Surf terms

Below you'll find a collection of surf terms used every day by surfers.

surf terms

180 / 360
The spin of a surfer's board during a maneuver in degrees, e.g. 360-degree turn.

The perfect barreling surf, a cross-section of an A-frame wave reveals an “A” shape where it is breaking soooo nicely.

Aggressive surfers in the water.

Air / Aerial
An advanced surfing maneuver where the surfer and board leave the surface of the wave. Here are some great air photos.

Getting excited while surfing or really looking forward to a surf.

Ankle Busters
Small waves.

Entering a barrel from behind the peak of the breaking wave. Backdoor is also the name of the right-hand wave that sometimes breaks at the famous wave of Pipeline.

Surfing with your back towards the wave. A regular footed surfer going left or a goofy-footed surfer going right will be surfing backside. The opposite is frontside.

Waves / water heading back out towards the incoming wave where it has rebounded from the beach / cliffs / sea wall etc. Can make for some fun surfing.

Loose, drawstring surf shorts.

To bail is to ditch the surfboard by jumping off. Avoiding wipeout.

Sand on the seafloor of a beach break. Beach break waves are dependent on the quality of the sandbanks to provide good, surfable waves.

An inexperienced surfer, or someone who's no good at surfing.

A barrel is where the wave is hollow when it is breaking. For some surfers, it's the be-all and end all of surfing. Is sometimes called a “tube.”

Beach Break
This is a wave that breaks over a sandy sea bed. You've not read up about waves, have you?

Beach Leech
The perfect description of a beach leech: “Some people don't bring their own boards, and prefer to borrow your extra boards (they don't rent). And for wax, some don't really bring it. They just ask for some.”

One of the oldest and well know surf slang for a surfer girl who surfs.

Big Wednesday
A classic coming of age film telling the story of three surfing friends in California. Starring Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, and Gary Busey.

Old school for really good or enjoyable.

The foam used to shape a surfboard.

Blown Out
Where the onshore wind turns the surf into unrideable mush.

The fiberglass thingy under your feet.

Boardshorts / Boardies
These shorts are quick-drying, lightweight, and worn by those lucky enough to be surfing in warm water. Check the men's boardshorts here and the women's boardshorts here.

A particularly large or heavy wave. “He took off on a bomb”.

Bombora / Bommie
An aboriginal term for a wave that breaks over a shallow reef, located beyond the normal lineup and often some distance from the shore.

Booger / Boogieboarder
Slang for bodyboarders.

Bottom Turn
This is the turn made at the base of the wave when coming down off the face. It's often the first move made after dropping in. Get it right for great positioning for your next manoeuver.

Slang term for brother, friend, a fellow surfer.

The classic surfing maneuver, carving is basically what turning on a wave is called. Carve is also a surfing magazine found in Europe.

Caught Inside
A surfer who is caught inside is too far in, and the waves are breaking further out. It can be dangerous in big surf.

A surfer really going for it on a wave, surfing aggressively. Charges, as in “ho, that guy charges”.

Where the surface of the ocean is rough/bumpy.

Used to describe the pollution conditions when there's a turd in the lineup — “I caught some sick waves out there but it was hard trying not to swallow the chowder.”

Waves that break from a single peak along it's length, providing an open face for a surfer to ride on. The opposite of messy.

Clean-Up Set
A wave or set of waves that are larger than average and break before the lineup, resulting in clearing the line-up of surfers.

The process where a surfer turns up and down the face of the wave while surfing down the line.

Close Out
Where a wave breaks along its length all at once.

Being scared of afraid of waves.

Swell lines that look like corduroy; see this corduroy swell picture that illustrates it perfectly.

Covered up
Where the lip of the wave breaks over a surfer, almost a barrel but not quite. “I just got a coverup.”

Slang from the 1960's surf culture, cried out enthusiastically when surfing — The surfer's cry “Cowabunga” as they climb a 12-foot wall of water and “take the drop.”

When the waves are good, it's said to be cranking.

Derogatory term for booger (see the derogatory term above), knee of SUP boarders.

The outside part of the barrel. “I was deep in the barrel the curtain closed on me.”

