Essential Surf Terms

San Diego, California, is renowned for its breathtaking beaches, year-round sunshine, and incredible surf scene. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or just starting out, understanding the lingo of the waves can help you navigate the local surf culture and enhance your overall experience.


The break refers to the point where the waves start to crest and break, creating that iconic curl that surfers ride. San Diego’s coastline boasts various breaks suitable for all skill levels. When you take surf lessons with the San Diego Surf School, your instructor will help you identify the perfect break for your abilities.


Swell is a term used to describe the energy of the ocean in the form of waves. San Diego is blessed with consistent swells, making it a surfer’s paradise. Surf instructors from the San Diego Surf School keep a close eye on swell forecasts to ensure your lessons coincide with the best wave conditions.

Point Break

A point break is a type of wave formation where the waves break over a submerged point or reef. San Diego offers some incredible point breaks like Sunset Cliffs and Windansea Beach. Surf lessons near these areas provide an opportunity to ride the long and perfectly-shaped waves.

Beach Break

A beach break is characterized by waves breaking over a sandy seabed. These are ideal for beginners, as they typically offer gentle, forgiving waves. San Diego’s Pacific Beach and La Jolla Shores are famous for their inviting beach breaks, perfect for surf lessons.

Rip Current

Understanding rip currents is crucial for surfers’ safety. These fast-moving currents pull water back out to sea, which can be treacherous if not managed properly. Your instructors at the San Diego Surf School will teach you how to identify and navigate rip currents safely.


“Drop-in” is the term used when one surfer takes off on a wave that another surfer is already riding. This is considered bad etiquette in the surf community. San Diego surfers are generally friendly, but it’s essential to be mindful of others and avoid dropping in on their waves.


The line-up is the area where surfers sit, waiting for waves. To fit in with the local surfers at San Diego’s popular spots, understanding the line-up and taking your turn is essential for a harmonious experience in the water.

Set Wave

A set wave is a group of larger waves that arrive at regular intervals. Local surfers at San Diego often discuss the timing of set waves, so be attentive to these conversations to catch the best rides.


A wipeout is when a surfer falls off their board while riding a wave. It’s a common part of surfing and nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, it’s where many valuable learning experiences come from.

Surfing in San Diego is a thrilling and rewarding experience, and knowing these essential surf terms will help you become a part of the local surf community.