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A Dictionary of Surfing Terms (or How to Speak Like a Surfer!)

I learned to swim in the Pacific Ocean and have never lived far from the beach.

A dictionary of surfer terms to help you talk with—and like—a surfer.

A dictionary of surfer terms to help you talk with—and like—a surfer.

How to Talk Like a Surfer

This is written for the "kooks" who don't know how to speak surfer yet and anyone who's clueless about surfer customs and etiquette. Master the 120+ words and phrases on this list and you'll sound like a real, authentic surfer dude (instead of a faux dude, a kook, or a poser).

Surfing Lingo and Slang: A to Z Surfing Terms

Aggro: Short for aggressive.

Bail or Bail Out (verb): To get out of somewhere, fast. To abandon a plan.

Brah (noun): Brother or friend. Like "dude," this might apply to any gender.

Cooking (adjective): If it's "cooking," there are excellent surfing conditions.

Cowabunga (exclamation): "Surf's up."

Cranking (adjective): If the waves are "cranking," it's a great day to surf.

Drill (verb), Drilling (adjective); This is what big waves do. If you're getting "drilled," you're getting pounded by the surf.

Dude (or Dudette) (noun): A friend. Females are often called "dudes," too.

Epic (adjective): A huge, exaggerated, or heroic situation.

Gnarly (adjective): Twisted, difficult, dangerous, or challenging.

Heavy (adjective): Serious or ominous.

Hairy (adjective): Difficult or treacherous.

Latronic (exclamation): See you later.

Nectar (adjective or noun): Tasty drink or a good, desirable thing.

Off-the-Hook (adjective phrase): Really fun, exciting, or well done.

Macking (adjective); intense or enormous.

Pura Vida (noun): Pure, simple, satisfying, good life; a Costa Rican concept that describes a philosophy towards life.

Rad (adjective): Radical or really great.

Rocker: The curve of the board, from nose to tail.

Session: The time you spent surfing; a surf session.

Sick: Good, great.

Stoked (adjective): Happy, excited, fired up, euphoric.

Totally: Very.

Way: Very.

Face: The flat front of a wave. The blue or green part.

Face: The flat front of a wave. The blue or green part.

Surfer Terms to Describe the Waves or Wind

A-Frame: When a wave comes to a symmetrical peak (shaped like an "A").

The Back or the Back Door: The area beyond the breaking waves where the surfers wait to catch waves. (See "lineup.")

Backside: When you're facing away from the wave you're riding on.

Barrel or Barrel Wave (noun or verb): When the wave curls over to form a tube. If you get barrelled, you get enclosed by a wave.

Beach Break: When the waves are breaking close to the beach.

Bomb: A very large wave.

Closeout: When a wave closes all at once instead of in sections. Waves usually break to the left or right, but when it comes crashing down like a curtain, it's impossible to ride.

Double Overhead: A wave that's twice as high as the surfer, or a wave that's around 8 to 12 feet high. (A triple overhead is 12 to 15 feet high.)

Corduroy: When the waves just keep coming, in perfectly timed intervals, like the lines on corduroy fabric.

Double-Up Wave: When two waves combine to form a bigger, more powerful wave (aka “humpback”).

Face: The flat front of a wave. The blue or green part.

Frontside: When you're facing the wave you're riding on.

Glassy: When there's no wind and the water is as smooth as glass.

Green Room: A term from the 1970s for a barrel or tube.

Inside: The space between the shore and the wave.

Keg: Another word for barrel.

Lineup: The place beyond the break (aka "out back" or "takeoff zone") where the surfers go to wait for a wave.

Lip: The breaking part of the wave. Where the power is.

Macking or Macker: When the waves are hitting the shore as hard as big Mac trucks.

Messy: When the waves are erratic, ragged, unpredictable. This can make for a very short and bumpy ride.

No Man’s Land: When a surfer gets trapped inside by a bunch of waves that make it harder to paddle out to the takeoff zone.

Offshore: The best wind direction for a surfer, since the wind blows towards the waves, keeping them tighter, longer, and easier to ride.

Onshore: When the wind pushes the waves from behind, making them fast and rough. A surfer's least favorite type of wind.

Reformer: A sneaky wave that breaks and then forms again.

Rip Current or Riptide: A strong and oftentimes dangerous current that pulls out to sea. Always paddle across—not against—a riptide.

Set: Waves usually come in sets, which are groups of two or more.

Shorebreak (Shorey): When the waves break right on the shore, dumping the surfer hard in the sand.

Slab: A dangerous, powerful, heavy reef break in which the wave comes from the deep onto a shallow reef.

Slop: Weak, quick, lousy waves.

Takeoff Zone (aka Lineup): The place past the break where surfers wait for a wave.

Trough: The opposite of the wave's crest; the point where the wave is slowest and lowest.

Tube: A barrel; the hollow part of a wave.

Whitewash: The foam that's left after the wave is done.

A "cutback" is when you go back for more on the wave and turn back toward the curl, where the power is.

A "cutback" is when you go back for more on the wave and turn back toward the curl, where the power is.

Terms for Surfing Moves or Mistakes

Bog or Bogging

When a surfer stands so far back, the board's nose lifts up out of the water.


