Virtual Surfing FAQ

Words and photos by Austin Novaland

Whether you are new to virtual worlds, interested in learning to surf in them, or simply curious about the topic, here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

What is virtual surfing?

In simple terms, it means riding a virtual surfboard on waves in a simulated environment.  There are many virtual worlds in existence, but we will focus on Second Life (SL).  With a wide array of waves, surfboards, and locations to surf, SL offers everything needed to fully experience the joy of virtual surfing.
Virtual surfing in SL

I’m not familiar with SL.  What is it?  How do I get access to it?

It is beyond the scope of this discussion to go into the details of everything there is to know about SL, but you will need to create an account, choose an avatar, install a viewer, and spend a little time learning how to interact with the virtual environment.  Here are a few resouces that should help.

Second Life website
The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future
YouTube Tutorials

What do I need to get started with surfing in SL?  Do I need my own surfboard?

You do not need anything special to surf in SL, just head to a sim that has surfable waves installed, rez a surfboard, and sit on it.  Most surfing sims will have surfboard rezzers that you can use to borrow a board.  Most also have some method for allowing visitors to rez boards that they own.  Some sims require group membership to visit or to rez, or may have rules pertaining to age, species, or attire, so look for notices when you land.

Note: for the those unfamiliar with SL terminology, a "sim" is short for "simulation" and is simply the common term used to refer to a location in SL.  To "rez" something means to take it from your inventory and place it in the virtual environment.  A "rezzer" is an object in the environment that has been designed to rez other objects.  As it applies to this FAQ, clicking on a surfboard rezzer causes a surfboard to appear in the environment that can then be temporarily used by the person who did the clicking.
Surfboard rezzers in SL

How do I find surfing sims, and which ones are the best?

The search feature in SL can be useful, as can the Destination Guide, but SurfWatch has done most of the work for you.  The SurfWatch Wave Report is updated regularly by Kantbe Thursday, and is a great resource for keeping track of which sims currently have surfable waves installed.  From within SL, you can look for Kantbe’s Surfsim Teleport Board located on numerous surfing sims, or use the HUD version if that’s easier for you.  As for which sims are the best, you’ll have to visit them all and decide for yourself.
Kantbe's Surfsim Teleport Board anf the HUD version in SL:

I have found some cool places to surf, and am able to rez a board; now what?  Are there rules I need to follow?

In real life (RL), surfing etiquette rules exist primarily for the safety of surfers.  While many of these rules aren’t so necessary in a virtual world where only the avatar is at risk of injury or death, some are still useful for ensuring that everyone has a good time on the waves.  Many surfing sims will have their own guidelines, so make sure you get informed to avoid upsetting the locals.  Generally speaking, well-mannered SL surfers follow these guidelines.

LINE-UP:  If there are multiple people surfing, line up off to the side of where the waves appear, and wait your turn.  Some sims have buoys or other markers to indicate where you should wait for waves.  On others, you will have to figure it out on your own, or ask a local.  If you stray into the wave rez area, you will prevent waves from rezzing, which is very bad form.  Don’t be that person.  There will often be line-ups on each side of the wave rez area, so be aware of that, and take turns as needed. 

DROPPING IN:  It is considered rude to hop on a wave that is already being ridden by someone else (dropping in).  Many don’t mind sharing, but experienced surfers often prefer a solo ride.  Unlike RL, no one is going to get seriously hurt if you bump into them, but it can still ruin the vibe.  Unless you know the other surfers well or it is an obvious party wave situation, the safe assumption is that everyone prefers their own waves.  Please respect this and go take your place in the line-up.  There is no need to try to ride every wave that appears.  There will be more.

PADDLING OUT:  Paddle out on either side of the wave path via the “lanes” or “channels” to get back to the line-up.  Do not attack waves directly from the front, as doing so will make you more likely to interfere with another surfer.  

GOING AFK:  If you need to go AFK or take a break from surfing, either get off your board and leave the water (preferred), or park far away from the line-up and where you won’t get caught by a wave.  If you aren’t actively controlling your board, waves seem to have a knack for eventually moving you into the wave rez area.  If this happens while you are AFK, you are not going to be very popular.  

WATCHING OTHER SURFERS:  It’s natural to want to watch other people surf, but locking your camera onto them can cause significant lag.  It is better to point your camera on a wave or the water, and manually move it around from there as needed.  A valid exception is if you are taking photos and the surfer is okay with it.  

DRESSING TO IMPRESS:  No, you do not look hot wearing your heels while surfing, and every time you do it, a baby dolphin dies.  Stop killing baby dolphins.  Unless you are at a costume surfing event, wear what you would when surfing in RL, swimwear or wetsuits.  Nude surfing is also acceptable where permitted or required. Okay, so this one is more pet peeve than etiquette.    
Diagram of common areas of a surfing sim in SL

I think I’m surfing, but I’m a hot mess out there.  How do I control this thing?

Because there are so many different surfboard models in SL, it’s not practical to provide instructions for all of them.  Most use the arrow keys for basic speed control and turning.  There will generally be a notecard or help menu available to give you the specifics for the surfboard you are using.  From the line-up area, ease out into a wave’s path after it rezzes.  When it reaches you, your animation should change from paddling or sitting to surfing, and off you go.  Try to keep your board parallel to the wave as it pushes you along, and make 180-degree turns as you approach either end.   Your board may sometimes hang on the face of the wave if you turn into it, so it can be safer to turn away from the wave until you are more experienced.  Some boards have key combinations to make fast turns.  Learning those will improve your ability to stay on a wave.  Once you have mastered turning and can reliably stay on a wave for the entire length of its run, you are ready for more advanced tricks.

