Surfing terms glossary

A to Z of Surf lingo - Talking the talk

By . Last updated

Talk the talk, you can learn the walk later! We are in the process of creating a definitive list of surfing words some of which are specific to Cornwall.

Head First Over the Falls at Porthleven
Head First Over the Falls at Porthleven

"I took off on this bomb of a lefthander, it jacked as it hit the inside bank and the lip chucked right out. It went square dude! Full suck dredging turbo barrel!
Any way I get totally shacked spat out of this of this keg when I see some shoulder-hopping kook on a 60s rhino chaser drop in on me. Fortunately the guys a total ho-dad and wipes out.
The wave's now bowling hard and I've got plenty of speed so I wack the lip a couple of times, bury the rail for a roundhouse cutty and boom! The whole thing closes out behind me. It was sick - You should have been there - you missed it!"

If that lot didn't mean much to you then you need to be reading this page!


To leave the the top of the wave and actually become airborne. This is pretty advanced stuff and requires a good deal of speed and good timing. This is a controlled, intentional manouvre which requires landing and not to be confused with kicking out which is just jumping off the back of the wave


Same as an air


A perfect peak, with a left and a right-hander breaking at either side. The name comes from the fact that the wave is A shaped. On such waves, the surfer has the option of going both ways or even taking off behind the peak or backdooring the wave


To backdoor a wave is to take off behind the peak of a hollow wave and surf through the barrel to the other side of the peak. The usual/easier take off is to take on the peak or further down the shoulder.
The name comes from the short, intense right-hander that breaks off Hawaii's Banzai Pipeline

Back off

When a breaking wave hits deeper water it tends to become less steep or if it has already broken the whitewater fades away. You will often see surfers bouncing the board on backed off sections, hoping the wave will reform and get steeper as it moves into shallower water.

Bail out

To jump or dive off your board when the going gets hairy - usually when paddling out and confronted by a wave too big to duck-dive


The sand formation of the beach where the wave breaks. Good banks mean when there is swell the waves break well


One of many names for one of surfing's ultimate goals. A barrel is both a noun and a verb but both are concerned with the hollow part of the wave formed by the top travelling faster than the bottom. The idea is the surfer gets into the barrel and is thereby barrelled! Check out vintage Old Spice adverts for a demo. For there to be a barrel requires a powerful wave breaking in shallow water

Beach Break

A wave that breaks on a beach! Or more precisely a surf spot that is a beach (as opposed to a reef etc)


A large wave - usually in comparison to other waves during that session


An Australian term for a large wave that breaks way out beyond the line up on an offshore reef or sandbank


A surfboard with 5, yes 5 fins! Devised by the Californian Cambell brothers in the 70s but still used from time to time (I saw one yesterday)


Another word for turning, but more speifically a smooth, often powerful longer turn
Also the name of the UK's most respected surf magazine


Clean describes the conditions when there is either no wind or an offshore wind. This has the effect of smoothing the face of the wave and removing any chop from the water. This is good!

Close out

Instead of breaking across, the wave breaks all at once so the surfer can not ride across the wave. Not good!


Refers to the concave in the bottom of a surfboard which forms an air pocket, thus reducing drag and increasing speed. Science innit?!


Very good conditions


Very good waves or can be used to describe a turn


Newquay's big wave spot. Located at the northern end of Fistral beach in front of Towan Head, the Cribba breaks on a spring low tide with a big swell and sout/south east wind


As the name suggests, a manouvre where the surfer changes direction on the wave an cuts back to where the power is. The surfer usually changes direction again once in the 'pocket' an carries on.


To get a drilling is when you fall off and receive a good hiding from the wave!

Drop knee

A style of bodyboarding where the surfer rides on one foot and one knee somewhat like a rifleman would stand.

Drop in

The most henious crime in surfing. Surfing is based on a system of priorities with the surfer closest to the peak, or where the wave is breaking having priority. A drop in is where another surfer catches the same wave disregarding the other surfers priority

Elephant Gun

A surfboard designed for very big surf. A large 'gun'


The unbroken front part of the wave - the blue part you can see


The fin shaped things on the bottom of a surfboard. Most boards now have 3 fins and are also referred to as thrusters. In the past though boards had 2 fins (twin-fins) and before that only a single fin. Their purpose is to create latteral resistance or in other words stop you sliding sideways


A manouvre where the surfer rides on top of the broken part of the wave as opposed to the face


Conditions where there is no wind and the water surface becomes so smooth it resembles glass. We like this!


Generally means intimidating. Usually when the waves are really powerful or there are rocks in places you wouldn't want them

Goat boat

Another name for a surf-ski

Goofy foot

If you stand with your right foot forward you are a goofy footer!

Green Room

A slightly date, cheesy term for a barrel/tube


Someone who can't surf very well


A young surfer


A long thin surfboard designed for riding big waves. Not to be confused with a longboard

Hang Five

A longboarding manouvre where the surfer puts the five toes of one foot over the end of the surfboard

Hang Ten

As above but, yep, 10 toes over the nose!


Very powerful waves - giving the impression that the water is heavy as it stuffs you into the sand!


