Humiliation: 7 Ways Surfing Screws You!

Y'know, tripping over your leash, hand-slip takeoffs, pulling back and still going over the falls… 

I hurt my toe surfing a few days ago. The one on my left foot, front foot, next to my big toe. What’s it called? Your pointer toe? A pretty useless appendage, but causing all sorts of trouble. Likely sprained, it’s a magic magnet that attracts every doorjamb and subtle incline I encounter. Doesn’t hurt to walk, but every time I bang it on something, four or five times a day, I see stars.

I prefer the term “foot finger” to toe. Have since ninth grade Spanish when Señorita Martin taught me dedos de pie. And I like to use my feet as hands when I get the chance. If I’m sitting on the couch, and whatever my wife is too lazy to get herself is somehow out of reach of my ten foot long chimpanzee arms, I’ll stretch a leg and use my feet fingers to grab and toss it. Got pretty good aim after all these years.

It drives her nuts, and fair enough. I never wear shoes, my feet are usually filthy.

It’s taught me that, later in a session, as I start to get tired, I sometimes drag my feet when standing. Good to know, a terrible habit.

And it got me thinking about all the petty cruelties surfing inflicts on us. Seven of ’em that I can think of.

Tripping over your leash

There are few bigger barney moves than leashing up in the parking lot, something I witnessed a few weeks ago. Said to the wife, “Watch, this guy’s gonna eat shit,” as he ran to the water’s edge with his rental wax in and a nine foot leash dragging in the dirt.

Sure enough, tossed a loop around his foot, went face first into a mix of sand and driftwood. The guy played it off well, got back up and kept going. Pretend it never happened.

But we’ve all been there, sprinting down the berm to build some speed for a nice long skim out over the surge, only to catch a tangle and eat shit in the sand. I know there’s footage of Kalani Robb doing it, back in one of the early Taylor Steele videos. Maybe Focus or Momentum 2 or Good Times? But no soul’s been kind enough to rip and upload it

Front foot slip to faceplant

Hard off the bottom, feet planted firmly, eyes on the prize. You’ve got all the speed you need, time to push that back foot through the lip.

And at the last moment your world comes apart. Maybe you shifted a little weight onto your front leg, maybe you just need a touch more wax, here comes the deck of your board to give you a kiss with all the fervor of an inexperienced seventh grader.

Pulling back on a heavy drop you could have made, then still getting sucked over the falls

Unless you’re some hyper-talented freak raised in dredging barrels, you’re only gonna stick an air drop into the tube one out of a dozen tries. If that. The beatings are worth it, but sometimes the spirit is weak.

Sometimes you’re a hair too far inside, and a bomb rolls right to you. Someone on the shoulder hoots, you take two strokes, look over the ledge, and display the ultimate in cowardice. Pull back, let it pass.

That little voice in your head starts ranting, “You fucking pussy, you could have made it. You’re a waste of space, a nothing, a… oh no… what have you done?”

Blowing the drop and coming up right in front of someone

Whatever the cause; getting tangled in your leash or hitting an awkward ripple or just going full-on kook and forgetting how to surf, eating shit as you stand is bad enough on its own. But when you pop to the surface a few seconds later, board upside down and underwater, unable to reel it in, and look outside to the guy going next… Lock eyes with the poor fucker as you’re spread across twenty feet of takeoff area with no way to dodge or dive, what can you do? Smile sheepishly, shake your head, apologize.

It happens to everyone, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

Standing tall and getting clipped in the barrel

The thing about being tall, when all the little acrobat fucker are getting stand up barrels you’re still hunched over, trying to fit your ungainly frame in the slot.

But every once in a while one bottoms out and goes proper square, and you can stretch your spine, stand up straight, and plant the top three inches of your head firmly in the ceiling.

Forgetting something crucial

You really only need two things to surf, your board and a pair of shorts (or wetsuit for you poor cold water souls). Forgot your leash? No big deal, do some swimming, it makes you strong. No wax? Sand or a pebble or a stick are all perfectly functional wax combs.

I can wrangle my million item spearfishing checklist without fail, yet time and again I show up at the beach in a pair of over-sized jorts (because I’m a product of the nineties) and have to make the trek back up the hill to exchange them for something functional.

Hand slip board kiss takeoff

Paddle paddle paddle, plant those hands, feel one slip. There ain’t no recovery, just kiss the deck and skitter down the face. Hope to god it ain’t the first wave of your session. Smells of weakness, the wolves will circle. If there’s more than a handful of guys out you’re gonna have a hell of a wait until your turn comes next.

Happy Birthday Steve Sherman!

A surfing icon adds a year to the books!

