In the absence of an established literature, identifying and quantifying surf bather drowning risk factors requires a clearly defined problem-focused research strategy. To initiate this strategy, nominal group technique (NGT) was used to identify and rank risk and water exposure-related factors based on consensus of an expert panel. The results identified, in order, level of experience (encompassing swimming ability in surf conditions), lack of local knowledge (encompassing awareness of surf hazards, including rip currents), and surf conditions (encompassing prevailing wave height and rip currents) as the three most influential surf bather drowning risk factors. Factors most influential on exposure to water were identified and ranked as prevailing weather, geographic location (encompassing bather accessibility to the beach), and infrastructure (encompassing the presence of artificial beach amenities). This study provides direction for future analytic epidemiological research and complementary studies on drowning at surf beaches and other locations.