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As surfing has grown in popularity, expanding from California to South Africa and beyond, surfers’ vernacular has also grown, from a few words of slang into a distinct and expansive language. Bits and pieces of surfer lingo have become common -- dude is now in the Oxford English Dictionary -- while many words and phrases sound completely foreign to non-wave riders.

Learning a few key words and phrases is always a good idea for tourists wanting to immerse themselves in a new culture – and this holds true for surfing newbies. We compiled this mini-glossary -- which includes terms used to describe the culture, people and physical environment central to surfing -- with help from the following resources: Surfline, Riptionary, the Riptionary book, Aloha Surf Guide, Australia’s Surfing Coast and Wavescape.  

People and behaviour
brah (n) – a friend or buddy; surfspeak synonyms: bro, brosef, bru (in South Africa)

kook (n) – a novice or inexperienced surfer; sometimes used as a derogatory term

grommet (n) – Australian term for a young surfer; sometimes shortened to grom

stoked (adj) – excited, enthusiastic; surfspeak synonym: amped

aggro (adj) – aggressive or angry in behaviour

aita! (exclamation) – a South African greeting among surfers

aikona (exclamation) – an especially emphatic expression for “no” among South African surfers

shaka (exclamation) – a Hawaiian expression asserting agreement or positivity; related to the shaka hand gesture used as a greeting sign

bark the dog (v) – South African idiom meaning “to vomit”

Waves
swell (n) – surfable waves

ankle biters (n) – very small waves, not optimal for surfing

breaking (v) – when a wave moves from deep to shallow water, gets higher (and rounded, as its back moves faster than its front) and falls

barrel (n) – the hollow space inside a breaking wave; surfspeak synonyms: green room, tube   

da kine (adj) – a Hawaiian term used to describe the best waves; da kine is also used in general Hawaiian slang as a placeholder for something whose name one cannot recall

gnarly (adj) – a term used to describe particularly intense or extreme waves

The sport

ripping (v) – surfing very well

wipeout (n) – the act of falling off one’s surfboard 

eat it (v) – to fall off one’s surfboard

hang ten (v) – to hang all of one’s toes off the front of a surfboard while longboarding

closeout (n) – the condition when all parts of a wave break at once, “closing out” the surfer

drop-in (n) – the act of catching a wave that another surfer is already riding, essentially cutting that surfer off; used to describe poor surfing etiquette

bail; bail out (v) – to abandon one’s surfboard, often mid-wave

man in the grey suit (n) – a term used in Australia and South Africa for “shark”

Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.

 

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