Surf ABC

Glossary for Surfing – the ABC of Surfing

In these pages we creat, with your help, our glossary of surfing with all terms and words on the subject of surfing. If you click on one of the letters, you will be led to the terms starting with this letter!


H I J K L M N 



If you have a question about surfing or you even know of an important term we have missed and is not yet available in our glossary, please send us a short e -mail and we will gladly answer your surf matters and insert the desired term into our glossary of surfing.

Thank you very much for your help and support!



This is a generic term for all manoeuvres that take place above the surface of the water, i.e. jumps

A Frame

A frame is a wave which breaks to the left as well as the right hand side. Most of the time it occurs on a point break, but it can also happen on a sand bank


A Hawaiian greeting

Angle- Take- Off

During an angle take-off you paddle sideways to the wave in order to ride it at an angle. This manoeuvre is especially suitable in high and fast wave conditions


The ASP is the “Association of Surfing Professionals“, which is the umbrella organization above all national organizations



A type of wood commonly used for surfboards

Back- Breaker

This is a technique in which you sit with your back to the approaching wave. If you ever run out of strength, just hold on tight to your surfboard and turn your back towards the wave. The wave will pass you without you needing to dive underneath it


Backside means that your body faces away from  the face of the wave. If you are a regular surfer you will surf a left hand wave backside – also called backhand


Waves push the water onshore. The backwash is what happens when the water floats back towards the ocean

Barrel (also Tube)

A barrel is a tube which forms when the wave flips over. Surfers then surf through this barrel

Beach break

There are different surfaces on which the waves break; in this case they break on a sandy sea-bed. Sand unlike stone moves around, which creates a disadvantage as the sea-bed constantly changes shape. The advantage is that injuries are less likely than on a reef break

Big Wave Spot

This is a surf spot which can create big waves in certain conditions, e.g. Jaws in Hawaii


A blank is pre-shaped polyurethane (PU) and becomes the centre or foam core  of the board

Board bag

The board bag will protect your surfboard from scratches. There are  two types: The day runner which is a thin bag for short journeys and the thick bag for longer trips. There is also the board sock which you put over the board for lightweight protection.

Board shorts

We wear board shorts in the summer, when the water temperature is high. There are different types of board shorts as well as materials like spandex which offer more comfort whilst surfing

Body board

This is a rectangular foam board with a rounded nose which can be used for surfing in a lying-down or kneeling position. Body boarders usually wear flippers to paddle more effectively in the waves


Surfing the wave without a board


The bottom is the lower side of the board

Bottom turn

The bottom turn is a manoeuvre after the take-off.  If you didn´t approach the wave sideways, you have to position yourself with this manoeuvre to then ride down along the wave


Breakers are waves which are collapsing on to themselves as the bottom of the wave is slowed by friction over a shallow bottom, reef etc. The circular movement of a wave under the water is usually half the size of movement that occurs above the surface of the water


The point where the wave starts breaking


There are many types of surfboards: Long boards, Malibu & Mini Malibu, Fun boards, Fish, Short boards and Gun boards. If you want to find out more about the different boards: Click here


This is a term which was invented by FreshSurf. It describes the various types of boards a surfer owns

British Surfing Association

The British Surfing Association – now Surfing GB – was founded in 1966 and licenses all surf instructors around the world. Furthermore it supports the interests of surfers. The BSA belongs to the ISA (International Surf Association)



Channels are attached to the bottom side of the board and allow a higher amount of flotation, rotation and gliding in the water. After studying the theory of currents, channels were invented to improve the surfing experience 


A channel is formed by the flow of water in a current. A current always takes the easiest way back to the ocean and you can spot a channel as usually waves don’t  break on it

Chicken Dive

This is a technique by which you throw your surfboard behind you and quickly dive under the wave. Only apply this manoeuvre after you have made sure that no one is behind you and in emergency situations only, i.e. freak sets or really big and heavy waves approaching


Term used to describe conditions when the sea is rough as a result of heavy winds.


