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By Brendan Richards/sckitesurfing.com

Ignorance may be bliss, but not at a heavily kited beach or reef break where everyone knows and expects a lot from each other. Wave etiquette is what maintains the peace and maximizes the fun for everyone. The rules of etiquette are rarely written and are usually implied but they most definitely exist, and failure to figure it out before you jump in can get you into some trouble. When the new guy ruins someone’s wave for the second or third time and ends up on the receiving end of a verbal beating, that’s not localism. It’s in fact a not so subtle invitation to get with the program, because it’s expected that you know before you go.

The exact rules can be slightly different at each local spot, but my experience is that most kiters are approachable, especially if you’re deferring to their local knowledge and your intentions are to understand the rotation and fit in rather than disrupt the lineup on the water. Our rules of etiquette come from windsurfing as opposed to surfing. Kiters, like windsurfers, are always in motion, seeking out waves and claiming them on the outside before they break.  From this evolves a natural rotation around the wind direction and waves. The implied rules maintain the efficiency and fairness of the rotation. Etiquette in the waves can be broken down to two concepts: Knowing when it’s your wave and knowing how to get out of the way when it”˜s not.

The rotation is generally democratic and fair. The kiter that goes out the farthest and catches the wave the earliest gets the wave. Short-tacking closer to the peak doesn’t create priority. Unfortunately, it’s not always that cut and dry as kiters move quickly and various scenarios will arise, but as long as you find a balance between give and take, you shouldn’t have any problems. Perceived slights and stand offs rarely get you anywhere positive. Letting waves go or waving others on while settling for non set waves will get you a lot farther, especially as a new face in the crowd.

The efficiency of the rotation depends on each person riding their wave and then quickly getting out of the way. Skill level is worth consideration as routinely dropping your kite in the lineup or fumbling through the lineup won’t make you any friends. As you kick out of a wave, it helps to dive your kite and book it through the impact zone nice and early to signal to other kiters they can focus on riding their wave instead of avoiding you. Losing some upwind ground or doing a last minute chicken jibe back to the inside can be a small price to pay for a quick and courteous exit. Simple concepts such as kite placement when crossing paths (downwind kiter lowers his kite, upwind kiter raises her kite) help minimize the space you take up in the lineup and are essential to the smooth flow. With a minimum of skill, awareness, and a good dose of deference toward others you will find yourself in a happier place both in the lineup and on the beach.


  • Kite far outside and look for sets, turn on what looks like a wave and do your best to stay on top of the wave until it breaks
  • Sometimes you might have to give up a wave to someone else when priority isn’t 100% clear. This helps keep things civil and usually someone else will return the favor.
  • If the wave you selected doesn’t pan out to be the wave you wanted, don’t slog off the back and try to claim the one behind it. That wave is probably already claimed and doing this is a great way to make enemies.


  • The kiter on the wave has priority. In the surf, no one cares about starboard right of way.
  • Keep your head up and be aware of what’s going on around you. Ignorance is not an excuse.
  • If you’re heading out keep an eye on the rotation. If you’re potentially in the way of someone’s wave, either bear off in advance to get clear or chicken jibe back towards the beach.
  • In a tight rotation, kite placement when passing other kiters is essential. Keeping your kite lower or higher in the window indicates your intentions and streamlines the rotation.

When you are kiting a new spot in the waves for the first time, ask a local how the rotation works if you are unsure. Spend a few minutes and watch the rotation to see how it works. Ignorantly leaving the beach and turning on every wave you come across will earn you enemies really fast. There are plenty of waves out there and we can all get along if everybody sticks to the rotation.