Put down the gun and learn to love.
It’s one of those calm overcast afternoons where hues of orange and purple bruise the sky. The threat of an oncoming storm. Weak two-footers dribble towards shore, echoes of a recent windswell.
I mind my own on a wider peak away from the pack, doing my damned thing, when I see an adult learner on a SUP almost kill a man.
He’s wearing below-the-knee boardies, oversized diving vest and a surf helmet.
I keep watch.
Distant thunder rumbles as a set wave surges from dark water, catching him off guard. A lame attempt to swing for it sees him go over the falls sideways: a ten-foot long sword of flesh and polyurethane. He nearly decapitates the funboard funboy unlucky enough to be paddling in front of him.
Funboy doesn’t make things easy on himself either. Instead of bailing and diving under the hot SUP mess, he tries to somehow raise his board and body up over the top, catching it in the neck for his efforts.
I kept a watching eye on them for that pregnant second when they both disappear under the foam. Schrodinger’s kooks.
But they pop up one after the other. Alive. Smiling and laughing at the fun of it all. SUP throws funboy a shaka and off they go.
Rain begins to fall. The Adult Learner Apocalypse is here. It’s the Wavestorm to end all Wavestorms.
Trying to share a lineup with that? How do you compete with such… enthusiasm? It’s a zero sum game.
This is a world sport now.
We need to adjust.
They’re not going anywhere, and as the modern world’s addiction to mental and physical narcissism increases, more and more people are going to clue into what surfing offers. So, as the great Warren Ellis said: “When you find yourself in a hole, you may as well decorate.”
Plus, to quote Point Break:
“So you want to become a surfer? Hey man, that’s cool. A lot of people your age are learning to surf. I hope you stick with it. Surfing’s the source. It can change your life. Swear to God.”
In that spirit of harmony, I’ve begun to pull together a few home truths for adult learners, welcoming them to the idiosyncratic and hypocrisies of the surfing world. A little cheat sheet that’ll have them looking and sounding like regulation grumpy locals quicker than they can say, “Dropping in is a form of assault.”
Choosing what board you will ride is important. If you go with “retro” craft – longboards, funboards, hybrids, SUPs twinnies, single fins etc –you’re compensating for the fact you can’t ride a shortboard. You can try and cover your deficiencies in life but there’s no point. Everybody knows, everybody’s judging you. Never expect respect, unless you hang on to that 6’1″ for life.
No coloured wetsuits unless you’re at an elite level. Anything other than regulation black and you’re drawing attention that ain’t earned. See also, springsuits.
Your tailpad should be as near the leash plug as possible. None of this half-way up the deck bullshit. You want that fucker pushed closer to the edge than an environmentalist at a plastics factory.
Speaking of which, please do remember a lot of surf hardware comes wrapped in single-use plastics. But that’s ok, because you’re in a direct communion with Mother Earth now. She will still grace you with her Infinite Love, once she finishes her shift at Outerknown.
In the water
When surfing, keep a lid on your emotions. The only claims you should ever make in life are for travel insurance and custody.
To wit, never give away that you’re having a good surf and enjoying the conditions unless it’s absolutely pumping. Talk it down: “Yeah it’s alright but would be better with a little more water/ little less water/little more swell /a bit more north/south/east/west in the wind.”
The only time you should really speak to someone you don’t know in the surf is if it’s only the two of you out. You can then ask anything surf-related: “Getting a couple?” “Been out long, mate?” or “Is it ok to cry in the shower every morning?”
Check the surf often, but very rarely go out. When the tide’s high it will need a bit less water. When the tide’s low, it will need a bit more. Early mornings need more wind on it, afternoons need less. Besides, look at that crowd.
Instead, sit with a crew of other grumpy locals in the carpark, cat-calling women half your age and bullshiting about that wave you didn’t get at HT’s in ‘98.
The better you surf, the less photos of yourself surfing you should put online. Unless you can afford your own personal photographer
If someone asks if you’re a surfer, be careful. Chances are they’re going to try and pin a water-related offence on you. Instead, answer with something like “Who or what I identify as is none of your business” and then threaten to livestream them.
Once you’re out of the water, feel free to ease up a little with other surfers. For instance, if someone you’d usually ignore is showering at the same time as you it’s ok to ask something like, “Get a couple, mate?”.And if you see someone you recognise from the lineup in a non-surf environment, you can even push it out to “Been getting a few waves lately?” or “I’ve just shelved an eight ball of speed, could you watch my kids for me?”
The mark of a truly good surfer is one that can chop hop, but doesn’t.