We all get older but not all of us age. Steve Sherman, famous surf photographer, drummer, t-shirt empire impresario is in the latter camp. His images have captivated for seemingly ever. That photojournalistic style gets right to the beating heart of our surf game. Who could forget the iconic images of Andy, Kelly, Sunny Garcia and Taj?

Without Sherm the landscape would be littered with high performance and high resolution but where would we find our passion? Where would we find our story? The kids ain’t getting behind the scenes any more. And they ain’t using film.

Steve Sherman, like a great musician from another time, like Bowie or Bobby Dylan, stands alone and we salute him on this his birthday.

Maybe more handsome than ever!
Maybe more handsome than ever!

Don’t: Ski Jaws today!

"After 20 epic seconds, the 40 foot wave threatens to swallow Chuck whole!"

Surfing is in its very nature very strange. Pointless even. Is it really so wrong, then, to replace the strange plank we normally ride with two strange planks and also poles and also thick plastic boots? (Hint: YES!)

This clip sums up, in one neat minute and twenty six seconds, your definitive voice of surfing The Inertia. Laughably awry, utterly out of touch, potentially racistill-conceived, funny but not on purpose, amusing maybe to old people.

There is nothing more I can write except the transcript of what the narrator says as Chuck Patterson skis Jaws:

As Chuck approaches the drop in point he can see that the water is choppy but the coast is clear of paddle-in surfers.

He sees a chance, but he doesn’t have enough speed and hangs on to the tow rope until he’s out of danger.

One more turnaround and this time…it’s a go.

After 20 epic seconds, the 40 foot wave threatens to swallow Chuck whole.

The end.

Shane Dorian

How to: Ride Surf Tunnels!

Want the keys to making it out of the tube? Step inside…

We can’t all live somewhere where six-second drainers are common. I mean, what’s the Gold Coast got to offer when y’rinse off? Ice in your veins? A job as a hooker or a waiter? What are you going to do in Namibia… fish? Start a hunting biz?

Still, we can still maximise our barrel time wherever, whenever we surf.

Here’s what you gotta do, at least according to the pro surfers I ask whenever I’m chasing tips…

Bend at the knees, not the waist

Actually, this tip applies to all surfing at all times. Waist-bending is stylistic cancer that you have to consciously fight and unlearn — especially with barrels. Picture the awkwardly squat-stanced surfer with his legs locked stiff, his ass high in the air, bent in half with his head down at hip-level trying to poke his face into a two-foot tube. And then claiming his “cover-up” later. Don’t be him. Bend at the knees.

Square your shoulders 

Keeping your shoulders open and square to the exit will keep you moving in the right direction. You shouldn’t find them closed and parallel to shore, facing out to sea (frontside) or toward the beach (backside). There are exceptions, of course — watch any surf video — but while you’re still getting comfortable in the barrel, square shoulders will help you keep the right line. The one that takes you back out of the tube. That is, after all, the point here.

Keep your eyes open

This seems obvious but tube novices are prone to shutting their eyes at the first sign of a pitching lip — as though they’re bracing for something bad. Don’t brace. You wouldn’t close your eyes at the plate right when the pitcher winds up, so don’t do it here. Stay calm — or at least capable of seeing.


Another “duh” tip but its value can’t be overstated. A week or two in good, hollow waves is like boot camp for barrel riding. Your surfing will transform. You’ll progress so much further in a few days abroad than you would in years of hunting the odd lucky head-dip at home (unless home is Hawaii). Among its many other benefits, a surf trip will fast-track your tube skills, so book one and skip a few levels. Sumatra’s nice, but you don’t have to go that far:

Pull-in on closeouts

Closeouts are your driving range, your batting cage, your practice field. For decades low-rung surfers at Pipe and Backdoor have gained respect and experience by forcing themselves into closeouts nobody wants. The same will work for you. Use closeouts to get familiar with the tube, with getting in and travelling. The exit can come later.

Psychological warfare 

Guys in the Momentum Generation used to use “You won’t go” on each other as a little reverse psychological nudge in heavy waves. The natural human response to “You won’t go” is an emboldened, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” You may have to use this trick on yourself to maximize tube opportunities, because a lot of the best ones will look like closeouts. Too ledgy. Too deep. Too shallow. Unmakeable. But you have to be in it to win it. Silence your doubts with an imaginary friend taunting, “You won’t go,” then show that punk he’s wrong.

Stay low on the face

…Particularly on small waves with small barrels. They’re hard to fit into, so the tendency is to hug the face, stall hard and lean into the wave, trying to squeeze under a tight lip. But this pulls you up the face of the wave. You cease forward motion, get sucked upward and pitched. Done. Instead, stay low on the face and as compact as possible (see: bend at the knees). If you have to try that hard to fit in the tube, it’s probably not worth it.

