The Inertia Contributing Editor

Haley Otto, clearly going left. Photo: Knut Robinson//Unsplash

The Inertia

Hold on, hear me out. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve missed a lot of waves because you didn’t know which way someone was going on a wave. Or, you’ve gotten in someone’s way because you misjudged which way they were going.

Picture this: you’re paddling for a perfect little peeler, are just about to pop up, when the guy next to you drops in. He has priority, so you respectfully pull out of the wave. But then, he goes left, and the right is wide open. If you were a mind reader or, say, the blinker system was a regular part of surf etiquette, then you both could have gone, leaving no wave left unridden.

Or envision this: you’re paddling out when a guy is riding in on a wave, so you paddle behind him in the name of not interfering with his wave. You’re practicing good etiquette and doing your best to stay out of his way but at the last second he does a cutback and you now find yourself directly in front of him, putting you both in a potentially dangerous situation. Neither of you did anything wrong, it was simply a lack of communication.

For years, I’ve thought there must be an easy solution to these types of scenarios and after giving it a lot of consideration, I think I have the answer. Surfing should adopt the blinker system.


In the early days of automobiles, blinkers, aka turn signals, didn’t exist and people drove willy nilly all over the roads. As cars became more commonplace, it became a problem and in 1909, Percy Douglas-Hamilton patented a set of hands that attached to either side of the car and indicated a coming turn. A few variations of the invention and patents followed in the coming years and by 1939, Buick introduced turn signals as a common feature on its cars. By the 1950s, turn signals were widespread.

Although surfing obviously can’t use an electronic blinker system like cars have (well, maybe it could), it could easily utilize hand signals. When driving, if your turn signals are broken, you stick your arm straight out the window to indicate you will be turning left. To indicate a right turn, you bend your arm in an L-shape. Both movements could easily be done while surfing.

Maybe I’m crazy and maybe this is completely unnecessary, but I think quickly indicating which direction you’re headed on a wave could make a world of difference. Sometimes, it’s obvious which direction someone is headed but other times, it’s easy to misjudge and can lead to problems in the lineup. So, in my humble opinion, surfing should embody the blinker system. But hey, that’s just me.


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