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)

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 formssurf·a·ble, adjectivesurf·er, nounsurf·like, adjective
Can be confusedserf surf

Synonyms for surf

1. See wave. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for surf

swell, wave, spindrift, combers, rollers

Examples from the Web for surf

Contemporary Examples of surf

Historical Examples of surf

  • On a third effort, the boat got through the surf and we succeeded in reaching the ship.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • There was no wharf, and it was always necessary to get ashore through a surf.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • And the sound—it was like the sound of the surf, but it was continuous.

    Happy Ending

    Fredric Brown

  • Then he remembered that the sound of the surf would give him his directions.

    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


(intr) 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. informalto be carried on top of somethingthat guy's surfing the audience
  2. (in combination)trainsurfing
Derived Formssurfable, adjectivesurflike, adjective

Word Origin for surf

C17: probably variant of sough 1
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

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

surf in Science



The waves of the sea as they break upon a shore or a reef.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.