A while back I wrote about the rules of right of way in windsurfing. While those rules apply for 99% of occasions, once we get into spots with waves the rules change. In this case we have to know who has priority since the end result can easily be an injury or broken equipment that could have been avoided.
Sailing out has priority over those coming in on the wave
If you are on the wave you have speed and therefore manoeuverability. People sailing out are not guaranteed to be moving because of lulls or low wind. Therefore, if you are riding a wave it is your responsibility to get out of the way. Naturally we will try to not interrupt the ride of the person on the wave. However, if there is a possible collision and you are sailing down the wave, you have to get out of the way.
The one closer to the peak of the wave has priority
When two people are on the same wave the rule has been taking from surfing where the one closer to the peak has prefference. That person has made a better evaluation on the wave and has found the point where it starts to break, the best place to surf it. Don’t go to ride a wave if there is someone already on it closer to the peak. Even if you think you are not interfering, the person on the wave doesn’t know how you are going to act and can’t plan their ride properly. Also, your wake waves make for bumpy bottom turns and mess up the waves for the cut-backs.
Don’t sail in behind the wave
This is not so much a rule as a safety measure. Someone sailing out towards the wave can’t see what is going on behind the wave (if the wave is big enough). I have seen a few close calls where someone hits the wave at speed and jump, only to find someone sailing in behind the wave.
Don´t be in the waves if you are not going to surf them
As a closing note, I don’t mean to sound like a wave hogger but there is nothing quite as frustrating as following the rules and giving away a beautiful wave to someone who just sails along it as if there were no wave. With this I mean, not riding the wave but just “running away” from the wave. If you are just going to be sailing back and forth, don’t do it in an area where others want to actually ride waves. It just shows a lack or respect towards other sailors who go out of their way to find waves only to have to watch a good wave go unridden. Waves are rare in the sense that you only get 4 – 7 in a set and sometimes these sets can take quite a while to arrive. This means that there are a limited number of waves you are going to have lining up just right on all of your tacks during and hour or two hour long session. In the same way that if you are learning how to do a power gybe you would find it annoying if there were always someone practicing the water start in the only spot with flat water and constant wind. Not a great example but you get what I mean.
If you want to get into wave riding, do so in waves that are for your level so that you can at least attempt to ride the wave you are sailing in and work your way up bit by bit from there.
Ultimately, as with the standard rules of right of way, it is all about common sense and common courtesy. The rules in waves are there to make the experience safer and more enjoyable. If you mess up (like made a mistake, didn’t see the other rider, or thought you would make it, etc.) just apologise and if you are on the receiving end of such a mistake, accept the apology.