Surf Lingo

While many things can be intimidating when learning a new skill and emerging yourself in a different culture, one thing that can be confusing when entering the surfing world is the different words that are often used. If you aren’t a surfer, there can be times when you are listening to a conversation and it seems like surfers are talking in another language. While it’s always okay to take your time to learn, we’ve compiled a list of words that might be common in surfing culture and may come up when you’re talking to a fellow surfer. Here are some definitions of commonly used surfing terms so the next time your paddling out you can sound like a legit shredder. 




  1. The part of a wave that forms a tube on really good days 

“Look at that girl in the barrel.”



  1. When a surfer is surfing inside of said tube

“I got barreled 




  1. When the waves are blown out because of the wind and not well formed

“The waves look a little too choppy to paddle out today.”  




  1. Clean waves; really pretty looking wave; well formed 

“Wow, the waves are so glassy there’s no wind in sight.”




  1. When something is really awesome
  2. When something is really intense 

“That was a gnarly ride bro.”




  1. Someone who sits on the beach; hangs out around the beach a lot 
  2. A surfing poser 

“That guy chilling on the sand is such a hodad.” 




  1. Where the waves are already broken and white water; you don’t normally surf these

“The inside is a little too shallow to swim in.”




  1. Someone who doesn’t really vibe with the surfing culture
  2. A fun adjective used to describe goofy surfers
  3. Someone who ruins the experience for other surfers (used negatively) 

“Bro, you are such a kook.”




  1. When wave crash on top of itself; not well formed; when there is little to no face of the wave

“The waves are too mushy to catch anything good.” 




  1. Where the waves break; where you can find surfers hanging out wait for the next set

“I’m going to paddle to the outside to wait for a good set.”




  1. a group of waves that crash in periodical increments 

“We have to sit on the outside to wait for the next set to surf.” 




  1. the part of the wave that has not broken yet but is on its way to break; the part of the wave that surfers ride on to continue surfing 

“That left shoulder took you all the way down the beach.”




  1. when waves are have a really intense angle and are hard to surf on because of the drop into the wave

“That was a gnarly nose dive you took because the wave was so steep.”




  1. Offshore waves that are surfable 

“I hear there’s a nice swell coming in this week.”

Walling up

/wôling əp/


  1. When the waves get really big and are steep 

“The waves are really walling up out there.”

These definitions were given to you by San Diego Surf School Instructors in order to give amazing explanations for some common surfing terms. Next time you’re talking about the great wave you caught you can add in that, “When the swell was really picking up, you were shredding and dropped in and caught a gnarly shoulder.” While there are an endless amount of surfing terms that could be learned, hopefully this list helps in understanding some surf language so your conversations are a little more rad. Stay tuned for more meanings and definitions from your San Diego Surf School Instructors so you can be fluent in surfing lingo.