Surfing etiquette - the rules for all in the ocean
Beginner, intermediate or experienced surfer, everyone manages to get in someone else's way now and again. If you don't want to look like a kook, you need to know the surfing code of conduct. Read on to maximize wave count and minimize hassles in the water.

The Golden Rule: Do Not Drop In On Somebody.
The surfer first up or closest to the shoulder (the steepest, best part of the wave) has the right of way. A righthand wave, breaking from right to left (seen from the beach), gives the surfer who is furthest right the priority. Don't take off in front of (or behind, for that matter) a surfer already up and riding. Always look before you take off.

If someone is positioned to catch a wave and you paddle around them so you are closer to the peak, you have stolen their priority, and that's snaking. It's as rude as grabbing the last beer in the fridge when someone has already got their head in there lookin' for it.

Call It
If the wave's going to peel both ways, you can call it 'left' or 'right' so people know which way you're headed. Leave them to work it out for themselves, and they may get it wrong.

Nose Guard
If you surf a shortboard, fit a nose guard, just in case you hit someone. Use a good leash and don't let go unless you really have to. Don't bail - unless its huge, you run the risk of damaging boards and bodies. Learn to roll or duck dive and you'll find it's actually easier and you'll get out the back faster than if you bail.
Paddling Out

If you have to paddle out where others are riding waves (beachbreaks, generally), keep out of the way of those up and riding. Head for the whitewater. This way you don't mess up the face or force them to change direction just to miss you. Watching waves and surfers will help you learn to anticipate situations.

Check with the lifeguards or beach signs to see how the swimming and surfing areas are flagged. Don't be the one they're yelling at through a megaphone. Bodyboarders can go between swimming flags, surfers can't. Surf in the surfing zone - the lifeguards might do you a favour and keep you away from currents, or they might put the swimming area right where the peak is. Either way, you'll have to deal with it.

Show respect to the people who surf the break day in, day out, even when it's crap. Don't turn up in a huge group. Don't go hassling them out of the take-off zone or you may find some wax up your tailpipe later on... Watch and learn instead - nothing like local knowledge.
Getting your Fair Share
So how can you get your fair share of waves, with all these people to dodge and all these laws to abide by? The best piece of advice is to walk that little bit further and find a less crowded peak. The waves may not be as great, but you may well catch a lot more of them.

Conveyor Belts
On peaks with a small, well defined take-off zone and lots of people waiting for a turn, a sort of queue system sometimes happens. In an ideal world, the person closest to the take-off point takes off on the next available wave. Whether they make it or not, they then go to the back of the line. Missed ya wave? Tough. This doesn't always work in practice, but try to suss it out so you don't just barge to the front of the queue, or miss your turn.

Party Wave
When it's small and fun, you may get groups of mates paddling furiously around each other, snaking and dropping in. This is fun - provided everyone understands what's going on!

Everyone's heard insults traded, and many will have seen fists raised in the water. Don't descend to that level. Most people in the water won't have a clue what you're fighting about so you end up looking as bad as the other dude. Let it go, there are many waves marching towards our shores, and karma comes around eventually. There will always be the odd person who either doesn't know the rules, or thinks they don't apply to them.

Mistakes Happen
If you do manage to get in the way, try to apologise. You might just get stink-eye, but at least you've pointed out that you didn't mean it, honest! The more experienced you become at reading the ocean, other surfers and particular spots, the less it'll happen. And hey, if someone else does it to you, be gracious about it. At least the first time, anyway!