Describes the condition where the wave barrels


As the wave gets closer to the beach it often starts to break faster and steeper - this is known as the inside


Another word for a barrel


A lesser known branch of surfing where the rider stays on their knees as opposed to standing up or just lying down. Some people seem to like it!


Pronounced 'kuke' refers to someone who surfs badly and is generally a bit of an idiot


A manouvre that involves the rider lying back into the wave. Often unintentional and more popular in the 70's


The cord that attaches a surfers board to their leg. The alternative is don't fall of or spend a lot of time swimming!


Another name for a leash


Short name for Porthleven, one of the UK's best reef breaks

Line up

This is the area where the surfers sit whilst waiting for waves. It's generally just outside where the waves start breaking. It also refers to the surfers who make up the line up


The part of the wave at the crest, where it is just begining to break


Another name for a longboard. Derived from the fact longboards are big and somewhat cumbersome. Derivatives are logging and logger.


A surfboard that is over 8 ft in length and has a rounded nose to allow walking the board and hanging ten


A board that is easy to turn. Ideal for small waves


When there is an onshore wind the waves tend to have lots of lumps and bumbs where you might not want them


A really big powerful wave - named after the american Mac truck


Another name for a longboard, Derived from Malibu, although that has slightly different conitations


Derogatory term used to describe a bodyboard


When there is a strong onshore wind creating lots of chop and causing the wave to appear ragged and break erratically - this is described as messy - the opposite of clean


When the wind is blowing out to sea. Generally good news as it smoothes of the face of the wave and makes it more hollow

Off the lip

A manouvre where the surfer goes to the top of the wave and pivots on the lip. The idea is to go up as vertical as possible and turn as quickly as possible

Off the top

Similar to an off the lip but is performed on a less critical part of the wave and is longer and more drawn out


The opposite of offshore and generally bad news as it makes the wave lumpy and ragged


The oppposite of inside! I.e. further out to sea than where the waves are breaking. If someone shouts 'Outside!' it means a big set is on its way

Over the falls

This is the classic wipeout where the surfer falls off going from the top of the wave to the bottom in one go. For extra points there is the headfirst over the falls!

Pearl (dive)

Another kind of wipeout in which the nose of the board gets buried in the wave after dropping in. The result is the board stops abruptly whilst the surfer continues at speed!

Pin tail

A surfboard with a rounded tail. More common on older boards but still used on many modern boards, particularly big wave boards. The shape of the tail is supposed to allow for a more carvey style of surfing and perform better in steep hollow sections


Surf board with 4 fins. Like a twin fin but with 2 smaller fins behind


The side of the surfboard. Used for turning on (like in skiing). Can either be soft (rounded) or hard (angular)


A move similar to an off the lip. The difference being in an off the lip the surfer comes back down the unbroken face of the wave, in a re-entry the surfer comes back doen with the white water or on top of it.

Regular foot

A surfer who stands with their left foot forward

Reverse V

The keel like part of the bottom of the board towards the nose. The opposite out of the concave

Rhino Chaser

A surfboard designed for very big waves. Usually around 8-10ft in length. See gun

Rip (current or tide)

A strong current formed by the water that is pushed in by the surf rushing back out to sea via the channels at the side of the sand banks


Short for re-entry


Surfers Against Sewage - does pretty much what it says on the tin!


Waves tends to come in in groups. These are referred to as sets and can be anything from 2 to seemingly infinite waves

Sex Wax

The best known variety of surfboard wax. Made by Mr Zog


Another word for getting tubed/barrelled


Where the wave breaks right on (or very close) to the beach on a steep sand bank. Can provide excellent waves or very short rides and broken necks!


Very good


Another word for fin


Weak, low quality surf


A fast sharp turn


A mildly derogatory name for a bodyboard. Derivatives include sponger and sponging


Refers to the spray thrown up by a powerful manouvre. This is one of the criteria for a good move

Square tail

A surfboard with a tail that is cut off rather than being rounded. Is probably the most common shape of tail these days and is said to offer more pivotal turning


Another name for a surfboard


To be happy


The wooden strip running up the centre of the surfboard. Aids in strengthening and gives a centre line for the shaper. Some boards have double or even triple stringers

Swallow tail

This is the third main tail type. As the name suggest it is shaped like a swallows tail or like a W. The idea is it combines the features of a pin tail and a square tail. Swallow tails are still around but maybe had their heyday in the late 70s

Switch foot

Someone who can surf both ways around, i.e. goofy and natural


The proper name for a board with 3 fins. Invented by Simon Anderson in the 80s


Refers to a surfboard that is hard to turn. This is an advantage in bigger waves as it is less likely to wobble or do something unpredictable


Another name for a barrel or the hollow part of the wave

Twin fin

Strangely enough, a board with 2 fins. Popular in the late 70s and often in combination with swallow tails. Makes for a very 'loose' board


Well known bodyboarding spot off Portreath's harbour wall. Short, heavy and hollow - it works on big swells and can get busy with mostly bodyboarders


What you rub on your surfboard to give it grip. Use a circular motion to form 'humps'!

Zog's (Mr)

Manufacturer of Sexwax - the original surfboard wax company. (see above for definiton of wax)