California Slang: How to Speak Like a Californian (Surfer Accent)
What Does a California Accent Sound Like?
So, maybe you're thinking about moving to California or maybe you are thinking about visiting California. Whatever your reason is for coming to visit, you're probably interested in the culture here. Yes, beach culture and surf culture is huge, but we're also about a lot of other things—particularly the outdoors (including snow), environmental consciousness, music, culture, good cuisine, art, and being outside (everything from redwoods, alpine lakes, to pine trees). But what about the California accent? What does it sound like?
Some describe the California accent as neutral-sounding. It has been widely normalized thanks to Hollywood and media. But this isn't always true if you carry that slow, Southern California surfer vibe. Let's take a look at the nuances of the California English dialect(s).
So, What's the Deal With Norcal and Socal?
Norcal and Socal are two very distinct regions. Technically Socal is everything from Santa Barbara and south, to San Diego. Central California is defined as north of Santa Barbara and up into the Bay Area, and Northern California is everything up to Crescent City—geographically speaking. But culturally, Norcal and Socal define two very different things:
- Norcal: Bay Area all the way up to Humboldt, Mendocino, and the Oregon border; chill vibe (mellow), slow culture, hippy culture, academic/tech culture in the Bay Area (fast-paced culture). More "natural" vibe—low key appearance.
- Socal: Los Angeles and south. Lot's of glam and trendiness—heavy surf culture, sun-kissed skin, tans, healthy bodies, and lots of beach time. Has the heaviest of the California accents. Slow-paced life.
People appreciate the areas for what they offer, but you will find personality types that prefer one region over the other. Tip: When it comes to getting directions, Socal people say "the" before a freeway or highway:
- Socal: "Take the five south."
- Norcal: "Take 101 north."
A Word About "Hella"
"Hella" is a term that gained popularity in the '90s and is used in Northern California—Bay Area. It is not commonly used down south. "Hella" essentially means "very" "really" or "super." Example: "That's hella cool!"
Video: The Californians
Surfer/California Slang and Use
Many of these terms or words are predominantly used the further south you go.
Stoked: Literally super excited about something or for someone. You can be "stoked" about an activity or "stoked" about receiving news. How it's used:
- "Hey man, did you hear that The Shack is hosting a free screening?"
- "Ya man I'm stoked, let's go see it."
Gnarly: Insane, shocking, intense, horrible OR surprisingly risky or crazy.
- "Dude, did you hear that Carl fell off his skateboard?"
- "Yeah man, that's gnarly."
- "Woah, it's really raining!"
Snagged: Acquired or stole. "I snagged these from my roommate."
Swag: Gear, usually won or acquired for free.
- "Woah, I came up on some cool swag from the event."
Come Up/Came Up
Come up/came up: Acquired, obtained, or was given. Can also mean a step up/improvement.
- "Yo, I came up on some awesome new tracks." (Tracks = music)
- "Hey, want a free sample?"
- "Heck ya, come up!"
- "Woah, check out Carl's new ride."
- "Come up!"
Grub: Food/meals/snacks. "I'm starving. Let's go grab some grub!"
Bro/brah/bruh: Bro can be used affectionately to refer to a close friend, or it can be used to call somewhat out. Brah can also be used affectionately, but it is also used aggressively to confront someone:
"Sup bro, how ya been?"
"Yo bro, what are you doing?!"
"Hey bra, get out of here!"
Dig It: To approve of something or like it. May also be used as a question.
- "Woah, look at you with the new haircut. I dig it!"
Kook: Refers to someone who doesn't know what they're doing or looks like a fool.
- "Woah, check out the newbie on longboard."
- "Yeah, what a kook."
Grom: Young kid who is often succeeding at something.
- "Woah, the beach is crowded."
- "Yeah, all the groms are out today."
Shred: Shredding refers to an activity like surfing, skating, or skiing, and doing it enthusiastically. It's used as an informal compliment.
- "Did you see that grom out there shredding?"
- "Yeah, he was killing it."
Killing it: Killing it means doing something fully. It's used positively. It can also be used in past tense: "killed it."
- "Did you see those boxes I cleared out?"
- "Yeah, good job man, you killed it."
- "Yo I saw you dancing on the floor last night, you were killing it!"
Send it: Send it means to complete a task or approach something. It's also used to cheer people on. You might shout "Send it!" to someone climbing a rock wall.
Beta: Beta means to gain something—inside knowledge or position. It's typically used in rock climbing. To "Get some beta on that climb" means to get some information about how to tackle it.
Stellar: Stellar means "great."
- "Hey, how was that new restaurant?"
- "It was stellar!"
Rad: Rad means "cool" or "awesome."
- "Ya that's rad!"
Not Down/I'm Down/Are You Down?
Down: Down means "Are you okay with that?"
- "Hey, are you down to watch my dog this weekend?"
- "Yeah, I'm down." OR
- "No, I'm not down."
Video: Rob Machado on Surfing
Mental: Mental means unbelievable.
- "Dude, did you see that black-flip?"
- "Yeah, that was mental!"
Bomb: Bomb means awesome or great. Typically used to refer to food.
- "How do you like that burger?"
- "It's bomb."
Legit: The real thing. Good.
- "Did you check out that new, authentic sushi spot?"
- "Yeah, the food was legit."
Chilling: Relaxing. Can be used to passively say you don't need anything or want to do anything.
- "Yo want to come to the taqueria with us?"
- "Nah, I'm chilling."
Brew: Beer. You'd say, "Want to go grab a brew?" or "Want to grab a brewski?"
Sick: Sick means awesome and is a positive.
- "Check out my new ride."
- "Woah, that's siiiicckkk."
Coming in Hot
Coming in hot: Showing up quickly/arriving. "Oh, he's coming in hot!"
Dude: Dude means like "hey," "wait," "woah" "hold on," "no way."
- "Dude, did you just see that?!"
- "Hey, happy birthday man, here's your present."
- "Duuuudeee, you shouldn't have!"
Ride: Ride means car.
- "Hey checkout my ride—I just got it cleaned."
Epic: Out of this world. Great/crazy.
- "Did you hear it's snowing in Mammoth right now?"
- "No way, epic!"
- "How was your trip to Baja?"
- "It was epic!"
For real: For real means "really?" or "are you serious?" or "seriously" (a confirmation).
- "I just lost my wallet."
- "Are you for real?"
- "Lame, I just got a parking ticket."
- "For real?!"
- "Woah, that confrontation was heavy."
- "For real."
Heavy: Heavy means serious/not light or funny in any way.
- "Did you hear what happened to Carl? He broke his femur."
- "Dude, that's heavy."
Fosho: Means "for sure" and is not serious. It can either be used to deflect something or to confirm something.
- "Can you turn down the volume?"
- "I was so mad at him yesterday."
Yes, marijuana is legal in California as of 2019. Check local laws by county about recreational and age-appropriate use. You can refer to it as herb or trees if you are dealing with people up in Northern California.
Bay Area Speak
Best not to use these terms—just to be aware of them.
- Yadadamean: You know what I mean?
- Hyphy: Rowdy; "Get hyphy"
- Hella: A lot, really. "That's hella messed up."
- Frisco: San Fransisco
- Aight: Alright
- The Bay: The Bay Area
Video: More Cali Slang
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Layne Holmes