Surfing terms and lingo for beginners

Martina Russo, CEO & founder
May 14, 2024

At The Action Sports Translator, if we’re in the water, we’re in our element. As adventure sports enthusiasts, we understand the thrill of being first in the lineup as the sun’s rising, of chasing glassy waves and of executing a perfect bottom turn against the backdrop of an orange sunset. As adventure sports translation professionals, we’re also no strangers to translating content for the biggest and best surfing brands, which means we know a thing or two about how to talk the talk while we ride the waves.

If you too want to be part of the surfing community and truly embrace the laid-back culture that comes with it, you need to know the lingo. Here’s our list of surfing terms that beginners should learn if they want to truly immerse themselves.

A female surfer catching a wave during the daytime.
Photo by Kristin Wilson on Unsplash

45 surfing terms you should know

Sound like a pro with these 45 fundamental surfing terms the next time you head out to catch some waves.


Also called a split wave, an a-frame is a wave that peaks before breaking to both the left and right simultaneously. With an a-frame, you can choose which direction you want to surf – you’ve got awesome surfing opportunities either way.


Aggro is an Australian term for an aggressive surfer. Someone who really goes after it (not always in a friendly way). You may meet one or two when you’re out on the waves, but most surfers are much more chill.

Air or aerial

This is an advanced surfing maneuver where the surfboard leaves the water and flies through the air. Pretty cool if you get it right, but maybe this one is best left to the pros for now. Still, if you know the lingo, you’ll be ready to call out an awesome aerial when you see one.

 A male surfer flying through the air after catching a wave.
Photo by Mathieu CHIRICO on Unsplash


Another term for awesome or cool.


Being amped means being excited, stoked or pumped for your next surf session or even the next wave.

Ankle Slappers or busters

Waves that are too small to ride. They’re short enough to slap your ankles, but that’s about all you’ll get from them.


Backdoor is when you enter the tube or barrel created by the lip – also known as the curl of a wave – from the opposite side of its peak.


Backside is riding the wave with your back towards it. This means a goofy-footed surfer will travel across the water to their right and a regular rider will travel to their left.


Like in any good action sport, bailing is when you fall or crash. Many surfers intentionally bail by jumping into the water to avoid a bad oncoming wave or imminent wipeout.


A barney is a beginner or novice surfer who lacks proper surfing skills (we’ve all been there). You might hear the phrase “No barneys allowed.” This means the waves aren’t suitable for beginners.

Beach break

A wave that breaks over a sandbar or a sandy sea bed.

Two surfers standing at the shore carrying surfboards looking at the surf at sunset.
Photo by Sacha Verheij on Unsplash


One of the oldest surf slang terms, a Betty is a surfer girl. Betty can also be used to refer to an “attractive” female surfer, but that’s a little outdated. It’s best not to use gendered language unnecessarily. Plus, who decides what attractive looks like anyway? So, be careful not to offend when using a term like this because inclusive language matters.

Bottom turn

A bottom turn is, you guessed it, a turn made at the bottom of the wave. As a foundational move (similar to the ollie in skateboarding), it is, without a doubt, *the* most important maneuver in surfing.  If you don’t properly execute your bottom turn, any subsequent maneuver you attempt on the wave can fall flat.


Carving (along with trimming) is a classic surf maneuver. It involves making a sharp turn on the face of a wave by applying pressure with the back foot to lift your board’s nose and change direction rapidly. It’s a key component of the bottom turn.


When a surfer aggressively goes for a wave. Please note, you can (and should) do this without being totally “aggro” about it.


Choka is when something is awesome or epic – as in “these waves are choka”.


Choppy waves are rough or bumpy and don’t break cleanly thanks to high onshore winds and short wave periods. As such, they’re definitely trickier to catch ­– no one likes choppy surf.


Way worse than choppy waves, chunder means waves that are practically impossible to surf. Is it a coincidence that this word is also slang for losing your lunch? Perhaps not.

Clean wave

A smooth wave fanned by a light offshore wind or no wind at all. Basically what every surfer wants. 


The highest point at the top of a wave.

Dawn patrol

Going for an early surf session first thing in the morning.


Damage done to your surfboard like a hole, crack or fracture. It’s inevitable when you’re a beginner or if you’re hitting the waves hard.