A turn, especially a long, smooth one.


When you go back for more on the wave and turn back toward the curl, where the power is.


When a surfer joins a wave someone else is already on, thus interrupting their ride and forcing them back out. Even if it's an accident, this is considered extremely rude and aggression-provoking.

Drop Knee

A hybrid surfing/kneeboarding move where the surfer rides on a foot and a knee.

Duck Dive

When you push your board underwater to get under an approaching wave.


It's when you skim across the top of the lip of the wave and then drop back down onto the face of the wave.

Going Over the Falls

A dangerous wipeout where you get smashed down by the most powerful part of the wave. This wipeout might plant you in the sand and it's no fun.

Goofy Foot

If you're left-footed and stand with your right foot forward on the board.

Hang Five; Hang Ten

Old-school longboarding moves where you hang the toes of one or both feet over the front of the board.


Most surfers stand, but some just can't/won't.

Off the Lip

When you aim your board straight up to the top of the wave and then whip it around and back down again for a spinny, speedy arc.

Punt or Aerial

When you propel your board above the lip and get air.


When you wipe out and are cycled and churned by the wave like a helpless rag doll.

Reo or Re-Entry

When you go from the bottom of the wave towards the lip, then back down the face of the wave.


Another word for getting tubed or barreled.


A quick and sharp turn.

Turtle Roll

Like the duck dive, this is a move to avoid an oncoming wave. As it approaches you hold onto your board, flip over, and wait underwater until the wave passes.


When your ride ends with a crash.

When the wave curls over to form a tube, they call that the barrel. If you get barrelled, you get enclosed by a wave.

When the wave curls over to form a tube, they call that the barrel. If you get barrelled, you get enclosed by a wave.

Words for Different Types of Surfers

Brodad: An annoying person who always calls everyone "bro."

Goofy Footer: Someone who surfs with their right foot forward.

Gremmie: Someone who can't surf well.

Grom or Grommet: A young or inexperienced surfer.

Hodad: A faux surfer who has all the gear but never goes into the water.

Kook: A surfer who gets in the way of or endangers others. Someone who doesn't know surfing rules or etiquette.

Locals: The surfers who live nearby oftentimes feel territorial about "their" surfing spots. They might not be so welcoming to tourists and outsiders.

Sponger: Not a surfer at all, but a bodyboarder.

Switchfoot: Someone who can surf facing either way, i.e. goofy-footed or right-footed.

Valley Sheep: In Los Angeles—a lot like a brodad, but this surfer abuses the word "dude."

Wahine: A female surfer.

Wave Hog: Someone who takes all the waves and doesn't share.

A "thruster" is what surfers call a three-finned surfboard

A "thruster" is what surfers call a three-finned surfboard

Nicknames for Surfing Gear


A board with five fins.

Elephant Gun

A board designed for very large waves.


A long, thin board designed for riding very big waves.

Leash or Leggie

The cord that attaches your ankle to the end of your board so you don't lose it.


A longboard; a slightly derogatory term.


A long surfboard (at least 8 feet) with a round nose, designed for small or medium waves.

Pin Tail

Some surfboards have a rounded or pointed tail, aka a pin tail, which makes the board more stable when riding bigger and hollower waves.


The cheapest kind of surfboard. It's shapeless and made of plastic injected with foam.

Quad Fin

A four-finned board.


A personal collection of surfboards. Some pros have quivers of hundreds.

Rhino Chaser

An 8- to 10-foot board designed for very large waves.

Sex Wax

The most famous brand of board wax.


A surfboard's fin.

Square Tail

The most common shape of tail is squared rather than rounded, ideal for turning on small or medium waves.


Another name for your board.

Swallow Tail

When the board's tail is shaped like a swallow's tail (like a W).


A board with three fins.

Twin-Fin or Twinny

A board with two fins.


A wetsuit. Australians often add an "ie" sound to the end of nouns.

The most advanced surfers oftentimes don't use their leashes.

The most advanced surfers oftentimes don't use their leashes.

Old-Fashioned, Worn-Out Surfer Sayings

Use these words with caution or only ironically, as you may end up sounding fake and out-of-the-loop.

  • "Gnarly," "rad," and "dweeb." Don't use these terms unless you're trying to sound like you're from the 1980s.
  • "Cowabunga!" Nobody says this with a straight face.
  • "Totally tubular" is totally not.
  • "Hang ten." This 1950s term is so out it's almost back in again.

"Going Over the Falls": Ouch!

Names for the Parts of a Surfboard

Rails: They run the length of your board on both sides, from nose to tail; the edges of the board. They determine how the water will move around the board (and how your board will move through the water) and are either soft (rounded) or hard (angular).

Leash: A rope, attached to the deck near the tail, that many surfers strap around their ankle to make sure they don't lose their board.

Tail: The rear of the board. Some have one point at the end, but a phish board has two points.

Nose: The front: sometimes pointy, sometimes round, sometimes concave.

Skeg: The fins; usually there are from 1 to 5.

Deck: The top of the board, typically where your feet go.

Stringer: A vertical piece of wood that goes down the center of the board to reinforce the board. Some boards have multiple stringers.

How to Do a Surfer Accent

© 2021 A Fonté