Little classroom session for the groms and others who may not be familiar with this paddling/safety etiquette.
A rider on a wave has the right of way.
Paddling up the face directly in front of a rider not only may interfere with the rider’s ability to surf the wave, but it also puts the paddler in a vulnerable position of being hit or run over by the rider.
Check out some common textbook scenarios:
In the diagram, you can also see the last scenario where the paddler is down the line totally clear of the rider, where paddling up the face is fine – as long as the paddler shows some hustle to give the rider room to operate. This same concept also applies to the initial paddle out when entering a lineup.
Size Magnifies This Etiquette
Safe paddling direction gets more important as the surf size increases. On a heavy day the rider may have more momentum and the paddler should pay their dues by taking the brunt of the breaking wave on the head to demonstrate proper respect and not interfere with the surfer’s ride.
Paddle up the face in Hawaii, for example, and force a surfer on a wave to wipe out to avoid hitting you and you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Of course, there are times when paddling up the face is unavoidable:
- the paddler’s just been injured prior and is slow to move
- the paddler’s still recovering from a wipeout or broken board
- the paddler makes a decision that just isn’t in sync with where the surfer goes on the wave
- the paddler has no other choice
EDIT: James wrote in and asked what a scenario would be where the paddle has no choice.
A couple of examples of when a paddler has no other choice would be:
- when there is a structure, exposed rocks, or cliff immediately adjacent to a peak and a paddler must head around the peak after a wipeout on or near the takeoff zone
- or maybe there is another paddler directly beside you closer to the peak that you’re unable to (or don’t want to) ‘push’ deeper toward the peak by angling your paddling direction toward the foam.
Things happen fast and sometimes there is no other option. The important thing here is to try to make the right decision as often as possible. It’s also good to weigh the risk and think of the safety of yourself and the surfers sharing the lineup.
Putting yourself in the rider’s position and you’ll appreciate when a paddler shows the same hussle.