That’s what I thought when I saw the WSL's new President of Content's Instagram yesterday.
It’s like a highlight reel of my worst surfing nightmares. That’s what I thought when I saw Erik Logan’s instagram yesterday. Have you ever surfed a line-up crowded with stand-up paddle boarders? It’s like trying to cross the street in Los Angeles, if the drivers, in addition to piloting giant automobiles, were also carrying spears.
I have survived this ordeal and I have returned to tell tales of the horrors I have seen.
“Why aren’t you riding a longboard?” The disembodied voice comes from somewhere above me.
I look up and see a common sight: A middle-aged man, on a stand-up board, paddle in hand, who wants to tell me how I should be doing surfing. I’m not sure why he thinks I want his advice. I mean, I don’t, really! But men in the lineup are going to give their advice, whether or not I want it. If nothing else, this is a thing I’ve learned in this life.
I’m paddling to the outside at a local break whose main claim to fame is its proximity and convenience. Arcing ribs of Monterey Shale hold bars of sand haphazardly in place. The combination creates a peeling wave that doesn’t hold size — or really do much of anything at all. Occasionally on just the right swell angle, it approaches something resembling good. It’s the little point break that could. It’s almost endearingly mediocre.
The place also hosts every kind of surf-like activity you can imagine and maybe a few you can’t. Groms on boogie boards. Adult learners on 10-foot softops, being pushed into waves and falling in the shallows. Bikini-clad girls on longboards. Finless wavestorms. That one determined guy on the sinking shortboard, who knows better, but can’t help himself. Long-time locals on longboards, just looking to get a few before their sun sets forever. The skimboarder doing step-offs.
Then there’s the stand-up paddle boarders. They mostly live in the nearby neighborhoods. The money came late to this part of town, because for many years, it stood hard by the city dump. That’s long gone now and a two-bedroom bungalow will run you a million and change.
There are Sprinter vans in the driveways and stand-up paddle boards in the garages. The men, and it’s mostly men in the SUP ranks, walk down to the beach lugging their boat-sized crafts. They carry their paddles like spears into battle.
And a battle it very often turns out to be. There’s a heedless entitlement to these men. Who cares if their giant board comes flying through the lineup when they don’t make it over the set wave? We’re all just having fun here, right? Sure, I think, feel free to bash in my skull with your loose board. I didn’t really need that brain.
The men on SUP’s would never burn you, no way, they just want to share the stoke. It’s chill, right? Yeah, man, it’s totally chill. I totally love it when you burn me after I scrapped into a shit-small wave in a crowded line-up. “Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to!” I scream in my best Courtney Love voice.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to hit your board! No big deal, I’m sure! Right, bro, I don’t care about my boards at all. I’ll just go home and cry while I stuff an entire package of q-cell in this giant hole. I didn’t really like that resin tint job, anyway. It looks better now with a mismatched blob of fiberglass on it. I’m pretty sure I’m going to start a new trend.
The first time I saw a foil SUP, I’m pretty sure I screamed out loud at the sight. Suddenly, a giant board with a guillotine screwed to the bottom appeared right in front of me. Dismemberment seemed inevitable. I was born to be shark bait.
Look, in all seriousness, ride the board that makes you happy. Surfboards are toys. They’re fucking toys we take into the ocean to have fun. That’s it! It’s easy to turn them into fetish objects. Who among us hasn’t smelled a board fresh from the glasser and smiled? But ultimately, the goal is to go outside, get a few fun ones, and go home happy. Surfing is our all-too-brief escape from a world that often feels a little too real and a little too much.
At the same time, surfing in places like California is a social endeavor, which is to say, it’s crowded as fuck. In theory it’s a delicate dance between you, the ocean, and a bunch of other humans, who all want the same scarce resource you do. In practice, it’s a mosh pit in full flight, all sharp elbows, fast-moving bodies, and a few stray shoes.
But even the most intense pit follows its own set of rules. There’s a fine line between getting your fair share and being an oblivious asshole. It isn’t actually all about you and your bros having a good time at everyone else’s expense — or which guy has the biggest stick. We’re all just trying to get through it and hoping that someone will find the shoe we lost along the way.