It is generally preferred for riding bigger and hollower waves as it makes the board more stable and the turns more drawn out

Pop out
A surfboard made from plastic injected with foam. Generally a beginners board

Quad fin

A 4 fin surfboard. Fins are arranged in 2 lots of twos, one just behind the other set. Supposed to give all the benefits of a thruster and a twin fin

Rail

The side of the surfboard and the part you are supposed to turn on. Can either be soft (rounded) or hard (angular)

Re-entry

Like an off-the-lip except the surfers returns down the wave on top of the breaking section

Regular foot

The opposite of a goofy foot - i.e. one who stands left front forward. Slightly more common

Reverse V

A keel like part on the bottom of a surfboard towards the nose. The opposite of the concave

Rhino Chaser

A surfboard designed for very big waves. Usually around 8-10ft in length. See gun

Rip (current or tide)

A strong and sometimes dangerous current formed as water flows back out to sea. If you ever get caught in one of these paddle across it, not against it.

Reo

Short for re-entry

Set
Waves like to travel in groups. The exact science isn't understood but they tend to arrive in anything from 2 to what seems like infinity if you are paddling out!

Sex Wax

The best known variety of surfboard wax. Made by Mr Zog

Shacked

Another word for getting tubed/barrelled

Shorebreak

Waves that break very close to the shoreline of the beach. Often powerful and hollow but proximity to the sand can result in injury and broken boards

Sick

Rather good

Skeg

Another word for fin

Slab
A heavy reef break where the wave comes out of deep water onto a shallow reef. Always hollow, always powerful, often suicidal!

Slop

Weak, poor quality surf

Snap

A fast, sharp turn

Sponge

A somewhat derogatory term for a bodyboard

Spray

The water thrown up when a surfer does a big turn. This is the mark of a good, powerful surfer

Square tail

A surfboard with a tail that is squared off rather than being rounded.Perhaps the most common shape and ideal for pivotal turning in small to medium waves

Stick

Name for a surfboard

Stoked

To be pleased

Stringer

Wooden strip running down the centre of asurfboard. Provides strength and a centre line for the shaper. Some boards have double or even triple stringers

Swallowtail

This is the third main tail type. As the name suggest it is shaped like a swallows tail or like a W. The theory is it combines the features of a pin and square tail. Swallow tails come in and out of fashion

Switch foot

Someone who can surf both ways around, i.e. goofy and natural

Thruster

Name given to a board with 3 fins. Invented by Simon Anderson in the 80s it is still the most common design

Tight

A surfboard that is hard to turn. This is an advantage in bigger waves as it is less likely to wobble or do something unpredictable

Tow in
Relatively recent practice of using a jet-ski to tow a surfer into a big wave. These waves usuallymove too fast for a surfer to paddle into

Tube

Another name for a barrel or the hollow part of the wave

Twin fin

A board with 2 fins! Introduced in the late 70s this creates a very 'loose' board

Wax

Applied to the top of a surfboard to give it some grip

WAM chart
Or wave animation chart. This is an anumated computer graphic showing the size of swell for the next few days. The data is usually obtained from the NOAA and is great for surf forecasts

Zog's (Mr)

Maker of the world famous Sexwax! 'For when your stick gets too slick'!

So now armed with your list of surfing terms and slang you should be able to hold your own at any beach, anywhere, right?
Unfortunately you might have to learn to surf too!

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    • profile image

      Chuckster 8 years ago

      That's a pretty mad list mate. Well in.

      One thing is that its BombOra, not with a U. Just thought u might like to change it coz everything seems spot on.

    • surfgatinho profile image
      Author

      Chris Leather 8 years ago from Cornwall UK

      Thanks Chuckster. I should know that - I used to have a board that had this written across it!

    • profile image

      numbskullkeith 8 years ago

      What about backside and frontside? Snowboarders did a hell of a job messing up the distinction between the two.

    • profile image

      jd 8 years ago

      One addition/correction: Outside ! That's what you yell when there are better waves behind the peaks your bros are considering

    • surfgatinho profile image
      Author

      Chris Leather 8 years ago from Cornwall UK

      Keith - don't know much about snowboarding but I might add forehand and backhand as we used to call it!

    • Katrina Ariel profile image

      Katrina Ariel 7 years ago from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada

      Fun list - thanks for making me smile!

    • immab profile image

      immab 6 years ago from Long Island, NY!

      hahaha awesome, thanks for the info.

    • TylerCapp profile image

      TylerCapp 6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      My dad and uncle are more traditional and they still use the term "skeg". You forgot to add "shooting the pier." Nice hub though, surfing slag is and always will be unique.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 6 years ago from California

      I just searched surf slang to see if anyone had already written a hub like this. Luckily, this is a pretty solid list. Nice job on the hub. Now all I need is a new hub idea.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 6 years ago from California

      On another note; I know that slang varies from region... some other popular ones around the US (west) include: barney/jimmy (kook). tunnel/pit (barrel) also as a verb tunneled/pitted ( to get barreled), a knee-dragger (a bodyboarder), a ripper (a good surfer). Anyways, just thought i'd share with you, at least for a laugh. Keep up the hubs...

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Surfing has a language all on its own. Very well done. Thank you for broadening our horizons. I wish the water sports were better known. You are helping others familiarize themselves with a sport that is unique and almost a sub-culture on to itself. Voted up and useful.

    • profile image

      Beccaloveee 4 years ago

      That awkward moment when all of these words are part of your daily vocabulary... great job!

    • profile image

      ian 24 months ago

      Getting pitted.

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