"The surfer is mostly peaceful and loving and kind, but is more than willing to throw down when needed to protect their friends or their lineup."
Humanity is mostly made up of idiots and followers.
I am an idiot most of the time and a follower more often than I would like to admit.
We are short sighted, selfish, inconsiderate, and generally clueless.
We believe in silly religions, sillier politics, and most of us base our lives on ideas that were given to us, as opposed to creating a life of our own.
To steal from an old dead drunk, for me surfing is the joy that sometimes comes along out of nowhere, rising like a falcon moon across the impossibility, like a perfect set wave coming in while you are out the back totally alone.
Surfing is its own world, its own planet, its own society, existing often outside of mainstream society. When a kook/barney/noob paddles out into a surf lineup they are in nearly immediate conflict with everyone out there, unless of course they are willing to stay out of the way and show respect….this is not usually the case.
And while these adult learners and lifelong kooks who refuse to learn basic etiquette may not be assaulting other surfers with their fists, they are responsible for nearly all of the violence, injuries, and accidents that happen in surf lineups.
What can be done to combat this attack upon our beloved space? The place that serves as respite from our toxic relationships, soul crushing jobs, and a society that has no interest in our passions, hopes and dreams (often just for a glassy day and a turn here or there).
I will argue here that those of us armed with experience, knowledge, and passion for surfing are the ones who must take a stand and that it must be violent, or at the minimum have a threat of violence of that is real and doesn’t fold like a young Filipe Toledo at Chopes, or me at anything over ten foot.
Some people are awesome, unique, selfless, thoughtful, and considerate.
Some people have built up their own ideas of what is right and wrong even if capital “T” Truth doesn’t exist.
As Tom Robbins wrote in The Still Life of Woodpecker,
If you’re honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you’re forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.
It is my firmly held belief that the spirit of the surfer is the outlaw spirit. Ever since I was a neophyte grom growing up in the suburban racially striated suburbs of San Clemente, I imagined the surfer as an adventurer, a fear conqueror, a unique and singular spirit, a total fucking Badass.
The surfer refuses to be victimized or forced to conform by the society they were born into. They quit their jobs, deal drugs, hustle and scheme, sleep on couches or under coconut trees…they live dangerously to carve out their own form of existence against a society of 9-5’s and families.
I lived at Ocean Beach in San Francisco where there are plenty of outlaws, but also plenty of weekend warrior tech bros.
Depending on the spot there, you are going to get a very different crowd.
Why is the dude on the brand new Hypto Krypto wearing the Isurus wetsuit and getting up on one knee paddling for the same wave as me?
Why is his equipment so much nicer and more expensive than mine?
I wonder this to myself while looking down at the holes in my board fixed with wax and the hole in the crotch of my wetsuit that is just small enough at this point my only ball slips out, sometimes.
But, I ask you this: has surfing etiquette gotten worse over the years?
Before answering that I want to consider a Milan Kundera quote on nostalgia:
The more vast the amount of time we’ve left behind us, the more irresistible is the voice calling us to return to it. This pronouncement seems to state the obvious and yet it is false. Men grow old, the end grows near, each moment becomes more and more valuable and there is no time to waste on recollection. It’s important to understand the mathematical paradox in nostalgia, that it is most powerful in early youth , when the volume of life that has passed is quite small.
Kundera reminds us of the dangers of nostalgia, and I must consider that when delving into tales from the past. With that said, I do feel safe in saying that things are very very dierent now than they were in my youth.
I live on Oahu now, in town (the south side), after a four-year stint on the West Side of Santa Cruz.
From my own personal anecdotal evidence from being a generally chatty ass motherfucker, I have found that nearly all surfers with over fifteen years of experience miss the old days.
The only people who seem to be “OK” with the lack of violence are people who are new to surfing (adult learners), maybe because nobody has to pay their dues anymore.
When I first moved to Oahu at eighteen I knew I would never surf Pipe (except maybe on four-foot days from April to June when there’s no crowd, shh!) because the Wolfpak ran it and they are scary as fuck.
Once me and a few friends from Kauai, all of us eighteen, were hanging out in the Sunset Beach parking lot after a surf and a wildly famous local and his crew were ragging on us.
My friend stupidly threatened them with a fin and then he drove over two of our boards. We learned the valuable lesson of respecting the locals at a lineup that day.
On the drive home we were angry at my friend, not the local.
And fuck, older surfers were just generally scary to me growing up. The drugged-out surfers who were good enough to be on tour if they weren’t such classic surf fuckups, the San Clemente locals in their twenties and thirties that surfed my beach breaks, were terrifying. They ran the spots with a punch here, a shove there, on the rare occasion a broken board.
We knew not to fuck with them and on some level we wanted to be them.
When I first got my license, me and two of my friends decided it would be a good idea to speed around our suburban neighborhood in our cars having a water balloon fight while driving.