Plan to come out

One of the simplest barrel-riding mistakes is that surfers put all their focus on getting in — but forget that the real goal is to come out afterward. When you set your line and pull in, do so with full intention to make a clean exit. There should be no question in your mind that you’ll come out. It sounds simplistic but this makes a giant difference.

Don’t be surprised

Beginners, or anyone rarely tubed, are often so shocked at finally finding themselves in a barrel that they freeze up. They get stage fright. They don’t want to blow it and waste their shot, so of course they do, and that’s frustrating. But avoidable! Don’t be surprised when tubes happen. Relax. It’s just like being on the open face, but with a ceiling.

Don’t claim.

Mask your private awe at having successfully come out of your little barrel. Nothing will ruin it faster than a self-serving fist pump or two arms in the air. Don’t even look at the beach. Be cool. Yawn if possible. Actually, fuck it, shotgun that claim! Bring a little theatre!


Craig Anderson hangs outside of car window
We are the first surf adventurers on earth, all of us. We are the first and we are beautiful because we keep the fires of discovery alive. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Parker: 10 Things I Love About Surfing

I love being afraid, I love failing, I love knowing we're pointless and preening… 

….how about a straight, non-ironic piece. Ten things I love about surfing,” Derek says.  “Surprise ’em”

Harder than it looks, ten things.

Because it’s just one thing. All that other shit is peripheral, inconsequential.

I love watching the ocean. Seeing how the water moves through rocks, currents form, how depth is reflected in surface conditions. Knowing how peaks can shift, when to stand my ground as a set feathers outside. Knowing that it’s nothing magic, it all makes sense, a powerful pattern that’s crystal clear if you just know how to look.

I love knowing how to move through the water. That off rhythm paddle beat on a windy choppy day. Reaching and tucking during a freedive freefall, feeling the water move past you, able to swoop and soar with a subtle flex. Hiding in the reef with a speargun, anticipating a surge and bracing in advance. Swimming with minimal effort, surging flowing forward. Never fight it, use it.  Kicking for the surface with a heaving diaphragm and tingling fingers and toes. Bright scattered spots at the surface, deep breathes and poor motor control.

I love watching the ocean. Seeing how the water moves through rocks, currents form, how depth is reflected in surface conditions. Knowing how peaks can shift, when to stand my ground as a set feathers outside. Knowing that it’s nothing magic, it all makes sense, a powerful pattern that’s crystal clear if you just know how to look.

I love being afraid. Timing a set on a big day, finding a keyhole, sliding right out. Getting taught again and again that it doesn’t hurt as much as you think. Always a challenge until you stop looking.

I love failing a million times and hating myself for it. The frustration and humiliation, over-amping off the bottom on the wave of the day, ass over teakettle into the flats. Stalling too hard and getting eaten, taking a rail to the shins on your way over the falls.

I love that no matter how hard you try, how talented you are, you’re never good enough.

I love hooting someone in far over their heads, watching the fear in their eyes on the way to destruction.  I love laughing and clapping as they surface and sputter.

I love the meaninglessness, the sheer absurdity of being a grown man playing. I love looking down my nose at the tragically unhip, the ones who think they’re onto something special. I love being jaded and cutting and cruel because it all began when I was a child and whatever magic there was is long gone.

I love knowing that we’re pointless and preening and immature and conservative and sheltered and privileged and self-destructive and selfish and wasteful and irresponsible and never ever satisfied.

I love that the people with whom I share the most in common are those whose company I enjoy the least.

I love that surf art is terrible and uninspired and we pretend it isn’t.

I love the countless times my sinuses’ve drained salt water onto my wife’s face while we’re making love.

I love that moment when your ankle stops pulling and you don’t know if it’s your leash or board that’s broken.

I love the countless scars. Putting your forearm through the deck of your board and leaving flesh in the fiberglass. Getting your arms over your head just in time to leave skin on the reef. Razor-thin slices on the bottoms of your feet after getting caught inside at Rocky Rights. I love walking up the beach with blood running down my leg or arm or face or chest. Diluted by salt water, only a scratch, but you look so damn tough.

I love surfing until your arms are limp, then stretching out the pain when those muscles tighten hours later.

I love that I’m an ungainly lumbering ogre on land, but in the water I can move like a dancer.

I love watching a guy on a rental take the beating of his life ten feet from the shore on a head-high day.

I love the smell of a fresh bar of Sticky Bumps.

There.  That’s gotta be ten, at least.