Release notes: The OED Surf Report: macking A-frames and occasional bombs

Surfers often say that words can never truly express the ineffable moment of hurtling along the face of a breaking wave while balancing on a surfboard, though this does not stop them from trying. In the latest quarterly update to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED update), we have a collection of newly drafted surfing terms that captures the imaginative language of the surfing world and which also takes into account the latest developments in the sport.

Visiting the green room

To get barrelled, a newly added phrase, expresses what surfers refer to as the unparalleled moment of riding in the hollow space formed within a breaking wave; and so too, green room conveys that same intimate experience of being surrounded by walls of arching water. However, the explosive energy of the sea is not to be ignored, and we also have a list of new words to describe the potent heft of waves, such as pumpingmacking (which alludes to a large lorry in the U.S.), and bomb. Though perhaps the most death-defying terminology in this update is saved for when a surfer wipes out or is exposed to the ocean’s full fury: rag-doll, impact zone, hold down, (and the most harrowing of all) tombstoning.

Exit through the doggy door

Also, a zooful of surf terms in this update playfully references animals and animal behaviour. A surfer might duck dive or turn turtle to avoid being pounded by an oncoming wave, so they can continue to paddle out to the line up. And surfers often ride a board with a swallow tail to fly across the wall of a wave. However, the most important thing never to do while surfing is to snake someone, and when a wave starts to close out it is a good time to head for the doggy door.

A revolution is afoot

Major changes have occurred in surfing in recent times and the OED takes full account of them in this update. The first reference in the OED to a surfboard is from 1784 in Hawaii when Lieutenant James King, commander of the HMS Discovery writes, “If by mistake they should place themselves on one of the smaller waves, which breaks before they reach the land, or should not be able to keep their plank in a proper direction on the top of the swell, they are left exposed to the fury of the next.” Not much would change in surfboard design from those early Hawaiian planks until the advent of the shortboard revolution in the late 1960s. Most boards prior to this were 9 feet or longer, and nose riders could enjoy cross stepping  deftly to the nose of the board, but all that changed radically when shapers started creating smaller, faster, and highly manoeuvrable surfboards. Soon board riders filled their quivers with revolutionary shapes that would allow them to carve it up at surf breaks around the world. That experimenting and adventurous spirit would continue, as illustrated in the recently added terms tow-in surfing, big wave surfing, paddleboarding, and SUPing.

From A-frame to walled out, we hope the newly added surfing words in the OED inspire you to get on your beach cruiser and head to your nearest surf spot where hopefully there will be no mushburgers, but just corduroy to the horizon.