New Zealand youth are over-represented in drowning statistics yet little is known about their understanding of water safety, especially in surf beach context. This study aimed to ascertain current youth surf safety knowledge, specifically rip current awareness, explore self-reported competencies and confidence when surf swimming, and examine youth behaviour when at the beach. A cross-sectional survey was conducted among senior high school students (n = 599) in Auckland, New Zealand. Over half (58%) reported they were unable to swim > 100 m in a pool. Males and students of European-New Zealand and Maori (New Zealand’s indigenous population) heritage were most likely to report risky behaviors such as swimming alone, outside of the patrol flags, or at a beach without lifeguards. Females reported lower swimming competency and confidence. Students of non-European-New Zealand heritage consistently reported lower surf safety knowledge. The results suggest that, in spite of frequent surf beach use and confidence in their ability to cope with risk, the surf safety knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of most New Zealand youth leaves them at higher risk of drowning.