The other day a friend who’s following the Venus Goes Gidget Instagram (yes, there is one, follow it for early morning surf-reports) asked what ‘mal’ actually means…That reminded me again that terms and sentences we use as surfers must sound like a foreign language to non-surfers or beginner surfers.
For me, when I came to Australia and started to surf, it was almost like learning another language… well… two more languages – Aussie English which sounds quite different compared to the language I was taught at school… On top of that I’ve heard all these new surf related words that did not exist in my vocabulary before at all (and still don’t in my mother tongue because I’ve only learnt them in English – weird but true). I figured them out eventually but it took me a while. I vaguely remember some awkward conversations and small talk about surf when I had no idea what my surfing counterparts were actually talking about.
My favourite story of embarrassment…at the beginning of my surfing ‘career’ when I barely could stand up on a board, I ended up at the premiere of ‘Riding Giants’ in California – a fairly well known movie about big wave surfing. I rubbed shoulders with big wave legends such as Laird Hamilton and Greg Noll at the after party without having any idea whatsoever about surfing. So one of the conversations with one girl who was also at the after-party went as follows:
Me: “Umm, well I came with my boyfriend and his mates. You?”
Girl: “My boyfriend is so-and-so [insert name of tow-in surfer here]”
Girl: “So-and-so…he’s one of the tow-in surfers here”
Me: “A t-o-e-i-n surfer?” (me thinking: what the hell do toes and surfing have to do with each other).
That’s when she realised I had no idea and clearly no fellow WAG so that was pretty much the end of the conversation as far as I remember.
Oh well, how should I have know as a surfing virgin…to save you from any sort of embarrassment, here are a few translations for some common surf lingo you may hear around the traps…
Generally, surfers like talking about surf conditions. Good or bad but it’s always a good topic:
“I’m so stoked. Have you seen it? It’s going off. Absolutely pumping.”
Ok let’s start with an easy one, you could have guessed that: “It’s great, amazing, amazeballs, get out there”
“The banks have been shit lately, just close-outs. ”
Banks = the heaps of sand on the bottom of the sea. Waves break over sandbanks (on beach breaks that is). Well formed sand banks = well formed waves. Not so well formed banks = not so great waves.
Close-out = waves are breaking all the way along the length instead of peeling like a zipper. Bad banks are mostly the cause of close-outs and not very popular amongst surfers because you can only surf straight and not turn or anything.
“It was glassy but pretty fat this morning.”
Every surfer loves glassy because that means no wind and makes for super smooth conditions. Fat, however, is not so good cos it means there is a lot of water in each waves which makes them…um…fat and slow…just not steep enough to catch waves.
“It was barely a foot, it was even too small for the log”
1 foot is generally as small as it gets before it’s actually flat. With a longer board like a longboard aka log, it’s easier to catch smaller waves.
Huey = ‘Surf god’ who creates the waves…during flatspells (no waves for ages) you may find some surfers calling for Huey…like at the moment.
“Lots of blueys around because of the Noreaster”
Blueys = Bluebottles = little annoying blue jellyfish. They are not going to kill you but it hurts
Noreaster = North East Winds
Winds from the North East bring the bluebottles to the shores – so if it’s blowing NE for a few days in summer you are likely to see a blue invasion.
Surfers love their war stories so you may have heard something along the following lines before:
“I thought I was safe out the back but then a massive set came through and cleaned up the whole line-up”
This is an advanced one…
Out the back = behind the breaking point of the wave, where surfers wait for the waves
Set = A group of waves.
Clean-up set = A particularly big set of waves (bigger than the average set of the day) that washes all the surfers to the beach.
Line-up = surfers waiting out the back
Sooo “I though I was safe where we were waiting for the waves but than these much bigger, not expected waves came through and washed us all towards the beach” (the war story sounds much lamer now, does not it)
“I got caught on the inside and absolutely hammered”
Caught inside = you don’t paddle out quickly enough and a wave breaks on top of you and another one and another one and another one and you are not really going anywhere until the waves release you again.
Hammered = flung around in the water after a wipe-out or when caught inside
…’A lot of waves in a row broke on top of my head and I was tumbled around like a ragdoll in a washing machine’
“The shorey is brutal but the left out the back is alright”
Shorey = Waves that dump right onto the beach. Quite often mean because the break in shallow water….they are the causes of most spinal injuries for swimmers who try to body surf.
Left = Lefthander which is a wave that breaks to the left from the surfer’s point of view. From the beach it looks like a zipper closing to the right….
Loosely translated, try to get past the dumpy waves on the beach and surf that wave that breaks to the left…
“Indo was pretty heavy”
Indo = Indonesia, which is absolutely wave paradise for any surfer….
Heavy = dangerous or scary
i.e. ‘The surf in Indonesia was scary at times’ (there is a reason for surf lingo you see pretty heavy sounds better than scary, right?)
Wipe-out = stacked it, fell of my board; Finchop = cut yourself with your fins. So…You cut yourself when you stacked it…
“He dropped in and dinged my board on the rail”
Drop in = catching a wave that another surfer has already caught. So you are cutting of his/her way. Not a very popular maneuver as you can imagine
Ding = board injury
Rail = side of the board
“He ran into me and destroyed the side of my board. I’m really angry about that and it pisses me off big time”
Commenting on other surfers is another favourite topic of conversation
“You are ripping, mate”
Generally a compliment about your excellent surf performance.
“He’s frothing like a grom”
Grom = Grommet = surfing kid
Usually they surf quite well and they are super motivated and enthusiastic about surfing. So if someone’s frothing like a grom that means they are still really, really excited about getting into the water like a kid…loosely translated
Surfers also like to talk about their gear…wetsuits, surfboards, etc…
“I gotta get a new steamer this season; I’m thinking of getting a 4’3”
Steamer = wetsuit with long arms and legs
4’3 = refers to the thickness of the wetsuit, it’s 3 mill all over but 4 mill at the belly for example. Usually 3’2 is warm enough for around here unless you’re cold easily (or a wuss) then you may consider getting a thicker one…
“Too cold for just boardies, but a springie or 2 mill rashie will do”
boardies = boardshorts (that was not too hard to guess, was it…)
springie = springsuit = wetsuit with short arms or short legs or short arms and short legs
Rashie = Rash vest = they are like wetsuit tops you can get at different thickness too.
i.e. ‘you’ll freeze your butt off if you only wear boardshorts, wear at least some sort of wetsuit…’
“Check out my new thruster”
That one made me blush until I’ve realised that we were still talking about boards….Thruster = surfboard with three fins…
Confusing, confusing let me tell you because there are some others that sound pretty straight forward … for example “Do you want me to teach you how to surf” – don’t fall for that one… especially if they offer theoretical lessons in form of ‘analysing surf DVDs’ … watch out gidgets, it could be a trap.
Joke aside, it will take a while until you’ll get the hang of it but if you don’t know don’t pretend just ask. It’s less embarrassing than being caught out as a fake…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little surfictionary. I certainly did… I could sit here all night and come up with heaps more. Will certainly write another one and if you’ve got some funny ones or need some ‘translations’ let me know, would love to post them and help you with translations if I know that is…