The surfers’ code
We all know who gives way when we’re driving in traffic (well, most of us do). But what are the rules on a surfboard?
New surf etiquette signage along Onkaparinga’s Mid Coast has been installed to help those that are new to riding waves, and to provide a refresher to longtime waveriders on the benefits of sharing the ‘lineup’.
“The signs have been the starting point of lots of conversations about how the surfing community interacts with each other in surf breaks, and how people can contribute to a positive vibe in the water,” says Mid Coast Surfing Reserve Steering Committee (MCSR SC) Chairperson Sue Bennett.
“Experienced surfers have exchanged opinions about how to have a good session on the water, and tourists or locals trying surfing for the first time now have clear guidelines for a positive experience, which includes a consideration for the safety of others.”
Five initial signs have been installed on or near ramps leading to surf spots along the Mid Coast thanks to a partnership between the MCSR SC and the City of Onkaparinga, and Sue says there are plans to eventually install signs at all the major breaks.
Two signs are installed at spots frequented by surf schools (South Port and Moana) so instructors and surf life savers can use the signs as education tools during classes with learners.
The surfboard-shaped displays graphically depict the do’s and don’ts when sharing the lineup with others, which include:
- don’t “drop in” on (take off on a wave when there’s already someone riding it on your inside) or “snake” (paddling around a waiting surfer to try to give yourself right of way)
- give way to the surfer furthest inside (closest to the peak) or who has been waiting the longest
- surf within your ability—if in doubt, don’t paddle out
- paddle “wide” on the way out so you don’t impede other surfers’ rides
- stay in the whitewater if a breaking wave is approaching you as you paddle out, and there’s a surfer on the wave
- never throw your board where it might hit other surfers
- communicate with other surfers when you’re planning to take a wave.
Sue says the need for surf etiquette signs has increased in recent years as surfing’s popularity has grown.
“Surfing has grown enormously in the past few decades, but prior to that, there evolved a word-of-mouth code of practice in the water that surfers developed for safety and harmony reasons,” she says.
“These ‘rules’ were similar from place to place, but also could differ in the minds of different individuals which often lead to arguments, conflict and injury from accidents and even physical altercations.
“In crowded surf it was even more dangerous. With the huge increase in the popularity of the sport; the increase in those living on the coast and at what were once remote locations; more aggression and frustration; as well as simply people new to the sport being in the wrong place or not knowing these ‘rules’; it has led to more danger, accidents, hostility and even violence toward fellow surfers.
“Having a surfer code is one way to educate others and improve the experience for surfers and create harmony.
“Learners who just head out to have a go can read the sign and avoid dangerous situations and confrontations, and discussions in the water can become more consistent in who has right of way.
“We look forward to installing signs at each MCSR surf spot to provide all who surf ‘the Magic Mid’ knowledge that will lead to harmony and enjoyment in the pursuit of this fabulous sport.”
The Mid Coast Surfing Reserve was established as a national Regional Surfing Reserve (which recognise Australia’s iconic surfing sites) in 2016 after two years of preparation by a steering committee consisting mostly of local surfers.
Its roles include assisting state and local government authorities to manage and protect the Mid Coast’s environmental, social and economic assets; and promoting public education and encouraging community involvement in the coast’s ongoing management.
Its objectives include celebrating surfing heritage and culture, ensuring a safe aquatic and beach environment, protecting the environment and supporting City of Onkaparinga’s plans for a shared-use path from O’Sullivan Beach to Sellicks.
The Mid Coast Surfing Reserve is supported by the City of Onkaparinga, and Councillor Bill Jamieson represents council as a committee member.
Signage and surf along the magic Mid Coast. Photos: Mid Coast Surfing Reserve