Cross Step
This is the art of walking up and down a longboard, foot over foot. When you see some guy / gal running up and down their board, you'll now know what to call it.

Making a cutback is reversing the direction that you are surfing in one smooth fluid move. (That's the idea anyway.)

The is the bit of the surfboard you stand on. (Hopefully, you have your board the right way round in the water.)

Surfboard damage — “Oh dear me, I've dinged my board!” (Perhaps a little more profanity will be used.)

Dirty Lickings
Taking a gnarly wipeout.

Doggy Door
Exiting a barrel through the small hole left by the wave as it closes.

Double Overhead
The height of a wave twice as tall as the surfer.

Drive relates to acceleration and maintenance of speed through turns.

Drop, The
The drop is where a surfer first gets up on the waves and drops down the face of the wave. It's also referred to as “taking the drop.”

Dropping in is a crime in the surf world. A drop-in is where a surfer catches a wave without having priority, i.e. there is already a surfer on the wave. Please see the diagram above. Remember, it's a CRIME!

Drop Knee
Riding a longboard with one knee on the deck of the surfboard.

Protection when surfing in very cold water, when a wetsuit would not be effective for keeping warm.

Duck Dive
Duck Diving is diving under an oncoming wave when paddling out. See duck diving in full detail in surfing lesson three — duck diving.

Dude, we almost forgot dude! Dude can mean pretty much anything depending on the tone and inflection. (Thanks go to Corey Ferguson for this one.)

Often caused by onshore conditions, where a wave will fold over in big sections, making it un-surfable.

Eat It
Wiping out on a wave.

El Rollo
A surfing maneuver. Riding the inside wall of the pitched lip (barrel), instead of the main wave wall, and coming out sideways.

Endless Summer
“Endless Summer” is the absolute classic surfing movie. Forget all this new school tricky stuff. Watch this movie, and if you are not a surfer before viewing, you'll certainly want to be after. I cannot emphasize how good this is — WATCH IT! (Even the other half will enjoy it!!!) Check out this video and others on the surf video page.

Top class surf or extremely good waves; description of an awesome wave or surf session.

Eskimo Roll
(See Turtle Roll)

The unbroken part of the wave.

This is where someone rides backward on the surfboard, tail first. It's also what you are if you're only reading this page so you can pretend that you're a surfer.

FCS stands for the fin control system. This is a type of fin that is fully removable from the surfboard. It's ideal if you break a fin (you don't have to get a new one glassed back on), or if you are traveling. (It's best to remove the fins to keep your board from being damaged.)

The fin is the curved bit hanging down under your surfboard that you keep bashing when you tie your surfboard to the roof of your car. It's sometimes called a skeg.

Firing is the same as “going off”, where the surf is really good and the waves are breaking nicely.

A type of surfboard shape, shorter and thicker than a standard shortboard. Fish surfboards are for surfing smaller waves.

No waves. Boohoo!

Riding over the whitewater back onto the shoulder of the wave (you may need to consult the terms list further to understand this answer fully).

The broken part of a wave, another term for “Whitewater” or “Soup”.

These are either whitewater waves or surfboards that are made out of foam. (They're ideal for beginners.)

The rate of change of thickness of a surfboard from the nose to the tail.

Surfing with your front towards the wave. A regular footed surfer going right or a goofy-footed surfer going left will be surfing frontside. The opposite is the backside.

The foam left after a wave has broken.


A surfer who does not catch a wave for the whole time they are in the water.

Full suit
Wetsuit with full arms and legs. See the types of wetsuits.

A mid-length surfboard, often known as a minimal; see funboard examples here.

This is the nickname of the title character created in a novel by Frederick Kohner (and adapted for three further films). Gidget is a contraction of “girl midget,” which is why it went on to be used to describe small female surfers.

Glass Job
The fiberglass finish on a surfboard.

This is ultra-clean surf without a ripple that often looks like glass. Click here to see a glassy wave.

Particularly dangerous surf conditions.

Goat Boater
Derogatory term for kayakers and wave skiers.

Going off
If the surf is really good, you could say it's going off.

