Grom Vs. Kook Surfing: How to Spot the Difference

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If you’re a beginner surfer, you might not be up to date on your surfing slang. Terms like grom and kook surfing were confusing to me at first when I embraced the surfer lifestyle. 

Once I understood the distinction, I hit the waves in style and enjoyed it all to the fullest. If you’ve ever wondered “what is a grom” or “what is a kook surfing,” this handy guide will help you spot the difference and use the terms correctly.

What Is Kook Surfing?

Kook surfing

You’ll go through a kook surfing phase if you’re an aspiring wave rider. That’s okay, but you will want to get out of it as soon as possible as an intermediate surfer. For lack of a better term, kook surfers are pretty clueless when hitting the waves with confidence. 

There’s tons of unspoken surfer etiquette that you’ll pick up along the way, but until you do, you’ll be labeled a “kook” in surf culture.

Kooks are surfers who don’t understand certain aspects of surf spots, like how to join the lineup properly, paddle out the right way, or not waxing their boards. As a beginner surfer, this is understandable (and I’ve been there too). 

However, after a while, you should learn the rules of surfing and set your kook ways behind you. If you know the rules of surfing and still display kook behavior, you’re in trouble in the surfing world.

Here are some kook surfing behaviors that you should avoid in the surfing lifestyle:

  • Not waiting your turn in the lineup
  • Paddling with the nose of your board up
  • Asking fellow surfers to borrow things like wax and not repaying them
  • Someone who tries to show off in the surf
  • Being too photo hungry at the expense of others
  • Failing to use your leash
  • Wearing booties in the summer
  • Not knowing your surf limits and putting other surfers at risk

Learning to leave these kook surfing behaviors behind is one of the first steps to becoming a great surfer. If you’re not sure, take your cues from other people out on the waves. Getting an official or unofficial mentor is a good idea and will help you stop being such a kook, respect other surfers, have fun, and enhance your surfing experience greatly.

Also, one thing that I found helpful was listening to another pro surfer or other surfers. Don’t take things too personally. If someone corrects your technique or gives you some sage advice, they’re not trying to be mean. Take the time to improve, and you’ll become a valuable part of the surfing community.

What Is a Grom?

Man in black we suit catching a wave

Groms are slightly different than kooks in surf culture. Although groms can display kook behavior from time to time, it’s only because they’re new and just learning. However, any pro surfer can spot the difference between a grom and a kook a mile away. 

The term “grom” is a crucial aspect of surfing lingo, and it’s been around for about 60 years. Originally, groms were younger surfers or newer surfers who were just learning the sport and navigating challenges like a closeout wave. Although the term “grom” usually applies to surfers, it’s also applicable for other challenging sports like snowboarding or skateboarding.  

Groms lack the belligerence and entitlement of kooks and are generally welcome on the beach. If they make a mistake, it’s due to sheer ignorance rather than the need to show off. All in all, it’s much better to be labeled a “grom” than a “kook.” Groms generally evolve into respectful and successful surfers, while kooks stay washed up when it comes to surf etiquette.

How to Avoid Being a Kook

Women in black swimsuits with surf boards high fiving

In the beginning, kook behavior is hard to avoid, and most surfers will give you a pass for being a little bit clueless. Still, it’s a good idea to brush up on your general surfer etiquette before going out on the waves. Doing so will ensure you can get past any kook period.

“Dropping in”, or taking another surfer’s wave is a bad move. Not only will it not win you any friends, but you could seriously injure yourself or others. Be polite and wait your turn in the lineup. Your wave will come. If you mess up and take someone else’s wave, say that you’re sorry and don’t make excuses. Usually, you’ll be forgiven right away unless you make it a habit.

If you’re surfing in a new location, make sure that you give local surfers the right of way and don’t take on waves that are beyond your abilities. Of course, everyone messes up from time to time, but it’s a good idea to know your limitations before you head out. That way, you won’t risk getting into trouble or having someone come out to help you.

Don’t litter. The general rule is to leave the beach looking better than you found it. Make sure that you take all of your trash with you, and even pick up a thing or two if you see it lying around. Other surfers will notice and respect your efforts.

Finally, just be nice. Smiling and communicating with other surfers is a great way to build friendship and respect. If someone corrects you on your etiquette or technique, try not to take it personally. Generally speaking, it’s coming from a place of helpfulness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Surfers in the water on their boards giving the shaka sign

These frequently asked questions and answers will help you to make the most of your time surfing, make friends, and stay respectful at all times. If you want to avoid being a kook surfer, make sure that you keep them in mind and you’ll go from grom to great in no time.

What’s a good surfboard for beginners?

There are many kinds of surfboards all with varying price points. As a beginner, you’ll want to shop wisely. Soft top fun boards are great for a novice surfer, whether it’s one-foot surf or a closeout wave. You will want to get a fairly wide board, as it will be much more conducive to catching waves and you will be less likely to wipeout.

Are surf camps a good investment for groms?

A good surf camp can give you the skills that you need to excel at the sport, and you might even meet some great friends along the way. Just make sure that you do your due diligence and check them out online before booking. Read honest reviews and talk to other surfers if you have any questions or concerns.

Can a professional surfer be a kook?

Surfers who are just starting off on their journey tend to be ones who exhibit kook behavior. However, that doesn’t mean a professional surfer can’t be one. If they show a lack of respect for proper etiquette, then their actions can lead to them being described as a kook.

What are some additional surfing slang and surfer lingo phrases I should know?

Grom and kook are only two words in the surfing lifestyle that you’ll have to learn if you want to talk the talk while on the beach or out on the waves. As with virtually any sport, surfers have their own way of speaking. Using terms properly is one of the best ways to integrate into the surfer community and make friends right away.

  • Lineup: where the surfers wait to catch waves
  • Set: Two or more waves
  • Whitewater: The churned up part of the wave
  • Drop In: To take another surfer’s wave (definitely kook behavior)
  • Wipeout: Falling off your board


Before you even break out your board, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear the terms grom and kook surfing as well as some other lingo on our list. Spotting the difference and being a good sport on the waves will help you make friends and enjoy your time on the waves.

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