A Beginner’s Guide to Surfing Terminology

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A Beginner’s Guide to Surfing Terminology

Learning to surf is not easy at the best of times, with even the most natural riders experiencing topples and bails during their first few sessions. Whether you’re having lessons with the local surf school or you’ve completed lessons and are trying out a few solo sessions, popping up and perfecting the ride is no easy feat. It becomes even more complicated when you throw all the surfing-related jargon and specialist language into the mix!

Whether you’re wanting to fit in with your local wave-riding community, preparing for your next surfing holiday or doing some preparation ahead of your first surfing lesson, here at F-One, we’ve created the ultimate guide to terminology for beginners, so you can stop looking so blank when someone starts talking surf.  We’ve grouped each term by category, making it easier for you to learn or consult, so sit back, make notes and learn all about exactly what it is that makes a wave ‘gnarly’. 

Regular stance on board

Moves and Manoeuvres

Aerial: a surfing move whereby the rider hits the peak of the wave and manages to manipulate the board to fly through the air – it might be a while before you start unleashing these if you are a beginner!

Backside: a surfer who rides the wave with his back to it.

Bail: perhaps involuntary, a spectacular fall from a wave that usually involves the surfer letting go of his or her board.

Bodysurf: using your body to make the most of a waves’ momentum and riding it for as long as possible. Often carried out during ocean swims.

Bottom-turn: turning at the bottom of a wave before it breaks to find your way towards the optimal surf line.

Carve: a sharp turn on the face of the wave. Professional surfers are often described as ‘carving’, meaning they are making a number of turns, one after the other. 

Dropping-in: to get in the way of a surfer who is already on the wave, and therefore has priority. Not seen too favourably in the surfing community.

Frontside: opposite to backside – riding the wave with your front to it.

Hang ten: riding a wave with all ten toes over the nose of the board. Requires optimum conditions and a certain level of ability.

Kick-out: a manoeuvre performed to exit the wave at the end of a ride.


Bogging: the front of the surfboard lifts up, causing it to slow and possibly come off the wave as a result of too much weight towards the back of the board.

Duck-diving: pushing the nose of your board down to ‘duck’ under large waves, making it easier to paddle ‘out-back’.

Goofy: a surfer that rides with his or her right foot forward, as opposed to the left which is standard – usually an indication of being left footed, but not always.

Nose-diving: when the weight of a surfer is too far forward and they find the front of the board heading further and further under the surface of the water, usually resulting in a spectacular bail.

Perfect 10: a flawless ride on a wave, usually used to describe professional surfers in competitions. 

Pop-up: the action of jumping from a lying down position to standing up on the board as quickly as possible, usually without the ‘knee’ stage taught to beginners.

Regular foot: a surfer riding with their left foot forward, which is perceived to be standard.

Stance: a description of a surfers’ feet whilst on the board. Ideal stance for beginners is usually around shoulder width apart.

Turtle roll: an alternative to duck-diving to get past a wave, the surfer flips their board to get under a wave. 

Wipeout: a spectacular bail or unexpected fall from the board whilst on a wave.


A-frame: seemingly the perfect wave, breaking both left and right that is of optimal shape.

Backwash: a wave that has made its way up the beach and returns to the ocean, often colliding with incoming waves, affecting how it can be surfed. 

Barrelling: Tube-like waves that allow the surfer to ride beneath the curl of the wave.

Choppy: strong winds or currents causing bumpy breaks and messy waves that are difficult to ride.

Beach break: waves that break over a sandbank or bar, not ideal for most surfers.

Closeout: when a wave breaks in one, with no shape for surfers to manipulate and turning straight to white water.

Flat: poor surfing conditions with virtually no waves.

Foam: white water. 

Lull: a break between waves that tends to be relatively flat.

Offshore wind: wind that blows from the shore out to the ocean, which usually makes for a smoother wave face. Generally preferred to onshore winds.

Onshore wind: wind that blows from the ocean to the shore, usually destroying the quality of waves, particularly when they are at their peak.

Outback: the area of waves beyond the break that surfers go to wait for their next wave.

Rip current: a strong current under the water that can take surfers far to either side or out to sea at an alarmingly quick rate. Requires surfers to paddle towards the shore if it is sideways or sideways if they find themselves going further out to sea.

Tube: the hollow part of a wave, another term for a barrel.

Whitewater: used to describe the wave once it has broken. Mostly used by those learning to surf or to come in from out back. 


Alaia: a wooden surfboard that was originally used by Hawaiians in the late 19th century. A vintage classic that traditional surfers sometimes still opt for today. 

Blank: a rough block of polyurethane foam before it is made into a surfboard.

Deck: the top of the board. 

Ding: a crack, fracture or hole in a surfboard as a result from contact with another board, rock or something else. Unwanted damage by all accounts.

Fin: a mount at the tail of the surfboard. Most will have three and they are used to improve stability and control.

Foamie: a stable, soft-top board that is often used by beginners as they practice balance on the waves.

Longboard: a long surfboard that’s easy to stand up on and good for smaller waves.

Rail: the edges of a surfboard, either side. You usually hold these to perform a pop-up.

Shortboard: a small board used for big waves and moves and manoeuvres. Usually used by more experienced surfers. 

Wax: a product applied to hard surf boards for grip and to reduce slips.


Amped: another word for being excited, usually in reference to an upcoming surf or surfing holiday.

Dawnie: a morning surfing session

Gnarly: another word for awesome that can be used to describe the conditions, a wave, a board, a move, and virtually anything else you can think of.

Right of way: a term used to demonstrate who has priority over riding the wave, usually in reference to whoever is closest to the break.

Set: a collection of waves that come at one time, usually followed by a lull. 

Stoked: the state of being excited or enthusiastic about something.

Tow-in: a personal watercraft used by big wave riders when the waves can’t be paddled into.

That concludes our guide to surfing terminology for beginners. We hope we have covered everything, but if you can think of anything else to add please do let us know via the comments on our social media channels. If you’ve felt inspired and want to get more involved in the surfing community, check out these Surfing Events in the UK 2019, to see if you can make any of the competitions for a chance to practice the lingo!

Here at F-one, we have an extensive range of kitesurfing equipment in the UK, as well as wetsuits, surfboards and accessories for any budding surfers out there! Head over to our website to have a browse or contact us if you require any further information.