This term describes perfectly breaking waves

Close out

A close out describes a wave which closes itself up immediately, and so the wave is not surfable as there is no entry point.


The comb describes the upper part of the wave


The bottom of the surfboard can be shaped in concave style, to support better floatation and flow characteristics.

Cross shore

Cross shore describes winds which run parallel to the wave edge, introducing smaller waves and tending to undermine good wave shape.

Cross step

You can only cross step on a long board as a certain amount of space is needed. It describes a kind of cross stepping/walking on the board


Crowded describes a very busy line up with too many surfers


There are four types of current:

  1. Current formed by exchange of heat
  2. Current by wind
  3. Current by tides
  4. Current by breaking waves

No matter what the type of current. it can be both useful and dangerous at the same time. As long as you know how to behave in a current, there is no reason to worry. Always ask other surfers or lifeguards about the presence and nature of any currents before entering the water. It is essential to choose a couple of spots onshore that you can focus on. By doing so, you will recognize when you are drifting off

Cut back

A cut back is a manoeuvre by which the surfer changes direction and turns to the breaking part of the wave (which is the fastest part of the wave)



The deck is the upper side of the surfboard


Delaminating is the progress in which the first layer of the board (fibreglass) detaches itself from the board. You can spot it by the dents which form on the board. Sometime soon you might want to get the board repaired before greater damage occurs


Ding is a term for any damage that allows water to penetrate into the board. You will have to get your board repaired sometime soon!


The drop describes the moment you “drop” into the wave – It’s the moment after the take-off


The drop-in describes the moment when one surfer takes priority over another surfer. This can be quite dangerous and you must obey the rules of priority to avoid dropping in on someone

Duck dive

This is a surf manoeuvre in which you prevent yourself from being washed back to the shore once the waves are getting bigger and heavier. The overall goal is to push yourself and your board as far under the surface as possible when the wave is approaching you. You will have to produce a fair amount of forward momentum whilst you are paddling out. When the wave is around two feet away from you, you place both hands on the rails of your board and push it down so that  the nose of the board sinks under water. Keep your arms extended and lean forward in order to get more of the board under the water. Once your body is just below the surface, push down on the tail of the board with help of your knee or foot. Your momentum should thrust you under the quickly passing wave and only requires you to be under water for a short time. As the wave passes over you, allow yourself to float up to the surface and keep on paddling out like you did before

Dive through techniques

There are various techniques with which you can dive through or under the wave. Some surf spots will require more techniques than others. We divide between: Turtle roll, Duck dive, Back breaker and Chicken dive


DWV is the German Wave Verband (Association)



Earplugs will protect your ears from getting the so called “Surfers Ear”. They are especially useful when you go surfing every day


An Egg is a board which is so called because of its shape. Paddling and turning are  quite easy with this type of board 

Epoxy/ Epoxyd Harz

Epoxy has the advantage of being less prone to any damage and is a lot harder overall, whereas Epoxyd Harz is a lot lighter



The face is the green part of a wave which hasn´t broken yet

Fibre glass

Fibre glass is used when shaping a board. Fibre glass is used all around the blank which will then be covered by Epoxyd Harz or Polyester Harz. Once the Harz has hardened, the surfboard will have enough stability to be used in water


Most surfboards carry fins which can be taken out and replaced at anytime. The fins are located on the bottom side of the surfboard in the so-called plugs. The number of fins depends on your surfing style and the type of board you have. Usually you will find three fins in short boards – this 3 fin configuration is called Thruster. You will also find Single fins (1 fin); Twinzer (2 fins), Quad (4 fins) and Bonzer (5 fins)

Fin key

The fin key is a small Imbus key (hex key) with which you can screw in/unscrew your fins. Different fin systems also have different fin keys


The fish board got its name from its shape as it is relatively small and wide with a tail in the form of a fish. The fish board has very little rocker and much more volume than a short board. It is usually constructed as a quad fin


