Below you’ll find my own personal surf slang dictionary with pictures. It’s a glossary of all the surf terms I’ve picked up in my travels so far.
What does hang five mean? What’s the definition of gnarly?
Air/Aerial – A maneuver in which a surfer launches completely out of the water. Getting airborne.
Amped – Excited, hyped up.
Backside – If a surfer is facing away from the wave, he is surfing “backside”. IE, the wave is at his back.
Blown out – Strong winds causing waves to have choppy, uneven surfaces.
Bottom turn – A maneuver in which a surfer turns in the trough of a wave to face along it. A crucial maneuver and often the very first thing a surfer does after he’s popped up.
Bra/Brah – Buddy, mate (literally ‘brother’) usually used when talking to friends.
Clean – Smooth, “glassy” waves without any choppy water.
Close Out – When a wave breaks along it’s length at the same time, making it impossible for a surfer to go “down the line”.
Charging – Travelling along a wave aggressively or with great speed. Often used with reference to big waves e.g. “big wave charger”.
Chop/Chops – Choppy water caused by high winds. (Not to be confused with Fin chop).
Dark – Intensely impressive. Synonymous of “really good/cool”.
Down the line – Travelling along the length of a wave (as apposed to travelling straight in to the shore).
Drop in – When a surfer enters a wave that’s already been ridden, without priority. A dangerous and rightfully disliked manoeuvre. Also, more generally; entering or re-entering a wave (similar to “dropping in” on a skateboard ramp).
Fade: When a surfer starts riding a wave at a slight angle toward the white water, with the intention of turning back down the line.
Face – The front of a wave. “He rode along the face”.
Fin chop – Injury/damage caused by surfboard fins.
Floater – A maneuver in which a surfer rides along the lip of a wave, similar to ‘grinding’ the lip of a ramp for skateboarders.
Foamie/Fun Board – Thick, voluminous, buoyant, soft-topped board useful usually used by beginners.
Frontside – If a surfer is facing towards the wave, he is surfing “frontside”. IE, the wave is at his front.
Glass – clean, smooth waves without any choppy water.
Gnarly – Dangerous (e.g. sharp reef) or daring (e.g. surfer taking on a heavy wave). Synonymous of “really good/cool”.
Goofy (stance) – Left foot forward on the board.
Grommet/Gremlin – Young surfer.
Hack – “Throwing spray” with a quick and powerful top turn or cutback.
Handlebars/Going over the handlebars – Used to refer to the front of the board when a surfer falls forward, usually when pearling.
Hang five/ten – Quite literally means to hang your toes over the edge of the board. One foot (five toes) or two feet (ten toes).
Impact Zone – The area where the lip is going to land when the wave breaks.
Jacked Up – When a wave suddenly becomes a steep face. “The wave just jacked up out of nowhere!”
Kook – New/learner surfer – usually derogatory.
Lefty/Left/Left Hander – Refers to waves breaking from right to left. Always from the perspective of the surfer on the wave (facing inland).
Line-up – The point at which surfers will place themselves on the water when waiting for waves to come in. Referenced by two points in-land from which position can be triangulated. Also used casually to refer to the people on the line-up.
Lip – The peak of a breaking wave.
Lip Climb – Moving from the bottom of the wave (trough) to the top; negotiating the lip.
Localism – Defensiveness of a surf spot from local people. Anything from verbal abuse to violence.
Mind Surfing/Mind Surfer – Looking at a wave and imagining surfing it (e.g. before surfing to understand conditions better).
Overhead – When the height of a wave is over head height. Although not strictly defined, this usually refers to the height of the surfable face of a wave. Universally accepted overhead is 6ft+
Peak – The highest point of a wave, as in “peaks and troughs”.
Pearl/Pearling – When the nose of a board is accidentally driven underwater, often resulting in the rider going “over the handlebars”.
Pop/Pop Up – The movement of going from a prone position to standing on a surfboard.
Pop Out – A surfboard that hasn’t been hand made (shaped). Any surfboard that has been mass manufactured or “popped out”.
Priority – When one surfer, whoever’s closest to the white water, has right of way. Whoever has priority should be allowed to ride the wave without anyone else “dropping in”.
Rad – Radical, oldschool style. Synonymous of “really good/cool”.
Reef break – A surf spot over a reef (as apposed to a beach break).
Regular (stance) – Left foot forward on the board.
Righty/Right/Right Hander – Refers to waves breaking from left to right. Always from the perspective of the surfer on the wave (facing inland).
Rip/Rip Current – A strong flow/current of water.
Rip current pulsations – Rip currents can quickly accelerate in speed after a big set has come in.
Section – A part of a wave, referred to as a surfer moves along the face of a wave. “He’s hunting for another good section”.
Set – A group of waves.
Shaka – The “Shaka Sign”; thumb and pinky finger outstretched, index, middle and ring fingers curled up, denotes aloha spirit. Happiness, togetherness and generally good vibes.
Shaped – A hand made surfboard.
Shaper – One who makes (shapes) surfboards.
Sick – Synonymous of “really good/cool”.
Slab – Big nasty (heavy/steep) waves with a lot of volume. Usually reef breaks.
Slicing – Surfing through choppy water.
Snap – A maneuver in which a surfer turns very quickly at the lip of a wave. “He snapped off the top”.
Stick – Surf board (Stick Man – The OTD cartoon surfer!)
Stoked – Excited, impressed, happy.
Throwing a tail – A maneuver in which a surfer pushes the back (tail) of a surfboard outwards whilst turning. Think of a handbrake turn.
Tombstone – When the leash of a surfboard is pulled taut by a fallen surfer, causing it to stick out of the water like a tombstone.
Trough – The lowest point in a wave, as in “peaks and troughs”.
Wipeout – When a surfer falls off a board, usually used in a situation when the fall is spectacular.
Scroll or hit “search on page” (“ctrl+f” or “cmd+f” or long press on mobile) to search for a word. If you’ve got one to add, drop it in the comments box below!