Derogatory term for a longboard or a longboarder.

Surfing with your right foot forward.

Green Room
Inside the tube or barrel.

Any of the above can be used to describe a young or inexperienced surfer. Grommet is also the cute doggie character in the Nick Park animation creations. (And they are really rather good!)

Grey Belly
An older surfer with a big belly.

Grom Mum
The mom who taxis her kids everywhere, anytime for a wave.

Falling off your board while surfing.

British surfing equipment manufacturer.

A surfboard designed for big waves.

Hang Ten
If you're riding a longboard with both feet directly on the nose of the board, your hanging ten. It's also the name of a longboard magazine.

Heavy has a couple of meanings. When used as in “heavy waves,” it means big, gnarly, kick-ass waves. Teahupoo, Mavericks, and Pipeline are three waves that would have to be described as heavy with a capital “H.” The same term can be used to describe the locals at a spot.

A hodad is a non-surfing beach bum.

Tubing waves, a-frames, barrels.

Impact Zone
The spot where the waves are breaking.

In the Soup
A term used when a surfer is in the white foam of the wave after the wave has broken.

Slang for Indonesia, home of some classic surf spots and a top surf trip destination.

The area of whitewater where the waves have broken, between the shore and the line-up. Also, inside can be used to describe the section of a wave that breaks towards the end of the ride, closest to the shore.

A popular brand of surf clothing.

Junkyard Dog
A surfer with poor style or a surfer who only surfs crappy waves.

Another word for a barrel/tube.

Kick Out
Finishing a ride by turning back out over the top of the wave.

A new school surf trick involves rotating the board 360° along its length while airborne, and landing back on the board. Here's a good example.

A surfing spin-off, kneeboarding is riding the waves on your knees using a special kneeboard.

A beginner or someone who is not very good at surfing. A try-hard. Someone who surfs to try and look cool. Someone who does not follow the rules in the lineup drops in etc. Are you a kook?


Late Takeoff
Waiting until the last possible moment to get up on a wave.

The layback is a surfing maneuver where the surfer literally lays backward on a wave. It's one of surfing's more extreme tricks.

This is the cord that is attached between your leg and your surfboard. Click here for more information about a leash or find out about how to attach your surfboard leash here.

A wave that breaks from right to left from a surfer point of view when facing the shore.

Leg rope
See Leash above.

Australian slang for the leash.

Getting licked means wiping out and being hammered by the wave.

Line Up
The lineup is the place just outside the breaking waves where surfers wait for their waves.

Unbroken waves heading towards the shore. See corduroy.

The tip of the breaking part of the wave.

Locked In
When a wave crashes and the surfer is inside of it.

Slang for a Longboard.

Slang for a Longboarder/someone who rides a Longboard.

A surf break full of longboarders.

A long surfboard with a rounded nose. See our longboard selection.

This is when the ocean goes flat between sets and everyone sits around waiting for the waves to arrive.

This is a famous big wave spot off the California coast. Not to be confused with the film “Maverick”, starring Mel Gibson, although you need to be pretty brave to tackle both.

Men In Grey Suits

Waves that close out, break irregularly, and that are not ideal to surf on. The opposite of clean surf, generally caused by an onshore or cross-shore wind.

Multi-world champ and all-around surfing legend Mark Richards.

Wipe-out of the highest order.

Poor quality, slow, or non-powerful waves, often onshore.

New School
The term is given to trick surfing — airs, shove-its, etc.

Being exhausted or having tired arms.

Another term for shark.

The pointy bit of the surfboard; the bit that points away from you when you are paddling and riding.

Same thing as a sea, only bigger.

This is when the wind at a surf break is blowing off the shore ;-), It makes for ideal surfing conditions.

This is when the wind is blowing towards the land, spoiling the waves. Always remember; offshore good, onshore bad!

Out Back / OTB
Beyond the breaking waves. “See you out back”.

The area beyond the line-up. You'll sometimes hear surfers shout “Outside!” as a warning to other surfers that a larger than usual wave is approaching and will be breaking further out than normal.

