A Guide to LA's Surf Language

Surfboards in sunny USA
Surfboards in sunny USA | © Ryan Vaarsi / Flickr
Dominic Bertolami

Freelance writer

Amid the ocean swells, skateboard scrapes, and whisking footsteps, the sounds of Venice and Malibu are trademarked by its neighborhood natives. It’s easy to mistake a beach-side conversation here for a different language — surf-speak is something of an inherited brand within the community.

While West Coast surf culture is often noticed for its unique outward appearance, it’s sound is just as individual, leaving outsiders confused by insider slang. It’s important for LA beach-goers to learn the language before zipping up their wetsuits or walking the boardwalks. The reason being that these phrases and words, replete with their own attitudes and enunciations, are ingrained in surf culture itself. Whether you are planning an LA shoreside visit or not, here’s a guide to understanding and learning West Coast lingo.

Exclamatory slang

• Sick: Doesn’t actually mean sick or ill (though ill does have its own alter-meaning). It’s an exclamation of zeal, also meaning cool or impressive (i.e. “that bottom turn was sick bro”).

• Stoked: Pronounced like “soaked” but with a “T.” It means pure excitement (i.e. Surfer 1: “how stoked are you to hit the waves today?” Surfer 2: “beyond stoked”).

• Righteous: Often coupled with the term “brah.” This is stated when a situation is acceptable to all involved (i.e. “those waves are righteous, brah”).

• Bummer: A total drag. Not good. Not good at all (i.e. Surfer 1: “My surfboard was stolen” Surfer 2: “Major bummer”).

• Gnarly: Something treacherous, usually a wave (i.e. “that break yesterday was gnarly”).

• Shaka (sha-kah): Can be used to say hello, goodbye, or to scare off the seagulls. May also be used with the term “brah” (i.e. “shaka, brah”).

Surfing in USA

Names and descriptions

• Poser: Something you do not want to be called. This is someone who is not a surfer but tries hard to look and sound like one. Everyone hates posers.

• Barney: Have pity for anyone called this. It is not their fault, they are an untalented surfer. Encourage anyone who may be called one to immediately try a different hobby.

• Kook: A beginning surfer who often gets into trouble for getting in the way of more experienced surfers. If you are being called a one, figure out why and stop it immediately.

• O.G.: An elder in the surfing community. Also stands for “Original Gangster.” Always have respect for the O.G.

• Grommet (a.k.a. Grom): A child surfer who is just beginning to learn. Grommets are cute and surf better than kooks, barneys and posers.

Surfboards in Sydney

All the ways to describe surfboards

Log: A classic longboard first ridden in the 1960s. These retro styles are as popular today as they were in the stone age of surfing.

• Foamie: A board used mostly by beginners. It has a slick bottom with a spongy top made from foam. It’s perfect for learning how to stand up.

• Blade: A short, thin and narrow surfboard made for high performance. Kelly Slater makes riding one look easy.

• Wall hanger: A surfboard so beautiful, you are not sure whether to ride it, hang it on your wall, or marry it.

Indian Ocean

All the ways to describe surfing

• Worked (a.k.a. “to get worked”): When a surfer is held underwater by the waves. Think of Mike Tyson vs. Ewan McGregor.

• Wipeout: To fall off a surfboard by no choice of your own.

• Bail: Jumping off a surfboard to avoid a wipeout. Tell your friends you bailed even if you wiped out (i.e. ” I totally bailed”).

• Barrel (a.k.a. surfer’s nirvana): A hollow point where the wave is breaking.

• The drop: Where a surfer catches a wave, stands up, then drops down the face of the wave.

• Dropping in (a.k.a. “snaking” or “getting burned”): Catching a wave in front of another surfer. Dropping in will not help you make friends.

• Charging: Attacking a wave like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. An often aggressive surfing style (i.e. “that guy charges”).

Get wet: Going surfing; getting in the water.

Beach in USA

And, all the ways to describe surfing conditions

• Steep shoulder: The grade is steep from where you drop on to the top of the water.
• All-time: A term meaning good surf. A perfectly formed wave. Suitable for surfing.
• All chewed up: Choppy waves that break all at once.
• Blown out: Waves which are not surfable due to oncoming winds.
• Hollow barrels: The space between the face and the lip inside a breaking wave.
For more information on the subject of surf lingo on LA’s West Coast, check out the video below.

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