While I was writing about Right of Way, I got to thinking about the Paddle Out and how that has it’s own set of unwritten rules (soon to be written!). Again these are all in place for our safety and to keep things groovy out in the line up.
First off, try to avoid paddling straight into the surfing action. When possible paddle out using a channel, then paddle into the line up once you are out far enough. (A channel is anywhere the waves aren’t breaking. It’s an easier paddle out there anyway.) Granted, some beaches don’t really offer up an channels. If not, your best bet is to paddle towards the least crowded area. While on your way out to the line up do you best not to interrupt anyone’s ride.
When you are paddling back through the “surf zone” it is your job to get out of the way of anyone taking a wave. If it looks like you are going to be in the surfer’s line, the general rule is to paddle in the opposite direction of the surfer to clear the path. This means that sometimes you ARE going to take wave on the head. Those are the breaks. But you’ll appreciate it when someone else clears out of your path so you can continue on a sweet ride. (Remember, Karma is swift in the ocean.) But at all costs, get out of the way! In a collision between a paddler and a rider, the paddler will always get the shiv (no matter who is right or wrong).
Finally, don’t ditch your board – especially when it is crowded. A loose board flopping wildly in the surf is an incredibly dangerous thing. Anyone who has taken a rail in the head will confirm this. Again, you are going to get clobbered a few times by being right in the waves danger zone, but do all you can to maintain control of your board. Resist the urge to ditch the board and dive under the wave. I’m not saying you won’t ever get blown off your board by the sheer power of the wave, but let the wave decide if you get to hang on to your board or not.
(Also when you are in the danger zone and the wave is about to crash right down on you, take extra special care not to let the wave smash your head into your board. I’ve seen this a bunch of times: someone is in the bad spot, they cling tenaciously to their board and put their head about an inch or two from the board to brace for the impact. When the mayhem subsides, I find a dazed surfer* with a bloody forehead or bloody lip.)
*If necessary help the dude or lady out. Shaun Tomson Rule #6: “I Will Watch Out for Other Sufers.” But we’ll talk about that more on another etiquette entry.