A floater describes the manoeuvre by which a surfer starts from the side of the wave and rides over a broken part of the wave and therefore reduces the white water approach. The overall goal is to get back to the green water of the wave. Only surfers with a lot of pace will be able to succeed in this manoeuvre


Foam is used in the construction of blanks

Freak Wave/Freak Set

It describes waves or a set of waves which are much bigger than the others

Front side

Front side surfing describes when the body faces the wave. If you are a regular surfer, you will surf a right hand wave front side

Full suit

The full suit is wetsuit which will help insulate your entire body from cold water and bad weather conditions

Fun board

A fun board usually carries three fins and is not only smaller but lighter to carry than a Mini-Malibu. Transportation is therefore much easier. It is stable and easy to paddle. In addition it offers a smooth and calm surf style during manoeuvres. A fun board measures around 6´8“to 7´6“ in length, 21–22“ in width and 2½“to 3½“in thickness and can be compared with a long board in terms of shape; however it is influenced heavily by the short board as well.


Board length and width are given in feet and inches. One foot = 30, 48 cm; one inch= 2, 54 cm



The glassing is the first layer after shaping the surfboard. It is an additional way of hardening the board for more stability. Don´t confuse glassing with glossing of the board


Glassy describes the surface of the water on a day without wind. On these days the water is as even as a mirror


Glossing is the final step in board construction, when it is  covered in a glossy paint


It describes surfers who position their right foot in front and their left foot at the back of the board

Green Room

The green room describes the inner channel of the barrel/tube. For a fraction of a second the water  forms  into a tunnel


The grip is how well you can hold on to your surfboard i.e. during take-off. If you have no grip, it feels slippery and you might want to wax your board

Ground swell

Ground swell appears in low pressure areas out at sea. Generally it is well organized and most of the time quite big

Green wave

A green wave is an unbroken wave which is taken by more advanced surfers out in the line up


Guns are quite long and narrow boards which are designed to run down really big waves over the size of approx. 5 m. Guns have a sharp nose and a so called pintail. The pintail offers more stability in big and fast waves


Hang Five

This is surf trick for the long boarders. You stand sideways to your board and put the toes of your front foot over the nose of the board

Hang Loose

Hang Loose is a surfer greeting and means “Take it easy”. You brace your thumb and little finger whilst keeping the other fingers in the palm of your hand

Hang Ten

The hang ten, also called nose ride is another trick for the long boarders. For this you stand in line with your surfboard and put all ten toes over the nose of the board


The hardboard is the opposite of the soft board as it is formed with a hard deck and fins

High tide

High tide describes the highest water level. The tides repeat every 12 hours and 20 minutes


This term describes a wave which is quite steep and hollow


Impact Zone

This is where the wave breaks and impacts on the surface of the water; so make sure that you are not anywhere nearby as it can cause injuries


Inside has  three different meanings:

  1. “Inside” is a surfer in a barrel/tube
  2. “Inside” are smaller waves which break closer to the beach
  3. ”Inside“ describes a surfer sitting near the peak of a wave


The ISA is the “International Surfing Association” which gives out licences to surf instructors and surf schools


Jet Ski

Jet Skis are the motorbikes of the ocean. They are used for several things, e.g. water skiing.  They are also used to transport surfers to the really big waves far out in the ocean. To do so, you not only need a jet ski in good condition, but more importantly a person you can fully trust as this person will take you into the wave. The bigger the waves are, the more strength you will need to paddle , which becomes impossible from a certain size upwards.



