What is a Kook? (And How to Avoid Being One)

If you spend enough time around surfers, you’ll eventually hear the word “kook.” It’s a classic part of our vernacular, one that dates back to the early 1950s, when the Gidget beach culture was in full effect in California.

Today, you are likely to hear people using the word in a number of different ways—sometimes out of anger, and sometimes teasing; sometimes in response to a breach of etiquette, and others simply because their friend did something silly.

Here in Cardiff, there’s a surfing statue that everyone has nicknamed the Cardiff Kook because of his wonky surfing style. Other people are kooks because they carry their boards the wrong way or are too loud and braggy in the lineup. And then of course there’s the classic surfing kook—the guy who has never been on a board before and can barely paddle it out to the lineup.

So, what exactly is a “kook?”

Originally, a kook was a newbie in the water—someone who hadn’t quite figured the surfing thing out yet. They probably struggled to paddle, fell a lot (even when the waves weren’t critical), and didn’t understand the basic rules of the lineup. Over the years, this evolved to the point where even good surfers were “kooking it” when they bogged a rail or blew a good wave. And since “kook” had a negative connotation to it, it soon took on other meanings, such as someone who looked or acted ridiculous.

Regardless of how the term is used, the major takeaway is that if you are kooking it, you are probably doing something wrong—so the obvious goal is to not be a kook! Today we are going to discuss things that kooks do and things that kooks don’t do, to help you avoid kooking it in the water, on land, and even online!


13 Things Kooks Do

  1. Get in the way: The lineup has an unwritten set of rules and etiquette, and at the heart of these rules is staying out of the way of the surfer riding the wave. If you find yourself getting in the way frequently, then you are probably kooking it. In this case, it would be a good idea to review surfing etiquette best practices, and maybe look for advice from a more experienced surfer.
  2. Ruin other people’s waves: There are a number of ways to ruin other people’s waves, including paddling out in the middle of the lineup, not getting out of the way when they are paddling into a wave, pushing a section over onto them from the shoulder, and the ultimate crime of dropping in on them (more on that in a second). You will know if you are consistently ruining people’s waves, because you’ll probably get called a kook a bunch—and not in a friendly, teasing way!
  3. Drop in on people: Dropping in is the ultimate no-no in surfing. Generally speaking, the surfers in the lineup should be taking turns, and one way to regulate that is for the person who is sitting deepest (and can take off on the wave first) to have priority. If someone is already riding a wave and you take off in front of them (“drop in”), not only will you ruin their wave, but you will also put everyone in danger of a collision. Don’t do it!
  4. Back-paddle: As mentioned above, in a perfect world, we’d all take turns in the lineup. But since many people are greedy kooks, a basic priority system has been developed where the person who is deepest is the one who typically gets the wave—and the way to earn your spot deepest in the lineup is to wait your turn. If you catch a wave and then immediately paddle back out and sit deeper than everyone else (this is called back-paddling), you are a kook—even if you are the best surfer in the lineup. Some things are more important than ability, and being a considerate person is one of them.
  5. Surf waves that are outside of their capabilities: It is important to know your own ability and choose waves that are appropriate, otherwise you are likely to get in the way, get hurt, or hurt someone else. Kooks are often unaware that they are putting themselves in dangerous situations because they are unaware of their limited capabilities. Try to be self-aware, and don’t paddle out to advance waves until you have the skills to do so.
  6. Ride the wrong boards: Generally speaking, people are free to ride whatever they want. If you can rip on an ironing board and that sounds fun to you, then by all means, go ahead and do it. But sometimes certain board choices are just plain kooky—often because the board is so inappropriate for the waves that it endangers people or makes it incredibly difficult to have fun. In general, riding a longboard in slabs, a shortboard in tiny dribble, or a gun in anything but proper XL swell is kooky. If you’re a beginner and need help finding the right surfboard, check out this guide to the best beginner surfboards.
  7. Lay their boards wax-down in the sand: A lot of kooky actions are the result of a lack of awareness—and putting your board deck-down into the sand is a great example. Anyone who stops for a moment and considers the ramifications of putting sun-softened wax face-down in the sand will realize that it’s going to create a huge mess—but since kooks are often oblivious to just about everything, they likely won’t realize what they are doing until it’s too late.
  8. Put their fins on backward (or forget to screw them in): You’d be surprised how often both of these mistakes are made. Just goes to show you there are a lot of kooks in the world!
  9. Put their wetsuits on backward: Even if you are a lifelong surfer who is simply in a rush and puts their wettie on backward, you’re still kooking it—but if we can’t all laugh at our own kookiness now and then, we should probably taking ourselves so seriously.
  10. Wax the bottoms of their boards: In snowboarding and skiing, wax is for making you slipperier so you go faster, so it is applied to the bottom of the board. In surfing, it has the opposite job—to help you stick to the board better. Don’t be a kook—wax your deck, not the bottom.
  11. Put their leash cuff under their wetsuit: Again, when you are oblivious, it is often easy to make silly mistakes—and one classic mistake is failing to put your leash cuff under the leg of your wetsuit. This simple action takes only a second but can save you the discomfort and ridicule of having a wetsuit leg fill up with water like a clumsy balloon.
  12. Talk loudly about their surf gear: Have you ever noticed that the best surfers are often the ones who brag the least? If you find yourself overly excited about all of your newfangled toys and telling everyone about the expensive, trendy gear you just bought, you probably aren’t dominating your local break. If people notice your new board and are interested in it, then by all means, tell them about it or even let them try it. But generally speaking, no one wants to hear you carrying on about your signature series leash or your top-of-the-line wetsuit.
  13. Reveal secret spots: This is one for all the armchair pundits and weekend warriors out there who want to prove how core they are by showing people that they know where the secret spots are located. If you comment on an Instagram post or an article and tell everyone where a wave is, you are blowing it big time. Kooks blow up spots; core surfers keep spots to themselves, then paddle out quietly and enjoy the empty barrels.
  14. Build kooky statues: If you still don’t know what a kook looks like, come to Cardiff and check out the local surf art—you’ll figure it out pretty quickly.