One thing that can be a little intimidating for new surfers is the etiquette of surfing. Surf movies often show aggressive, territorial locals who do not want to share their local break. In real life, showing a little courtesy goes a long way towards earning the respect of the others in the line up. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Don't Get in the Way of a Good Ride
Don't paddle out during a set. It's easier on your body not to fight the white wash, and you'll save your energy for catching waves. Most importantly, if you paddle out in between sets of breaking waves you won't risk ruining someone's ride by not being able to get out of the way in time as they rocket toward you! If you think you can paddle out without causing a problem there's nothing wrong with that, just keep an eye on the situation.
Never "Drop in" on Someone
If another surfer has caught the wave, and you aren't paying attention and catch it too, they will either collide with you or have to forfeit the wave. You don't want to be known as a "snake" even if it was accidental. If it does happen, make sure to apologize. We all make mistakes, but be aware of what's going on around you at all times and you'll create a more safe and friendly environment for everyone.
Find Out if There's an Actual Line Up
At some breaks, there is a sweet spot where it is ideal to catch the wave. It could be right next to the pier or a jetty, but if there is a spot like that, it's important to give others a chance to catch it there too. Don't go for every wave, and if it isn't your turn, don't try for it. If you're not sure what's going on with the rotation just ask another surfer.
Keep a Wide Berth
You easily have a 20 foot range between your body, leash and board. Surfboard fins are sharp, and a surfboard to the head could knock someone unconscious. It's ok to be a flailing newby. We all have to start somewhere. Just try not to put those around you in danger.
Bonus: Pick Up Some Trash
There's nothing that shows more respect for a beach than leaving it cleaner than when you arrived. Pick up that floating plastic bag or that six-pack ring, and not only will you potentially save the life of an aquatic animal, you will leave a good impression.
Now get out to the beach and have a great time! Before you know it new surfers will be wondering how not to step on your toes out in the water, and you'll be a great example of how to be respectful and safe out in the lineup. For more great tips check out The Beginner's Guide To Surfing.