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Essential Surfing Terms for Beginners



Surfing terminology can be a foreign language to the uninitiated, but knowing the right terms will help you DO:MORE on the waves.

Did you see that grom get shacked at the reef break when the swell was going off? Knowing a handful of surfing terms will allow you to more easily deal out the right breaks and make sense of mastering the surf.

Here are a handful of essential surfing terms that will put you in the know.

Point Break

Point breaks are areas where waves erupt from a narrow point of land that rises more sharply under the sea than the surrounding topography. Points can create some of the best breaks because the wave often rises above the surrounding water, resulting in a clean wave. In general, points along the coast are good places to look for surf if you don’t know the placement of reefs or other features of the bottom. In this video, a surfer samples a Costa Rican point break.

Reef Break

A reef that suddenly juts from the bottom of the sea has a profound affect on an incoming wave. When the swell hits the reef, it is thrust suddenly upward, instantly forming a wave bigger than it would have produced on a gradual incline. Hawaii’s Pipeline, a series of three reefs seen here, is one of the premier destinations in all of surfing because of its reef breaks.

Rights and Lefts

The best waves begin breaking at one point and crash continuously like a row of dominoes. This leads to the longest rides, where you’re slicing through smooth water as the wave continuously forms beneath your board. Part of learning to surf is mastering your entry, so that you are pointing left or right in order to squeeze the most distance out of a wave. So, which is a right and which is a left? Easy. If you veer left while surfing, you’re on a left. If you veer right, you’re on the right. The action of a wave cresting from end to the other is called peeling. The wave seen here, at Mentawai, is a textbook right.


Some waves take on a triangular shape, where the crest initially forms at the apex of the triangle. A-frame waves can produce right-peeling and left-peeling waves. As the apex crests, each of the waves’ shoulders (its left and right sides) form into their own waves. A pair of surfers who catch an A-frame wave side by side can turn in opposite directions and end up very far away from one another by the time their rides come to an end. The very first wave seen in this video is a great example of an A-frame wave.

Over the Falls

Going over the falls is one of the nastiest ways to wipeout. It involves being swept into the crest of the wave as it slams down onto the water below, like being thrown into a washing machine on spin cycle. After this disorienting experience, you are often smacked in the head by the impacting water. In small surf, being thrown over the falls can be kind of fun, unless of course the bottom lies in shallow water, in which case it can be very dangerous. In large surf, the danger of forceful impact from the crashing wave and having an unhappy meeting with the bottom are greater. In this video, surfer Alex Gray talks about going over the falls on a big wave.


Barrels can be small, tight tubes that require the surfer to duck. Or they can be massive pipes that can fit an 18-wheeler. Either way, these are perhaps the most sought-after waves in all of surfing. Surfers want nothing more than to be tucked inside a barreling wave, speeding down the line in the froth and foam. It’s not hard to see why: barrels are beautiful. They place the surfer on the edge of disaster (risking getting sucked over the falls) while harnessing all the power the wave has to offer. In this video, check out one of Indonesia’s dreamy barrels.


A grom is a young surfer, male or female, who shred the living daylights out of waves. Often times, they are even more skilled than people double their size and age. Groms often ride grom boards made exclusively for younger rippers. In this video, watch a handful of groms shred hard at Trestles.

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