Summer 2018


June 24, 2018

Ocean Rescuer Bob Miller has spent a life on water; teaching, lifeguarding, coaching…and surfing. With decades of experience under his belt, he’s imparting some important advice on how to keep it together on the water for On Montauk in 2018.  In our spring issue he highlighted the importance of water safety and knowing your surrounding near/on the water (see his article at Here, for the summer issue, he tauks surfing etiquette. Read on and stay tuned for his next piece in the fall/winter edition.

So…. the story goes… after forty years of catching waves (that I can remember) I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. “Share”, hmmm … that was my mantra a few years back, so while out in the water surrounded by perhaps more than the usual crowd of local surfers, I’d find myself taking a deep breath in …. 2,3,4 … and on the exhale remind myself to share. 

Anyhow that is the sort of thing that this article is about. After coaching for over 25 years and specifically surfing the past 15 years I’ve learned to keep it simple. Some of you may be familiar with the acronym KISS, which stands for keep it simple silly (yeah right,) so I’ll keep it silly, I mean simple. 

When talking about surfing we can talk about 3 different things… safety, which we talked about in the last article (HOLD YOUR BOARD… COVER YOUR HEAD), etiquette, which we will learn about in this article, and then we can talk surfing, but if you learn to be safe in the water and practice good etiquette… you can surf anywhere in any line-up around the world. 

That said, I’ve often asked people what etiquette is…. and their answers are great! The dictionary defines etiquette as ‘the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group,’ & that group would be us…surfers. 

With no one out in the ocean to police the line-up, this ‘code of polite behavior’ is not always understood, acknowledged, or perhaps even known, so I’m going to share. 

Surfers Code Sign at Ditch Plains

I’m going to write down those unwritten rules of conduct, courtesies, & customs, which is not something new. Manners are something we’ve all learned in grammar school. Like taking turns on the slide, a surfing line-up works like a queue – everyone gets a slide, I mean ride… or slide… whatever, y’all know what I mean, protocol.   

These formalities with respect to surfing are as relevant today as they were back in the day when The Beach Boys put out their album, “Pet Sounds,” and without a certain decorum, the ocean would be a much more dangerous place… which again brings us back to safety because if it’s not safe and people aren’t nice, surfing is much less fun.  

Anyway … let’s get into this surf etiquette stuff. 

Nicety numero uno is DON’T DROP IN. This means that you look both ways before taking a wave. It’s like crossing the street, if you look one direction and someone is coming…you don’t go, pull back on your board, sit on the tail, kick out of the wave. DON’T DROP IN and from our first article on safety, HOLD ONTO YOUR BOARD. 

Another rule of conduct is DON’T BE A SNAKE. This would mean to paddle around other surfers in the queue and basically cut the line. Imagine that slide again in the playground, and those surfers that are snakes would be the type that didn’t want to wait their turn, pushing, pulling, causing drama, not good!! DON’T BE A SNAKE, please wait your turn and remember breath in 2,3,4 & … “share.” 

Okay… courtesy #3 is to take CAUTION ON THE INSIDE. Here we mean when caught inside the breakers, to paddle towards whitewater to avoid a collision; and ONLY IF IT IS SAFE TO DO SO, paddle towards the shoulder of a wave to avoid a collision. Basically, do anything you have to get out of a surfers way that is riding, which brings us back again to our “safety tauk” from the spring On Montauk, & being aware of your surroundings. 

Next, good form in the ocean is to NEVER lose or throw your board. My lifeguard Capitan says, “back when there were no leashes, and if you couldn’t swim and you lost your board you died, so… that really cut down on the crowds quite a bit.” That makes for both good etiquette & good safety… HOLD ONTO YOUR BOARD. 

Are you seeing patterns of formality here, like WAIT YOUR TURN? So, who’s turn is it? The person waiting the longest, closest to the peak or furthest out, some would even say the first up, but it’s really about polite decorum & sharing. 

One last courtesy please, if I may…? SURF WITHIN YOUR ABILITY. As in if you’re learning, please stay clear of the main surf zone, again please, take the time to learn how to control your surf board away from the crowd. 

These are all ways to practice good surf etiquette, which again is defined as the customary code of polite behavior… so, please be aware of your surroundings, wait your turn, don’t drop in, don’t be a snake, and hold onto your boards. 

Sent from my lifeguard stand…