Wave Etiquette - A Follow Up to Beginning Wavesailing

Wave etiquette is an important aspect of sharing the surf with fellow riders. Courtesy, respect, as well as safety comprise the concept of "wave etiquette." Additionally, etiquette varies depending upon location. Here in Hatteras, since our primary wave source is shifting sandbars, and we have numerous breaks found across the islands, wave sailors find less "agro" attitudes amongst fellow riders. Whereas in places where static reef breaks provide the action, the level of attitude in the water is noticeably more apparent. Numbers/concentration is also important to factor, since in Hatteras there are considerably less local/visiting wave sailors on the water as compared to a place like the north shore of Maui. Attitude is not necessarily a "bad" thing, but rather simple understanding amongst riders so everyone out on the water has a fun time.

As for the concept of etiquette in the waves, here are some of the basic water rules:

  • Outgoing sailors have right of way
    Wave sailors working their way out though the impact zone have right of way. They are in a more vulnerable position as compared to a rider on a swell or wave face setting up for a ride. This is especially true in Hatteras where we suffer from the "windless" inside, and usually find outgoing sailors slogging though the impact zone trying to get outside. Their options are much more limited as compared to the rider who is powered and on the swell/wave face setting up for a ride. For the powered wave rider, your best option is to set up to bottom turn around the outgoing sailor, and avoid crossing their line out.

  • Be Aware of What's Down in the Zone
    Often there are downed sailors, riderless rigs, surfers, bodyboarders, even swimmers frolicking in the surf zone. While approaching the zone, make mental notes of where people and gear are both in front, but more importantly downwind of where you will be riding while on the wave. It can be an obstacle course out there and often you may miss the perfect hit because a surfer is paddling out at the section you are eying, or a rider is down in your wave aerial landing zone.

  • Upwind Sailor Has Wave Rights
    Usually the upwind sailor has wave rights. If two riders are sharing the same swell, whoever has upwind position is in control. For the down wind sailor, this usually means, you kickout and find another swell, or create some spacing and keep a keen eye on the upwind rider. When he turns downwind to begin his wave ride, you follow immediately. This will prevent you from being in his way while going down the line.

  • One Rider to a Swell
    Similar to the "upwind etiquette" bullet, when outside looking for that perfect swell, if someone else is on it, look for the next. Do not jibe onto the same swell that another rider has, unless you are good friends!

  • No Stalling for a Wave
    This bullet is debatable, and some purists believe "no stalling period;" however, if there is a better swell behind you, and no one is on it, then stall to take it. However, of course, if someone is on it, never stall to "snake" their wave. This bullet is similar to "one rider per swell."

  • No Over the Back Wave Riding
    Basically, this bullet refers to the rider who blasts in downwind and approaches over the back of a wave to drop in. Usually, when a wave pitches up, the line-of-sight is hidden and the rider has no view of the wave zone. There may be riders down, slogging out, or perhaps working the wave. Last thing anyone wants to see is someone blasting in over the top and finding another rider with right-of-way in their path.

  • No Wave Racing
    Wave racing refers to sailors dropping in and screaming down the face with no noticeable working of the wave itself. This is usually seen by beginner wave sailors, and the main risk here is getting out of control. With other riders working out, and perhaps others down in the zone, a "speed sailing" wavesailor could easily find someone in their path and risk a collision. I have seen classic examples of this occurring here in Hatteras.

All in all, these etiquette rules/tips help keep everyone happy and safe while working in the waves. There are likely other rules/tips, and if you have some, post in the comments. Bottom line is to have fun, not get in other sailor's way, and be aware of what is going on around you other than the breaking surf.

Additionally, all these etiquette tips/rules are completely dependent upon the number of people out in the water with you. If you are solo, or only with a few others, then most of the rules are not necessary. Over-the-back wave FWD loops are fun, but I would never try them if there were a bunch of sailors on the water in concentrated places such as Maui. All in all, its your own judgment call how you adhere to wave etiquette, but if you hear someone yelling at you or threatening you with physical harm odds are you "broke a rule."

Note, this is a follow up post to Beginner Wavesailing on the OBX.


At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the rules could be stated a bit differently to work in more crowded spots. You could lose "no stalling" and "one rider to a swell" and replace it with "first on a wave has wave rights". That way, in crowds, multiple people can catch the same wave. If you are first and upwind, you own the wave and everyone else on the wave must stay well clear of you. If you are second on the wave and upwind, you can ride but you have to yield to the downwind guy that caught it first. Stalling, in itself, is a valuable technique and fine as long as you don’t “back up” onto a wave already being ridden unless you can do it without interfering with the first rider. Of course that may be hard to do if you have no speed to maneuver out of the way.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger PeconicPuffin said...

It took me maybe ten sessions before I was not ALWAYS a wave racer...fear (of trying to work the wave) and ignorance (not knowing how to sail frontside) were the causes. I kept my distance (usually) from the proper waveriders.

In a weird way, we are fortunate where I sail on Long Island that the workable bits of our waves are usually not big enough for more than one or two people, period.

I greatly appreciate these primer posts. Keep 'em coming!

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Waterturtle said...

Great post Bill....thanks. I'm a beginner wavesailor and appreciated this info in both posts.


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