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The Knowledgebase

Kook Meaning: Understanding the Surfer Slang

Don't Be A Kook!

What is a kook?  What is the term kook meaning usually? Surfers use this term all the time, but its meaning can vary slightly depending on the situation. Let’s take a look at the word, where it came from, and what it actually means.

First of all, kook is a noun. The term kook can be used to describe someone who acts foolishly or does something outrageous for attention, especially in regard to surfing. However, there are several different types of kooks.

The term kook has been used in popular culture for many years and has become a familiar part of the English language. It is often used to describe people who are passionate about a particular hobby or interest, and who may have unconventional ideas or approaches to their chosen activity. For example, a surfer who is obsessed with finding the perfect wave might be described as a kook by other surfers.

Overall, the term kook is a versatile word that can be used to describe a wide range of people and behaviors. While it is sometimes used in a negative way, it is more often used in a playful or affectionate manner. Whether you are a kook yourself, or simply enjoy observing the quirks of others, the term is a useful one to have in your vocabulary.

Kook Meaning – Types Of Kooks

What is a kook in surfing terms? As far as being used today, kooks are often put into three different categories: kooky kooks, jerk kooks or first-time kooks.

A kook can be a novice surfer, someone who doesn’t know the rules of surfing. For example, this type of kook might not take off on their board in time or cut in front of another person waiting for waves to come in. Another kook is one who does something dangerous without knowing better. This could result in hurting other people.

The worst kind? The jerk kook. Kook is one of the worst things you can be called as a more advanced surfer. Surfers will use this term to describe other decent surfers if they do something truly bad or despicable. So, using kook towards a more advanced surfer carries a bit more pointed derision and dislike vs calling an inexperienced surfer a kook.

kook meaning - what is a kook
Image from @kookoftheday on Instagram

Not All Beginners Are Kooks

If you’re a novice surfer, don’t worry. Surfers don’t call all beginners kooks. You’re only a kook if you’re repeatedly getting in the way, getting into dangerous situations, or just actively acting dumb. There’s a leap from beginner to kook, and adhering to basic common sense, decency, and surf etiquette will prevent you from falling into the latter category.

If you don’t want to be labeled a kook, check out our Surfing Etiquette guide and read our beginners tutorials.

Where Does The Word Kook Come From?

The word kook comes from different origins, depending on who you ask.

Some people say the word kook comes from the Hawaiian kukae, which means “sh*t”. Others say the word plays off the idea of “cuckoo,” someone who is not in touch with reality because they are mentally unstable or eccentric (aka kooky).

It has also been said that “KOOK” was first used by Arnold Lienhardt while working with Duke Kahanamoku at his home in La Jolla, California. Lienhardt said kook was a term to describe the local surfing population who would come down from Los Angeles and attempt to learn how to surf.

The now-familiar phrase appears to have been coined sometime between the 1950s and 1960s, according to several sources.

According to language experts and academics, the term “kook” emerged as a catchword following the US television series “77 Sunset Strip,” in which a rather odd individual – Gerald Lloyd Kookson III (Edd Byrnes) – is dubbed “Kookie.”

Honestly it’s tough to really pinpoint where exactly the word came from.  It’s one of those slang words that tends to pop into existence from a few sources over time.

Some Random Historical Uses & Facts

The first surf leashes were coined as “kook cords”.

The hollow lifeguarding boards used in the 40’s and 50s were called “Kook Boxes” (Kookbox was also the name of a surfboard brand owned by Joel Tudor in the 2000s).

The cartoon character Wilbur Kookmeyer was a stereotypical beach bum burnout featured in a Surfer magazine comic series in the 1980’s.

David Bowie wrote a song called Kooks featured on the album Hunky Dory.  The British rock band The Kooks named themselves after this song.  The Kooks performed a free show in 2012 at Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego, CA.

Synonyms and Antonyms

Kook is a slang term, and as such, it has a variety of synonyms that are used interchangeably. Some synonyms for kook include oddball, eccentric, nutcase, crackpot, and weirdo. Antonyms for kook include normal, conventional, and traditional.

Related Words

Other words related to kook include “screwball,” “flake,” and “fruitcake.” These words are also used to describe someone who is considered strange or odd.


The term kook is primarily used in American English, but it has equivalents in other languages. For example, in Spanish, the word “loco” is used to describe someone who is crazy or eccentric. In Italian, the term “pazzo” is used to describe someone who is insane or irrational.

Are You A Kook?  Have You Ever Called Someone A Kook?

Have you ever called someone a kook before?  Have you been called a kook yourself?

Leave a comment below about your best stories of kookdom and what you’ve run into.
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Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

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