Surfing Terminology and Slang: You Can’t Play BINGO Without the Lingo

By Stephen Mullaney September 20, 2020

Outdoor Lingo

Seems most every human-powered outdoor recreation activity has a language of its own. And the more popular that activity becomes, the more expansive the list of slang words and new terminology become. It’s a way of communicating efficiently with your fellow enthusiasts, and let’s face it, speaking the language makes your part of the group.

In this next series of posts here on the NCOAE Blog, we’re going to explore the unique spoken word of our beloved adventure-based sports. We’ll start off with surfing, the “Sport of Kings,” this week, then move on to climbing and paddling in future posts.

And now, without further ado, let’s go ahead and push through the shorebreak, paddle out to the lineup and grab us up some gnarly waves.

Sorry. One more aside before we begin. Let’s go ahead and elaborate on that “Sport of Kings” comment above:

Back when missionaries arrived on the Hawaiian Islands, they quickly banished the sport of surfing, calling it hedonistic and probably too much fun. They also gifted the Hawaiian population with a variety of diseases, but that’s another story. However, when King Kalakaua was installed on the throne in 1872, one of his first acts was to reinstate this ocean-specific human-powered activity that was so loved by his royal predecessors. And once again, surfing became the “sport of kings” and commoners alike.

Since then, surfing has become among the most romanticized sports in the world. Films like The Endless Summer, Point Break, Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii and even the Gidget television series drew thousands of young people into the ocean and onto waves across the coastlines of America — and around the world. And most recently, as you’ll see in the video below, Maya Gabeira — a Brazilian surfer who makes it her mission to tackle big, big waves — recently broke the Guinness World Record for the Largest Wave conquered by of woman!

Again, sorry. One final diversion and then we’ll get to those surfing terms:

Lee Clow, the advertising icon who worked directly with Steve Jobs on classic Apple television ads and futuristic consumer trends, brought the culture of local surf shops into Apple’s megastores around the world. Instant success. This California ad genius — himself a veteran wave rider — knew all about the bond between a surfer and a surf shop.

For instance, he knew that surfers find any reason at all to visit a surf shop. Even when they’re broke. It’s where they hang out, hear about the trends in surfboard design, get the insider track on new surf spots or what’s breaking. You feel part of a family, and you speak the same lingo. Yep, Apple took Lee Clow’s sales pitch to heart and the rest is history.

No more asides. No more fun facts. Let’s talk surfing terminology:

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