Beginner’s Guide to Surf Vocabulary

Like any other slang, surf slang may sound like gibberish to anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about surfing. For starters, it’s useful to learn the names for different surfboard parts as well as basic types of surfboards. This should give you a head start. You can also join a surfing class in San Diego, where you will get to hang out with professional surfers and other enthusiasts – where better to pick up the slang first-hand?

We wanted to give you a little sneak peek into the rich and dynamic surf slang. Let’s get started!


‘’Clean’’ usually refers to favorable weather conditions and everything they mean for surfing. For example, good weather conditions entail good waves, with a smooth or glassy ocean surface and very little onshore wind.


By contrast, surfers speak of bad weather conditions as ‘’choppy’’. For example, strong winds and/or currents that result in rough waves and a bumpy ocean. In choppy conditions, wind velocity is usually over 12 knots.


This term refers to a very small wave that is not worth riding.

Drop Knee

Have you ever seen a surfer riding with one knee on the surfboard deck? If you have, they you’ve seen them do a ‘’drop knee’’.

Duck Diving

I know what you might be thinking – isn’t surfing supposed to be about doing stuff above water, and not underneath? You have a point there, but duck diving happens when you dive under the oncoming wave when you are paddling out.

Caught Inside

We say that a surfer is ‘’caught inside’’ when they get caught on the shore side of a breaking wave, and it’s difficult for them to get out. As a result, the surfer is tossed around and has to do a lot of paddling.


A closeout is formed when all parts of the wave – down the line or crest of the wave – all break at the same time. Needless to say, this is not exactly a suitable situation for surfing.

Barrel Ride

In surfing, a barrel is a tube inside a breaking wave underneath the lip or crest of a hollow wave. During the barrel ride, a surfer may be completely hidden from view.

Drop In

This is a term surfers use to describe the situation when a surfer catches a wave in front of another surfer who is already riding. The important thing to note is that this is a blatant breach of surfing etiquette. You shouldn’t do this!

Want to Learn More? Join a Surfing Class in San Diego!

To the crew at the Pacific Surf School, surfing is more than a profession – it’s a lifestyle! We will teach you not only the essentials of surfing, the proper technique and surfing etiquette but also the tips and tricks of this magnificent sport. Our instructors provide a safe and comfortable learning environment where you can try things out and improve your skill with every new lesson. Our surfing classes in San Diego are fun and instructive – come join us on San Diego’s beautiful beaches and learn to talk and ride like a surf pro!

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