This is the first part of a ride where the surfer travels down the face of the wave before hitting that bottom turn.

Drop in

Dropping in is sort of like cutting in line and is one of surfing’s biggest don’ts! It’s where a surfer drops on a wave ahead of someone who was already riding it. It’s super dangerous – and not a cool move if you want to be part of the surfing community.

Drop knee

Drop knee is a cool maneuver where you ride while kneeling on one knee on the deck of your surfboard.

Eat it

Another way of saying you wiped out on the waves.


The unbroken part of the wave.


When a surfer rides their surfboard backward. It’s also a term used in skating and snowboarding.


Being inside the greenroom means being inside the tunnel of the wave.

 A surfer wearing a white top surfing in the greenroom of a wave.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Grommet (grom)

A grommet – also known as a grommie or grom – is a young surfer with tons of potential. Many will grow up to be surfing superstars.


Another type of wipeout where you fall off your surfboard mid-wave.


A surfboard used for particularly big waves. They can be up to 12 feet long and are shaped and strengthened to handle late drops and lots of force.


The shallower section of water closest to the shore.

Kick out

This is usually used as a safe way to bail out on a tricky wave or avoid someone who’s rudely dropped in on you (or try to backtrack if you’re the one accidentally dropping in). Basically, the goal is to escape the wave by driving the nose up hard over the lip. A flying kick out (now possible thanks to leashes) involves jumping off the tail and letting the board soar out from under you.


A kook is a surfer who doesn’t respect surf culture. They endanger others because they don’t follow or understand proper surfing etiquette. A kook can also be someone who tries to mimic the surfing lifestyle and fails. In short, you don’t want to be one.


A leggie (or leash) is the cord that connects your ankle to your surfboard to prevent it from washing away when you wipeout. You’ll be grateful for it when you bail or perform a flying kick out.


The lineup is where surfers sit and wait for the waves to break. They position themselves next to each other in a line – hence the term – to give themselves enough room to move.


The lip is the part at the top of the wave that curls over.


A long, wide and thick surfboard. It’s easier to catch a wave on a longboard than a shortboard, and they’re great for beginners to learn on.


The peak is the highest point of a wave and the first part that breaks.

Point Break

One of surfing’s most famous terms. Point Break isn’t just the title of the ‘90s movie with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze – it’s also a long, angled wave with a rocky, sandy or coral-covered bottom that wraps around a point or headland. Most surfers call point breaks the perfect waves, as they rarely break or close out on themselves.


Waves that break on the shore. Simple.


Shortboards are shorter, narrower and thinner than longboards. It’s harder to catch a wave on one, but they’re easier to control and tune. Most beginners start with a longboard and progress to shortboards as they gain more experience.


Shredding means riding hard or to your fullest potential, no matter how tough the waves get. The term is used in snowboarding and BMX, too, and it pretty much means the same thing across all action sports.


A thruster is a three-finned surfboard invented by Australian surfer Simon Anderson in 1980. It’s the most widely used fin design on surfboards today.


Trimming is turning on the wave. It’s a less drastic maneuver than its carving counterpart and is done by applying pressure with the front foot so your board’s nose stays closer to the water, allowing you to more gently change direction.


If you’re into extreme sports, you already know what this is! And even if you don’t, you will soon. Wiping out is falling off your board (often spectacularly) when riding a wave. Don’t worry – even the most experienced pros wipeout.

A surfer wiping out back-first while riding a wave.
Photo by Kurt Anderson on Unsplash

Before you hit the waves…

Head to La Jolla, California, and you’ll hear these fundamental surfing terms being used and understood by surfers (and even kooks) in English. But if you’re riding the barrels at Hossegor or chasing legendary waves in Nazaré, they may get lost in translation.

Want to sound like a true pro in any language? Then embracing the local lingo is a must. For example, did you know Spanish surfers refer to the white, foamy part of a wave that’s just broken as aguas bravas? Knowing things like that can help you feel right at home in international waters.

If you want your water sports gear and content to drop into new markets the right way, drop us a line. Our specialist linguists and surf enthusiasts will get your localization to shred with translations for water sports that are as epic as the tallest peaks and gnarliest barrels.

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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.

Co-founder and localization manager at Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.

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