Over the Falls
A wipeout where a surfer wipes out and either free-falls down the face of the wave or gets sucked up, over, and back down by the circular breaking motion of the wave.

Waves that are bigger than a surfer when standing up.

Someone who stays and plays in the whitewater close to the beach.

Party Wave
A wave surfed by several people at once.

This is a common term describing when a person buries the nose of their surfboard in the wave and goes “over the falls.” It's often referred to by the actual surfer as “@#%%@#@!”

This is the classic Hawaiian wave — amazing, barreling, and mean (see the pipeline surf spot map). It's one of the most famous and most photographed waves there is. If you have just read surfing lesson one – catching waves and are ready to go out and try surfing for the first time, then Pipeline is probably the last place on the planet you want to be.

Caught a tube, shacked.

Pivot Turn
A turn where the tail of the surfboard remains almost stationary while the rest of the board swings round.

Pocket / In the Pocket
The pocket is the most powerful part of the wave, just ahead of where the wave is breaking.

A mass-produced surfboard made by machine.

Pop Up
Describes the move a surfer makes to go from lying on the surfboard, into the standing position to ride a wave.

Which surfer has the right of way, fully explained here.

A decent swell where the waves are nice and powerful; also used to describe a surfer trying to generate speed.

A surfer's collection of different surfboards. (I've heard people say it's the place where they keep their boards but not sure about that. Thanks go to Kris Carré who suggested “quiver” as an entry.)

High performance or risk-taking surfing, awesome or impressive.

Rag Dolled
See washing machine, getting tossed around by a wave-like you're a rag doll.

Rails are the sides of your surfboard, running from nose to tail and back again. More details can be found on the surfboard rail page.

Rail Bang
To fall off and take the surfboard between the legs (Ouch!).

Rail to Rail
Keeping the surfboard constantly moving on the wave, from one rail of the surfboard to the other. This type of surfing helps keep up speed and get the most out of the wave.

Raked Over
To be hammered by incoming waves while paddling out.

Reef Tax
Cuts and grazes etc. from hitting the reef or rocks.

Where a wave that has already broken starts to build back up into a surfable wave.

Regular / Regular Footed
Surfing with your left foot forward.

A surfing maneuver that involves going from the bottom of the wave up towards the lip (top) of the wave then redirecting back down the face of the wave.

Rip / Riptide
A riptide is a strong current heading out to sea. It can be dangerous for surfers and swimmers alike. Check out the waves section to find out more details.

Rock Dance
Getting into or out of the surf over rocks.

The bottom curve of a surfboard.

Another word for a top turn.

Roller Coaster
An enjoyable maneuver on 8-foot waves with a single fin gun, without a leash. To set up the maneuver in the days of old a long, smooth, deep bottom turn and then straight up the face to towards the lip as you are almost upside down with the board pointing straight up. At the lip you are weightless as the lip pushes the board under your feet again as you become upright. — From here another bottom turn or the end of the ride if the wave dumps a closeout.

Describing ‘Devil Winds' that are warm brisk offshore winds off the California coast. This term was used extensively by SoCal surfers during the 60s.

See Surfers Against Sewage.

Getting completely barreled, riding a phat tube.

A common hand signal used by surfers, with an extended thumb and little finger. Hang loose!

Early 20th century tourists that would travel to the shore towns by train carrying their lunches in Shoe Boxes (shoobies).

Shootin' the Curls
Slang meaning to go surfing.

The surfable part of the wave.

Shoulder Hop
Dropping in on a surfer who is already up and riding.

A shove-it is a maneuver where the rider shoves the surfboard round underneath the feet, 180 or 360 degrees. It's a good trick if you can do it.

Aggressive surfing moves on a wave with resulting spray over the backside visible to those on the outside. (You might have to research further slang to decipher this explanation)

Someone who buys surf gear and clothing but does not surf.

A term used to describe when someone does something impressive, e.g. “that was a sick air” — not just because you have swallowed too much seawater.

Single Fin
A surfboard with a single center fin.

The opposite of surfing smoothly with style.

Sternward extension of the keel, or a single center fin on surfboard.

