The corruption of a great meritocracy…
The parking lot is mellow. Sleepy even.
It’s the day after Christmas. The kinda day where the street is littered with kids ripping the tags off of wetsuits and brandishing new boards.
Retirees holding onto golden retrievers mill about. The occasional tennis ball is lazily thrown into the grass.
Surfers line the bluff, squinting through hungover eyes as they sip their coffee.
A small group of bodies buoy around the main peak. To the north an unridden waist-high right reels into the cove. The surf matches the atmosphere on the bluff. Subdued. Quiet.
My dad and I scramble down the cliff and gingerly wade out over the cobble stones.
We paddle slowly to the empty peak as the sun peeks over the bluff.
The surf is lully. A small set hits the reef every ten minutes or so. We laugh about how drunk my uncle was last night in between waves. The occasional surfer crawls down the cliff but somehow our little peak is left alone.
An hour in, a lone surfer paddles north from the southern peak. He’s middle aged, riding what appears to be an oversized short board. Something probably labeled as a high-performance mid-length. Maybe called a hybrid.
He paddles with purpose, projecting the kind of confidence that makes me think he surfs here pretty often. I nod to him as he passes, but he ignores my attempt at eye contact and paddles to our inside. We watch as he paddles frantically for a few small sets only for them to go unridden.
He looks frustrated.
A larger set appears on the horizon. I position myself while watching him out of the corner of my eye. He’s too deep. Still, he swings his board around under the boil.
I do a few half paddles, knowing that the wave is going to break on his head but not wanting to disrespect him. At the last second, he looks up at me and says “Go.”
It’s too late. The set passes and reels off, unridden. He glares at me and paddles back to my inside, mumbling to himself.
I look up at the cliff. A train of five 40 somethings gracelessly make their way down. They fan out underneath us and the silence is broken by questions like “so how long will you be in town.”
One of them paddles up to me.
“Brrr. Water’s cold huh?”
I politely give a few half answers before he moves on. My dad signals to me on the inside that he’s headed in.
I start to make my way in as one of the five paddles up to the “local,” grinning.
“Great day huh?”
He responds dryly. “It was. Did you guys all drive together in a fucking station wagon or what?”
The group stares wide eyed back. Nervous laughter fills the silence.
Up on the cliff, my dad looks at me. “That guy was a dick.” I try to explain to him that you don’t paddle out as a group, but he shakes his head.
“If you can’t catch a wave, you shouldn’t be barking at anyone else.”
I’m conflicted on the drive home.
Is competence still a prerequisite for localism? Or have we substituted financial wellbeing and an abundance of free time for skill?
Are we really fine with middle aged men pissed off at their inability to paddle into waves yelling at competent yet kooky weekend warriors?
It seems to me that our meritocracy has been corrupted.
Localism has become the practice of retired white-collar professionals who can afford beach-front housing rather than lifelong surfers sacrificing an hour of sleep to sneak in a few waves before work.
It doesn’t feel earned any more. It feels bought.
Or am I wrong?