I’m ready to get my own surfboard.  Which one should I buy?

You can ask 10 different virtual surfers which surfboard is their favorite, but you are likely to get half a dozen different answers.  There is no best surfboard; there is only the best surfboard for YOU, and it is the one that you enjoy riding the most.  Before you spend any L$ on the first snazzy looking ride that catches your eye, it would be wise to test as many as possible.  While most surfing sims have at least one surfboard rezzer, there are some that have rezzers for most of the more popular boards available.  To help you find them, the SurfWatch Wave Report indicates which rezzers are available at each sim.  Try every surfboard you can, and then buy the one, two, or seven that you like.
A collection of surfboards in SL

I’m a virtual surfing goddess.  Are there any competitions I can dominate with my mad skillz?

The person having the most fun is the real winner, but for those who like to collect trophies, there are multiple organizations and sims that hold virtual surfing competitions.  The Second Life Surfing Association (SLSA) was created primarily to organize competitions for the sport, and they hold events throughout the year, crowning an over-all champion at the end of each season.  More information can be found on the SLSA website, or by visiting their home break at Solace Beach in SL.  There are less formal competitions occasionally held by groups and sims, such as Vibrations Surf Alliance (VSA), the Surf Challenge Series (info available at Hummingbird Point in SL), and others.

It feels laggy when I surf.  Is it me?

It could be the sim, especially if it is crowded, but it’s also very possible that your hipster lifestyle is weighing you down.  Your scripted beard, earplugs, vape pen, face light, rezzed pets, jewelry, and 37 HUDs for controlling facial expressions, hand gestures, intimate bits, and  alpha layers aren’t helping your cause.  What you need to understand is that your memory and script usage don’t just impact you, but have a cumulative effect on the lag of an entire region.  Seeing all green lights on a lag meter doesn’t tell the whole story.  Avatar complexity, memory and script usage (personal and sim), computer performance (yours and SL’s), and network bandwidth all play a role in lag.  Some of these you can control; others, not so much. 

There is a reason that SLSA competitions have rules regarding scripts and memory usage.  That said, for casual surfing, most of us want to look good without affecting the simulated Earth’s gravitational pull.  Luckily, it is possible to have a modern avatar and still keep your memory and script usage to a reasonable level.  The simple rule is, if you don’t need it while on a surfing sim (or any sim for that matter), take it off.  This goes for your AO as well.  You don’t need it while surfing or sitting, so unless you are walking around, remove it.  You’ll be surprised how much it weighs.   And in case you are wondering, minimizing your HUDs does nothing to reduce the memory or scripts that they use.  Also, GUI windows (People, Conversations, Map, Inventory, etc.) have no impact on lag, though they may obstruct your view. 

Use the tools at your disposal.  Check your avatar complexity regularly and do what you can to keep it low.   Invest in an inexpensive scale and use it often.  Use outfits or the Favorite Wearables feature for quickly adding and removing HUDs.  There are no magic numbers for memory or script usage.  A reasonable goal would be staying under 3MB (~3000KB) memory usage and a maximum of 50 scripts, but the lower the better.  Memory usage below 1.5MB with fewer than 25 scripts is easily attainable, even with a full mesh body, bento head and hands, and scripted mesh board shorts.  This is without even really trying.  Remember, it isn’t just about you.  Minimizing your memory and script usage helps everyone.
Top avatar uses over 10MBs of memory and over 175 scripts.  Removing all HUDs reduces memory usage to less than 1.3MBs and scripts to 20.

Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, a sim is laggy.  You can attempt to deal with it by lowering your graphics settings, limiting the number of avatars that are rezzed, decreasing your draw distance, etc.  Making use of the Graphic Presets feature in your viewer can make your life easier.  If it reaches the point where these steps inhibit your enjoyment, then it may not be worth it.  In that case, it may be best to just go to another sim.  As you explore, you’ll discover that some sims were designed around surfing, and have little or no lag.  Others clearly added waves as an afterthought, giving little consideration to the actual surfing experience.   

If you have used all of your usual tricks on a sim that is normally lag free, and are still feeling noticeable sluggishness, it is possible that you are being cammed by one or more people on the sim.  It happens to all of us and can be a real bummer.  Again, it may be time to find another sim, or grab a fish taco and frosty beverage and take a break.

My friends keep calling me “Barney.”  Should I be flattered or insulted?

Surfing lingo is more likely to be used by RL surfers, but since some of them are also virtual surfers, you may want to familiarize yourself with some common terms.  Read this, and don’t be a kook.

I’m hooked.  How can I keep up with SL surfing news and events?

If you are reading this FAQ, then you are already in the right place.  SurfWatch adds new content to this blog daily, has a group in SL, and can be found on FacebookFlickrInstagram, and Twitter.     

This guide was compiled by blatantly stealing from other resources, personal experiences, and common sense.  The links below may provide further insight and a historical perspective.  Note that some of the information in the older posts is very dated, and may refer to sims, organizations, and content that no longer exist.

SL Surfing 101 Updated
Second Life Surfing 101
Socks' Rough Guide to Second Life Surfing

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