A rapid turn off the top of the wave, hopefully throwing loads of spray off the top.

Correctly positioned in a tube.

Snake / Snaking
Waves should be shared, but snakes take it all. To snake is to drop in out of turn.

Where spray blows out of the end of a barrel. Tube spit.

A bodyboarder.

Spring suit
A short legged wetsuit (may have long or short arms). See all wetsuit types here.

Waves are getting bigger.

Another type of surfing wetsuit.

Surfer slang for a surfboard.

Very happy.

This is the bit of wood that runs up through the length of your surfboard. (It's there if you have a fiberglass one and not one that you have fashioned out of an old ironing board!) More info is available on the surfboard information page.

Sucking Dry
Where breaking waves cause all the water to be drawn off the sea bed, leaving it exposed.

Surf Art
Art created around the theme of art.

Surfers Ear
Surfers ear, or auditory exostosis, is an abnormal bone growth within the ear canal. Coldwater surfers are particularly susceptible and should look at some form of prevention such as earplugs.

Surfers Eye
Surfers eye is the slang term for Pterygiums, a medical issue that manifests itself as a clear, white, or pinkish membrane that grows over the inside corner of one or both eyes.

Surfers Knots
Soft-tissue swellings on the dorsum of the foot and just below the knee, as a result of kneeling for long periods of time on the surfboard while waiting for a wave.

Stand up paddle boarding.

Swell or groundswell refers to solid, real waves. (As opposed to rubbish wind chop) Why not read more on how waves are made.

Switch Stance
Riding the surfboard standing the other way round, i.e. if you're regular-footed you would be surfing goofy.

This is the bit of the surfboard at the opposite end of the nose. Read more about surfboard tail shapes. For more info on the other bits of the surfboard, have a look at the surfboard section.

The tailslide is a move where the tail of the board slides across the lip of the wave.

Island slang for (voice of thundering waters) meaning large waves.

Tow In
Catching big waves with the aid of a Jetski.

A popular name for a tri-fin shortboard.

Traction Pad
A traction pad is a permanent replacement for surf wax, stuck directly to the surfboard. It is normally seen placed just in front of the leash plug, providing grip for the back foot. Full-length grip is available but is not seen so often. You might find it referred to as deck grip, traction, or a riser pad.

Keeping the surfboard in a straight line at the optimum angle and cruising down the line.

The tube is public transportation in London. Oh, you mean Tube! The tube is where the wave is hollow where it's breaking. For some surfers, it's the be-all of surfing. It's sometimes called a barrel, keg, or pit.

Describes hollow, barreling waves.

Turtle Roll
This is a technique for getting a longboard out through a breaking wave. (As opposed to duck diving for a shortboarder). See our how-to turtle roll article for more info.

Twin Fin
A surfboard with two fins.

You are not seriously looking for an explanation of this, are you?

It smells nice, gets stuck in your chest hair (not you ladies!), and is used to stop your feet from slipping off your board. Also, surf wax can be used to repair almost anything — a leaky roof, rusty zip… you name it.

Washing Machine
Getting spun around and around underwater by a wave.

It's made of neoprene, keeps out the cold, and makes you look like a seal. Check out the wetsuit section for more information.

The broken, turbulent part of a wave.

Falling off your board is referred to as a wipe-out. Other terms are donut, mullering, eating it, taking a pounding, or pretty much anything else you would like.

To “get worked” is to wipe out and get thrown about while being held under by the wave.

Yes, you guessed — we couldn't think of a surfing word truly beginning with “X.” Its definition is exactly the same as in the dictionary. Tow-in surfing is the latest type of extreme surfing.

Shout out when very excited. Fully sick yew! When a big wave is spotted or someone got a gnarly wave

A person with a free mind. Who doesn't have a care in the world? Usually a surfer, or a person who goes to the beach a lot.

This weather pattern term means that all of the storm activity in one particular region is moving in a consistent west-to-east pattern along the same latitude.

This is the same as GMT or Greenwich Mean Time. Zulu time is used on weather charts, which may display 12Z for 1200 GMT or 00Z for 0000 GMT. Weather charts play an important part in predicting surf.