Wave Riding with Respect | Sailing Rules and Etiquette

2 windsurfers approaching a wave at The Reef, Taranaki, New Zealand


Sailing Rules and Etiquette

Kia ora fellow wave riders! Guess what? The days are getting longer, the water warmer, and the Taranaki Wave Classic is gearing up to be a great event. To ensure it’s going to be a fun and safe event for everyone, let’s brush up on some waveriding etiquette and give-way rules before you hit those legendary Taranaki waves. 

But first of all we want to give a big shout out to the amazing Taranaki surf, windsurf, and foiling locals who make this place feel like home! We very much appreciate you sharing your awesome playground with us, thank you!

Waveriding rules:

When riding waves, there are priority rules and there is etiquette. Respect the locals and their place, and you will have a great time in Taranaki. 

Waveriding Priority:

Give way rules in the wave are pretty simple:

  1. If you catch a wave first, it’s yours to play on. That means, if there is already someone on the wave you had lined up, you unfortunately miss out on it. Dropping in on other riders is considered bad form and won’t make you any friends on the water. 
  2. The one going out has the right of way over the ones coming in. However, the one going out should do everything in their power to avoid interferring with the one riding the wave. Clear and early communication is the key. 
  3. Ever caught a wave at the same time as another rider? The rider closest to the peak has the right of way. The one further away from the peak should drop out of the wave or stay very wide as not to interfere.

Waveriding etiquette:

Now that you know the rules, there is also some sort of etiquette, which are the unwritten rules. Those unwritten rules are to be respected as much as the written down hard give way rules. 

  1. Respect the locals: Always remember, it’s their backyard. They live here and care deeply about the place. They will still be here after you go back home. 
  2. Don’t be greedy: Although you are always the first one to catch nice waves doesn’t mean you need to ride all of them. If you have all the fun and someone else gets none, it can ruffle a few feathers. Ultimately it’s nice to share and let other riders have a their turn to. 
  3. Don’t snake: Wait your turn and don’t try to outmaneuver other riders to put yourself in the pole position. If someone is ahead of you in the lineup, it’s their turn. If they don’t get a specific wave or don’t want it, then it’s up for grabs. 

Beach Etiquette:

  1. Setting up: When you’re setting up or coming back ashore, pick a spot on the beach that gives everyone space. Try not to drop your gear directly in the way. 
  2. Cruisy Return: Returning back to the beach, slow it down around other water users. Especially if there are non-windsport people in the water. 
  3. Kind Vibes: From newbies to seasoned pros, a little kindness goes a long way. A nod, a smile – it’s the secret sauce to our awesome community.

Perfect preparation for a safe time on the water:

  1. Know Your Limits: Regardless of your skill level, know your comfort zone. If in doubt – don’t go out!
  2. Spot check: New to the spot? Ask one of the locals if there is anything specific you need to know, i.e. currents, hidden rocks (there are plenty in Taranaki), best launching spot, ….. They are usually very friendly and helpful if you treat them with respect. 
  3. Buddy system: Keep an eye out for your mates and other riders on the water. Check in on them if they do seem in trouble. Flying solo? Let someone know your plans. 
  4. Equipment check: Before you set off, ensure your gear is in good working order. Is your base tightly screwed in? And when was the last time you changed the tendon on your U-Joint? Or that downhaul rope? Nothing worse than having to swim in (or even get rescued) because of an avoidable gear failure. 

So, a big round of applause for the Taranaki Wave Classic organisers – Taranaki Windsurfing Club and IWT Wave Tour – for turning this event on for all of us! Thank you and see you all on the weekend!

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  • Q: If you are out the back and on the wave first and sailing up wind on it to the peak to set up your ride – but another sailor upwind gybes on the same wave and is closer to the peak section – then who has right of way?…You as you were first on it and working your way up to the peak? Or the that other snake who thinks that as they are upwind and close to the peak they have right of way? So by the time you figure this out you are both setting up to go down the line and the sailor upwind is now charging down the line towards you – while you are sitting high on the wave waiting for the section you are on to peak (as you can’t sail further upwind now) before dropping into your bottom turn – which is now the section the upwind sailor wants to hit and you are in their way. Now at this point both sailors can decide to share the wave seeing as both technically had priority but that relies on having the same attitude.
    This scenario is the cause of most wave etiquette issues!

    • Good question, Stephen. If you were on the wave first making your way upwind, it is your wave. However, the other person might not have noticed you, hence jibed on the wave, thinking they have the right of way. They possibly realise their mistake by the time you meet at the peak. So that’s when beach etiquette comes in: Have a chat afterwards on the beach, acknowledge each others approach. Everyone can make a mistake, as long as you (or they) learn from it and don’t repeat it. Fortunately New Zealand is never too crowded, there is always another wave to be had.


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