How To Navigate Crowded Line-up: 7 Essential Tips

Are you struggling to get your fair share of waves in a crowded lineup? Let’s see what we can do about that.

Pipeline – The ultimate playground

1. Protect yourself.

Number one rule: avoid injury.

In the crowded lineup, the worse thing that could happen is: getting run over by a fellow surfer or you run someone over.

Firstly, do not paddle out towards the middle of the braking zone to avoid a collision. Always paddle out wide, and it’s usually more effortless because of rips. When crowded, there are lots of things going on, and they may not see you in front. Stay out of the danger zone.

When going for a wave, do not take off or stay on the wave if you are at risk of hitting someone. It’s incredibly frustrating when the wave comes, and the surfer(s) is right before your path. But, Remember, surfboards are heavy, especially when a human is on them and being pushed by a wave.

If you are not careful, injury can put you out of action for many days, weeks, or even months, or you can seriously harm someone.

2. Hunt for smaller waves!

When you decide where to surf, take a moment to watch where everyone sits and who catches waves consistently. If you watch long enough, you will notice a few surfers sit inside (close to shore) and catch loads of waves.

These small waves do not break at the usual peak, and most surfers will have to let them go or does not even know it’s there.

When aiming to catch smaller ones inside, position yourself so you do not stay in the way of other surfers on a wave. Also, we may need to do more paddling and duck diving. If you are ok with that, you can find a hidden jam.

Of course, there is a risk of getting hit by a surfer. Therefore, I suggest beginners learn to paddle well before sitting in this area. See here if you want to learn more about paddling

3. Catch a wave and ride.

Fighting for waves is competition. You have to show others you are capable of surfing a wave.

No, you do not have to do a reverse 360 in the air to show others you are a good enough surfer. All you have to do is, when your turn comes, paddle into waves and stand up and ride. If you do this consistently 3-4 times, surfers will notice and not compete unnecessarily when you start paddling for waves.

If you cannot catch waves consistently, people will doubt your ability and start competing with you just in case you miss it. It’s not personal; it’s their instinct to tell them you might miss a good wave.

If you want to learn more about catching waves well, read here.

4. Get a longer board.

A longer board makes everything easy. From paddling, taking off and riding. If you have 9+ feet board, you can sit 10+ metres further than the short borders because the buoyancy allows much faster paddling and easier riding.

The apparent downside of increasing your surfboard volume is performance. However, major surfboard brands offer many surfboard options to improve the surfboard’s performance with a larger board.

Here is an example of such a surfboard by LOST.

When riding a longboard, be mindful of where you position yourself. Some surfing spots are highly shortboard dominant, and they will not appreciate you catching waves way early.

5. Improve paddling.

Surfing interaction is heavily based on body language. Your speed of paddling and commitment on waves send a solid signal to surrounding surfers about your ability. Many surfers can judge how good a surfer is by watching them paddle.

It’s not just techniques; paddling stamina is crucial. Increasing your wave count can be one way of dealing with the dense lineup. If you keep moving around and stay busy while others wait for their turn, generally, you have a better chance. You can keep changing the position and find a better spot, too.

People tend to give away to other surfers who seem better than them or when they are more aggressive. Constantly paddling and searching for waves send these signals. Read here for tips on improving paddling.

6. Give someone else a chance.

Kelly Slater once said this. Sometimes, give a chance to someone less skilled person. Even the best waves in the world are better when you can afford to share. This thoughtful gesture can provide a lifetime of good vibes to other surfers. This small action may cause a butterfly effect to lift the surfing community.

7. Show up more often.

Dane Reynold, well known professional surfer, described how he would negotiate in the lineup. He said he, sometimes, would drop in someone with poor skill and he does not know well. However, he would stop dropping in once they said hello to him.

Once people know you, they will be less hostile, and you may have a better session.

If you frequently surf, your skill level and confidence and your “friend” network will grow too.

Participating in local surf clubs can increase your influence and network.

Surfing Social Etiquette

Here are some unwritten rules of surfing when dealing with crowds. This will not help you get more waves but ensure that you do not do anything undesirable.

  • No one likes it if you are jumping in the middle of a crowded pack. Take some time to see the vibes of the lineup and make your way in.
  • Once you catch waves, give other people a chance to catch some waves, even if you have priority. No written rules about how many waves you should give away immediately after catching waves. Just be sensible.
  • Do not bully kids and less skilled surfers. It’s easy to overlook them, but sharing is almost always worth it.
  • Know the different dynamics of the beach. Some beaches are dominated by shortboards when the waves are firing. You will not be welcomed if you turn up with nine-footers in that spot. The pipeline in Hawaii is a good example. You can see hundreds of people in the lineup, almost always shortboard or guns. (also, riding a 9-footer is not a good choice for this type of wave)


My name is James, the person behind With 15 years of experience in surfing, I am excited to help you on the journey to becoming a competent surfer.

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