Learn to surf without being a nightmare to others

The ocean water at Dana Point is creeping into the 60s. At Rockaway Beach, it recently hit 50. And, of course, those spoiled saps in Saint Augustine are basking at a comfortable 76 degrees.

That means longer sessions in Southern California, a few more weeks of boots and gloves in New York and an even better chance of losing a toe to a toothy predator in Florida.

It also means that beaches will soon be flooded with summer crowds — those who don’t do cold water. And they will certainly be jamming up every surf spot from A Street to Creek. So if you’re one of those fair-weather or beginning surfers, these are some things to consider.

Simple awareness and acknowledgement

Respect the locals. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Corey/Flickr

As with any situation in life, the first step is to recognize. Simply acknowledging that you are a rookie is quite possibly the number-one thing you can do right.

See those kids ripping turns? Notice the guy across the parking lot who seems to live in his van? They’ve here all year. This isn’t a hobby to them. It’s their life. Try to stay out of their way.

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Simple actions communicate to them that you understand that this is their sanctuary. When school starts in the fall or you take up unicycling or gravity-free Pilates, they’ll still be here.

Out of the way!

With summer coming, the surf is going to get more crowded. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Fallshaw/Flickr

If you can find a junky beachbreak with no one out, it’s far better than having to worry about a crowd. To some surfers, you staying out of the way might mean you staying at the softball field or the CrossFit gym. But you can certainly get in the water and still reduce your chance of incidents. This is part of that general awareness.

Most surf spots in the summertime are loaded with surfers of all abilities. Before you even paddle out, assess the whole lineup. See where people are catching waves and where they’re riding them to, then find a route to paddle out around all of that. There is nothing worse than the panic that occurs when a surfer is careening down the line directly at you.

Even if you’ve surfed before, it’s not a bad idea to take a lesson. An experienced instructor can help guide you out of potential conflict.

Every hardcore shredder was once a beginner

No matter how good they are, everyone was once a beginner. Photo: Courtesy of Steev Selby/Flickr

No one is born knowing how to surf (except maybe John Florence) and no one owns the ocean. Keep that in mind. The ripper, the guy in the van — at some point, they were newbies. Maybe they were cognizant of it, but they were once a holy nuisance.

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But for those who learned how to surf before the turn of the century, there was a lot less restraint in the water back then. If you screwed up, someone let you know it.

The rules of priority

Not dropping in isn’t really “etiquette.” It’s a steadfast rule. Photo: Courtesy of Tammy C/Flickr

There is basically only one commandment in surfing: Don’t drop in on a surfer who is already riding the wave. Some folks like to call this “etiquette,” but it’s as important as stopping at a red light. There are different ways to be courteous when surfing, but this is a steadfast rule.

The person farthest up the wave gets it. This means that if the wave is a right (the surfer’s right, as they paddle into it), whomever is farthest to the left has priority. This is a difficult thing to do as a beginner, but it’s up to you to watch and make sure you’re not dropping in on anyone.

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There tends to be some gray area around this depending on where you catch the wave. Some surfers like to think that if they are farther out to sea when they catch the wave, they have priority over someone who is actually closer to the peak. It might be subject to interpretation, but I will give you a hint: If you’re an inexperienced surfer and riding a bigger board, picking off waves outside of people who are actually sitting closer to the more critical part of the wave, don’t expect a welcome party when you paddle back out.

Act like you know

Surfing a crowd, crowd surfing, whatever. Just be respectful. Photo: Courtesy of Ted Van Pelt/Flickr

The only way to build your skill and confidence is to get out and catch waves. When you are sure you have priority, make the drop and enjoy. You earned it.

However, if you have priority and blow the takeoff, the polite thing to do is go to the back of the line. It’s humbling, but no one wants to give priority when you eat it three times in a row.