Kick out

A kick out describes the way you withdraw yourself from a wave. To do so you take the “exit” on top of the wave

Knee boarding

This terms describes surfing on the knees with specially designed knee boards


Lay Back

A lay back is a manoeuvre in which the surfer leans with the back towards the green wave wall


The leash is the part that connects you with your surfboard. It is important in terms of safety as the board will still be attached to you when you fall off, instead of flying around and hitting other people


Lifeguards wear red jackets and know the dangers of the sea; so please listen to what they say


Lines describe the movement of the waves when checking out a surf sport from above. You can see the evenly moving waves approaching the shore as they appear like lines


The line up describes the point where surfers are waiting for green waves to approach. From here, you will have to paddle for the unbroken part of the wave in order to surf it


A lefthander describes a wave which breaks from the left to the right when viewed from the shore. When viewed  from the line up, it breaks to the left and will be surfed as such


The lip describes the upper part of the wave. If the wave is really steep it might break as a barrel/tube


Locals can be quite difficult if you surf in their spots. So please respect them and be friendly

Long board

A long board is a board longer than 9’ . They are relatively thick, have little rocker and a round nose

Low tide

Low tide describes the lowest water level. The tides repeat every 12 hours and 20 minutes


Lycra will keep you warm in the water and it protects you from sunlight and board rash



Divided into Malibus and Mini Malibus. The length difference is around one foot. A Mini Malibu usually measures around 7 ft. whereas everything above 8ft. is described as a Malibu. Malibus carry a round nose and very little rocker. They have great flotation and are very stable when in the water


Another word for a manoeuvre would be a trick. There are several tricks in surfing like the bottom turn, cut back or the top turn


Mid-tide describes the timing mid-way between low and high tide

Mini Malibu

The Mini Malibu carries the same attributes as the Malibu; however it is around 1 ft. smaller


This terms describes waves which are powerless and weak



The nose describes the front (top part) of the surfboard

Nose dive

A nose dive describes something that happens after you have paddled for the wave. Most of the time the board pushes too far forward but it can also happen when you lie too far forward on your board



The nose describes the front (top part) of the surfboard

Nose dive

A nose dive describes something that happens after you have paddled for the wave. Most of the time the board pushes too far forward but it can also happen when you lie too far forward on your board


Off shore wind

Off shore wind can prevent the wave from breaking early as it blows against it. The wave can then break slowly and more evenly which makes it fun to surf

On shore wind

On shore winds blow towards the beach. In the worst case, on shore winds can blow waves flat. This wind condition produces fast and flat waves


The outline is the overall profile of the surfboard


The outside describes the section of the wave which breaks further out to sea


The term overhead describes the height of the wave and refers to any wave  above 2m


Pad/ Tail Pad/ Grip Deck

Most short boards carry a so called pad on the back of the board to ensure a stable position. It looks like a rubber mat and has to be glued on to the back of the board


The peak is the highest breaking point of the wave. It is also the point from which you will want to start surfing to ensure the longest possible ride as well as the easiest way to get into the wave. There are also some kinds of waves which require an entrance from the peak, i.e. the barrel/tube


The period sets the time difference in between the different wave sets.

Pin Tail

A pin tail describes a rounded or even pointed tail of a surfboard, which can create great speed when surfing. This shape is most common on Gun boards


The plugs (also called fin plugs) are located on the back of your board. You fix your leash as well as your fins with the plugs. The plugs for the fins most commonly carry a small screw fixing. There are also different fin plug systems, e.g.  FCS fins

Point break

A point break describes the situation where  a wave breaks around a certain point, e.g. reef or sand bank. This happens when the swell doesn’t hit the land but comes from the side. Point breaks are good in terms of their fixed location and that you can paddle for them easily

Prone Position

Hands to the rail, toes to the tail – this is the beginner position you want to find yourself in when surfing for the first time. It is also the position you have to be in when carrying out a take-off


If you are losing pace during surfing, simply reposition your bodyweight by moving one small step closer to the nose of the board. Speed is created when putting weight on the front of the board whereas you lose speed when too far back on the board

Push up

You push up on your board in smaller wave conditions. When a small wave approaches, you do a push up to let the water run through between you and your board


Pretty much everyone, surfers and non-surfers alike, will already know about Quiksilver. They’re one of the largest manufacturers of surfing equipment and surf clothing on the planet. The lads have done well from their boardshort beginning on Torquay!

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.)


