Like with anything, there is a surfing etiquette and a code for surfing conduct while out in the waves to make it as enjoyable and safe for everyone out there as possible. Below is a list, which is definitely not exhaustive but includes the main points, that all new surfers and those getting into the sport need to be aware of and take into consideration every time they go out in the water. This will also make their learning experience much more enjoyable as well as they will reduce the chance of getting in the way of the good surfers and causing problems out in the water.
Where to Surf
When you are learning anything, you always begin with the easy and get harder as you progress. This is the same with surfing. When you are learning, you DO NOT need to go out the back and mix it with the surfers right in the begining and should wait until you are ready. You will progress a lot better and faster by sticking in the white water and nailing your technique and paddling and jump ups in the cruisier white water, broken wave area in close to shore. Once you are really competent in this, then on the smaller days out the back, you might try to venture out to a less populated area of the break. Of course you would be much better continuing with surf lessons with an instructor to take you out and give you the right information and help you paddle on and get your timing right to catch waves out the back but if you are going to go it solo - take it slowly.
When you are paddling out there are a number of things to consider like where you want to end up, is there a sweep or rip, where are the surfers surfing, can I get out through the break safely without injuring myself or anyone else or get in anyone else's way.
You need to take into account any currents that may be present in the ocean so you can take a good paddling line.
If you are paddling out through a surfing zone, you must be conscious of where the surfers are riding. If someone is on a wave or paddling to get on a wave, you need to make sure you are out of their way. This may mean that you have to paddling back in towards the white water and broken section of the waves. Although this is harder and makes the paddle out more difficult, you will not ruin a wave and anger the surfer.
If you have a wave break in front of you and you have to duck dive (on a short board) or roll (on a mal), make sure you keep a tight hold on your board when doing the move. YOU MUST always hold on to your board. If you bail and throw you board out to the side or behind you and dive under water, the board can and will hit someone if they are behind you which can cause serious damage.
Once Out the Back
Once you are out the back, make sure you stay out of the way of other surfers paddling onto and riding waves. Stay out of the impact zone (the break zone) as you will find yourself in the way of everyone riding the waves.
Catching Waves - Right of Way & Dropping In
The person on the inside, that is closest to the breaking section of the wave, has right of way. If someone is riding the wave or paddling for the wave on the inside when you are out in a surf with other surfers, leave the wave, let it go. Don't try and paddle on to it.
If you do and you do catch it when someone is already on it, it is called dropping in and one of the worst thigns you can do, especially if you are learning and sitting out the back and dropping in on good surfers on good waves. You will not be making any friends out there doing this.
Just like dropping in isn't a good idea, snaking is also very uncool out there. Snaking is when someone is on the outside of another surfer, sees a wave coming and then paddles onto the inside to be on the inside for right of way, or it is also if someone is riding a wave and another person turns around, paddles and takes off on the inside and then expects to get right of way when the person now on the outside was already on the way and riding it.
Best Ideas for Surfing Out the Back When You Are Learning
The best ideas for you when you are learning and wanting to start surfing out the back, are to find a surf break, preferably a beach break, where there are no other surfers or very few and it is not crowded. Unfortunately, a lot of spots are becoming extremely crowded and there can sometimes be aggression and blow ups out in the water. This is exaccerbated when people learning and who don't know what they are doing break the basic etiquette rules and paddle out getting in the way of surfers riding waves, paddle towards the open face, stopping a surfer making a section because the learner was in the way, throwing their board out to the side and bailing as they are paddling out or losing grip on their board duck diving and the board spits out behind them and takes out another surfer paddling out or the learner doesn't look on the inside when they are paddling onto waves and drops in on people already on the wave.
To make it easier on yourself and ensure that you have an enjoyable entry into surfing, take all these ideas on board and put them into practice out in the surf. But again best recommendation is to continue getting lessons until you are comfortable with your technique and knowlegde and understanding of the rules in waves.
Have fun and keep surfing!!!
Surfing Australia Surfers Code
Surfing Australia also has a page on their website, outlining Surfing Etiquette and the which Surfers Code you can check out at this link.