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[surf] /sɜrf/
the swell of the sea that breaks upon a shore or upon shoals.
the mass or line of foamy water caused by the breaking of the sea upon a shore, especially a shallow or sloping shore.
verb (used without object)
to ride a surfboard.
to float on the crest of a wave toward shore.
to swim, play, or bathe in the surf.
to search haphazardly, as for information on a computer network or an interesting program on television.
verb (used with object)
to ride a surfboard on:
We surfed every big wave in sight.
to search through (a computer network or TV channels) for information or entertainment.
Origin of surf
First recorded in 1675-85; earlier suff; of uncertain origin
Related forms
surfable, adjective
surfer, noun
surflike, adjective
Can be confused
serf, surf.
1. See wave. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for surf
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There was no wharf, and it was always necessary to get ashore through a surf.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • On a third effort, the boat got through the surf and we succeeded in reaching the ship.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • Then he remembered that the sound of the surf would give him his directions.

    Happy Ending Fredric Brown
  • And the sound—it was like the sound of the surf, but it was continuous.

    Happy Ending Fredric Brown
  • From without, above the noise of the wind and rain and surf, came a shout.

    Thankful's Inheritance Joseph C. Lincoln
British Dictionary definitions for surf


waves breaking on the shore or on a reef
foam caused by the breaking of waves
(intransitive) to take part in surfing
  1. (computing) (on the internet) to move freely from website to website (esp in the phrase surf the net)
  2. to move freely between (TV channels or radio stations)
  1. (informal) to be carried on top of something: that guy's surfing the audience
  2. (in combination): trainsurfing
Derived Forms
surfable, adjective
surflike, adjective
Word Origin
C17: probably variant of sough1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for surf

1680s, probably from earlier suffe (1590s), of uncertain origin. Originally used in reference to the coast of India, hence perhaps of Indic origin. Or perhaps a phonetic respelling of sough, which meant "a rushing sound."


"ride the crest of a wave," 1917, from surf (n.). Related: Surfed; surfing. In the Internet sense, first recorded 1993.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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surf in Science
The waves of the sea as they break upon a shore or a reef.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for surf



To move or pass through some range of choices, such as television channels: I surfed from your show/ They're surfing the same part of the zeitgeist

Related Terms

channel surf

[1990s+; fr the ease and rapidity of movement while surfing on waves]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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