Radical / Rad
High performance or risk taking surfing, awesome or impressive

Rails are the sides of your surfboard, running from nose to tail and back again.

Rail Bang
To fall off and take the surfboard between the legs…

Raked Over
To be hammered by incoming waves while paddling out

Regular / Regular Footed
Surfing with your left foot forward

Rip / Riptide
A riptide is a strong current heading out to sea. It can be dangerous for surfers

The bottom curve of a surfboard


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!

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

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 sea water

The opposite of surfing smoothly with style

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

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

Slater, Kelly
He’s famous for being in Baywatch and his alleged dalliance with Pamela Anderson. Oh yes, we’ve heard that he’s a pretty tidy surfer as well.

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

Step Into Liquid
This is what happens when you go walking in puddles. It’s also the the name of a surf video by surf vid guru Dana Brown.

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 fibreglass one and not one that you have fashioned out of an old ironing board!).

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

Surfers Against Sewage
SAS is an organisation campaigning for clean water for all. These guys are incredibly high profile and lobby endlessly to ensure all water users are surfing in clean water. Check them out at and become a member. Everyone should become a member.

Surfer’s 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

Swell or groundswell refers to solid, real waves.

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



Tides result from the movement of the moon, sun and earth. Low and high tide are separated by  approx.  six hours, high tide and high tide by twelve hours and twenty minutes.

Turtle Roll

The turtle roll describes a manoeuvre by which you avoid being smashed back to the shore when a bigger wave approaches. You have to paddle with quite a lot of pace towards the wave and grab the rail just before it hits you. You then turn with your entire body up-side-down and position yourself under your surfboard. Don´t forget to pull the board close to your body as it will be taken by the power of the wave otherwise


Ulluwatu is one of a large number of quality Indonesian surf breaks

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


Vanuatu is a smallish island in the Pacific, complete with numerous great waves. If you are planning a tropical surfing trip, you could do worse!



Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in the water in cold weather conditions. Water finds its way between your body and the wetsuit. This water will then be heated by your body temperature, which is the reason for wearing very tight wetsuits. There are several kinds of wetsuits, e.g.  Shorty (short arms and legs), Long sleeve Shorty (short legs and long arms), Full suit or Steamer (long legs and arms), and Wetsuit shirts (shirt only). Wetsuits are categorised by thickness of material around the body and the arms/legs. A 3/2 wetsuit for example is 3 mm thick on your body and 2 mm thick around your arms and legs. If there is a third variable included – e.g. 3/2/2 — it gives you an indication of thickness on your flex zones, i.e. under your arms or between the legs of the wetsuit

A female surfer.

It smells nice, gets stuck in your chest hair (not you ladies!), and is used to stop your feet slipping off your board. Also, surf wax can be used as to repair almost anything — 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.

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


Zamba, Frieda (Born October 24, 1965)
Florida’s first four-time world champ

Zogs (Mr.) Sex Wax
Zogs is a popular brand of surf wax found wherever there are surfers.

This is often considered the “holy grail” of wetsuits, as zippers, no matter how tightly made, will always let water through. Invented in ’89 by Body Glove, the first zipperless wetsuits were actually way too stiff for surfers to use. In ’93, the Japanese came out with another model that was still too stiff, but by ’95, most wetsuit companies offered a high end zipperless suit. Advantages include flexibility and warmth; disadvantages include short lifespan (due to super stretchy rubber) and difficult entry/exit.

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. While this can happen anywhere in the world, it’s usually associated with the Southern Ocean (around Antarctica) and is caused by large ridges of high pressure in the mid-latitudes, “pancaking” the active storm track into the upper latitudes. Since most of the swell energy in these storms will only travel the direction the fetch is pointed, it means that all of the swell is also going west-to-east. For most of the eastern half of the Pacific (California, Baja, Mainland Mexico, and Central America), zonal activity in the SPAC is bad for swell production. It’s good for an area in its path like Chile, but bad for the rest of us.

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.