How to Speak Surfer Dude

Aug. 24, 2001 — -- Hey Dude! If you think you can throw around a couple of "totally tubulars" and pass yourself off as a surfer, you're a real hodad with the IQ of a Malibu Barbie.

The misguided multitudes might think surfspeak is nothing more than 10 or 12 buzzwords. Trevor "Coconut" Cralle, the Shakespeare of Surf, is championing a new dialect that's totally rad.

If you need a textbook definition of "cowabunga," Cralle's Surfin'ary (Ten Speed Press) explains that it's an exultant shout appropriated from The Howdy Doody Show of the 1950s that means "Surf's up."

You'll also get these valuable lessons:

A "valley sheep," is some loser who says "d-u-u-u-d-e" a little too slowly and way to often. "Way," incidentally, is the preferred word for "very." Isn't that way cool?

When a dog plays in the water and then goes "sognar" (shakes off on you), you may get nauseous and "aqua boot" (no explanation needed).

Then there are those times when you're totally "stoked" by the sand, sun and surf. But how stoked are you? "Super-stocked," "mega-stoked" "stoked to the max," or downright "stockaboka." The Surfin'ary helps you to decide.

From Captain Cook to Gidget

The Eskimos might have a 100 different words for snow. Surfers have at least as many terms for a wave — which can be "macking," "double overhead," or just "buggery." Indeed, there are many nuances that escape the landlubber who's never ridden a big one.

"Surfing is a sensation that demands a special language to describe how it feels," Cralle says. "Like any language, it's always evolving."

Folks have been climbing waves for well over 200 years. Captain James Cook observed surfing off the coast of Tahiti in 1777. Irish-Hawaiian surfer George Freeth gets credit for introducing the sport to California in 1907.

In popular culture, the myth of the tanned, blonde surfer goes back to the first Gidget movie in 1959. Folks really began to catch the wave when the Beach Boys put on their baggies (swimsuits that sufficiently cover a man's bottom, the opposite of teeny-weenie Speedos) and everybody went Surfin' U.S.A.

When the first Surfin'ary came out nine years ago, many folks assumed it was a mere glossary. But the new edition is a 362-page tome, boasting more than 3,000 definitions. There are 25 pages alone devoted to words beginning s-u-r-f, including "surflets" (emotions only those who take waves can understand).

Hey Ma, Hey Bro

Long ago, words like "gnarly," "rad," and "dweeb" moved inland, where they're now used by millions of channel-surfing couch potatoes.

Cyber surfers, be aware: Cralle defines "Ego surfing" as looking up your own name on the Web.

As these waterborne words creep ashore, there's a danger that their original meaning will be lost.

Gnarly means "treacherous." An acceptable synonym is "hairy." Surf punks use gnarly to refer to any wave over two feet or any woman of prodigious size. Still, you may refer to a man or woman of great importance as "Your Gnarlyness."

A dude is "a surf enthusiast." It's especially handy at a beer-soaked clambake when you can't remember someone's name.

Remember, this all-purpose word has various permutations: "Hey, Dude," (hello) "Yo, Dooooed," (familiar hello) and "Killer, dude!" (awesome). A woman is a "dudette."

The number of guys at a particular party is the "dude factor." And responsible dudes always carries a "dude pack" (condoms).

A "hodad" is a person who never goes in the water but acts and dresses as if he does. A "brodad" is a "hodad" who further irritates surfers by calling everyone "bro" — including his mom.

"Totally tubular" is totally out. It was once used to describe a perfect, curled wave. But surfers may still occasionally say they're going to "Hang 10" (to hang so far up the board that all your toes are hanging off). That word is so out, it's now in.

A Lesson in Surfspeak

Putting it all together to become a real surf dude or dudette takes a while. Cralle was 14 in 1974, when he first challenged the waves off Santa Cruz, Calif., and he's tasted waves all over the world.

"It's just like any language," Cralle says. "If you know just know a few words in French and you overuse then, you are going to sound like a tourist."

Here's an introductory lesson:

Surfspeak: "Howzit, brah? The surf was epic today, fully macking double overhead corduroy to the horizon. Now it's all buggery. Think I'll jet to the food hut and grab a burrito and some sweet nectar. Latronic, dude."

Translation: "The surf was great! Now, it's not. Let's eat. Goodbye."

Key Words:

Howzit, brah? — Hawaiian Pidgin expression meaning, "How's it going, brother?" Ladies would say, "Howzit, sistah?"

Surf — Often used synonymously with sea, waves, breakers, rollers, whitecaps, white horses, billows, surge, spume, sea foam, froth, spindrift, and spray.

Epic — A useful superlative. One may have an "epic surf" on an "epic day" with "epic conditions."

Macking — Huge waves that have the force of a Mack truck.

Double overhead — A wave twice as high as the surfer.

Corduroy to the horizon — When the waves are perfectly lined up, like the ribbing on corduroy pants.

Buggery — Something annoying.

Food hut — Any surfer eatery. It is nearly essential that such a place have burritos. If you refer to a burrito as a "wrap," you will be executed.

Sweet nectar — A good drink or a pretty woman. Usage: "She's really nectar."

Latronic — Later, man.

Just remember, surfers tend to speak in one- and two-word sentences, and those words tend to be shortened. That's rad. Totally bitchin'. Awesome. Understand?

So hang 10, if you will. Just be careful when someone warns you to "beware the sharkies."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice whena new column is published, join the e-maillist.