Two of the local surfers chased us home and nearly killed us in my driveway, and they were right to do it! We were being incredibly fucking stupid and risky for no reason. Risky for no reason is the main thing that should bring about violence. If not for these older drugged out misfits scaring me and my friends senseless, who knows how many kids we would have run over that day or week?
San Clemente isn’t known for its violence, but even surfing in the nineties it was not uncommon to see violence. There are tons of locals not famous enough to recognize who held spots down.
Once a kid I went to high school with burned one of the fifty-year-old ripper dads on my block and then flipped out the dad. The dad paddled over to him, gave him one punch in the face and paddled back out to the lineup.
If this happened today, the dad would probably be doing time in the big house. The kid paddled over to me, and I told him it seemed fair to me and that as long as he respected the etiquette he could continue to surf there without a problem.
I also encouraged him to apologize.
Growing up was a string of these incidents. My high school had a group of five kids that actually called themselves the Surf Nazis.
Did I get into fights with all of them? Damn right I did.
Did I hit one in the chest with my board and another by doing a cutback into his ankle leaving a curtain of blood flowing from his leg? Fuck yes.
Do I have any regret for doing that or giving the long speeches I gave afterwards about racism and respect? Fuck no I don’t.
Funny enough, the last time I got into with them was when one of the Surf Nazi’s burned me at T-Street.
I followed him all the way until the wave was over. I was a patient little monster. After getting o the wave, I chased him down and threw him o his board, grabbed him with one hand around the throat and reached back to punch him. Before I could land my justified and moral blow, I was gripped in the shoulder. I turned around to fight this stranger and realize it is Chris Fucking Ward, who I have seen in fist fights at Riviera more times than I can remember.
Chris looks me in the eyes and says, “It’s not worth it man, he’s not worth it.” What a strange experience that was, and it was one that has always made me think of when violence is and isn’t appropriate.
All of these little tales bring up the issue of whether or not violence is ever acceptable. The main thesis I stand behind is this: In a surf lineup, violence and/or the threat of violence will actually prevent more injuries than a lineup where violence is nonexistent.
The violence has left surfing mostly because we live in a world of lawsuits, camera phones and social media. The state of surveillance makes it nearly impossible to do anything illegal and get away with it.
This is the tricky part, because it technically isn’t illegal to take off on a big set wave with three people in front of you when you aren’t sure you can make the drop.
It isn’t illegal to steal someone’s wave or burn them, or paddle out to a local spot with twelve of your friends on soft tops. I don’t believe in laws, but I believe in etiquette.
I believe in a small group of people making communal agreements. Funny enough I am an anarchist, but I don’t believe that the surf lineup is a place for chaos, even if I believe that most of the rest of the world is.
A good analogy here is war and the way that chimpanzees fight compared to the way human beings fight. Chimpanzees mostly wage small border skirmishes, with a few killings here and a few killings here, but no recorded genocides.
I would say a surf lineup could function in a similar way. Occasionally, when someone really fucks up and refuses to apologize or change their behavior, there will be some amount of violence.
This violence is reserved towards people who are being dangerous for no good reason and are putting others in the lineup at risk. I always want to clarify that before the conflict raises to the level of laying hands, scrapping, etc. that there should be a conversation, and a chance given for the dangerous/disrespectful party to listen and apologize.
When I’m surfing and someone burns me or doesn’t paddle behind me, or any of a thousand other surfing etiquette mistakes, if the person apologizes to me I will just say “It’s all good” ninety-nine percent of the time.
The other one percent is reserved for when someone did something that could have put me in the hospital. In that one percent I don’t resort to violence, I try to have a conversation with the person.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I am a confrontational person and have come around to supporting the notion that a constant low level of confrontation is actually the life way most helpful towards preventing major confrontations.
The problem with this is most humans are fence-sitters. At my local spot, a lefthand point near Diamond Head in Honolulu, there is a mid-fifties guy who always surfs the sunset session on an eight-and-a-half-foot board.
He sings, talks to himself, and generally tries to act “crazy.”
He also thinks it’s fun to get as close as he can to people then turn away at the last second while riding a wave.
I know of two other people besides myself that have confronted him, but in all three cases we (the surfers confronting him) were the only ones in the water to say something. Everyone else at the spot constantly talks shit on him and acknowledges that he is dangerous and he even prevents lots of people from surfing the sunset session because of his outrageous behavior.
However, when someone has been bold enough to confront him, the rest of the lineup stays quiet, not wanting to get involved. If just one or two other surfers had chimed in to tell him to leave, the problem would likely be over.
But, humans are weak and driven by fear, fear of being seen and heard and the fear of confrontation. So…our monster stays a local at the spot, causing problems several times a week. I believe to be a surfer is to embrace that outlaw spirit, to not fear confrontation, to turn towards the uncomfortable.
As a nihilist, technically I don’t believe in anything. I think that there is no inherent meaning in the universe, which frees us up to choose to put whatever meaning we want into anything.
As a lifelong surfer, a lifelong surf fan, and just another kook trying to surf like my heroes, I put a lot of meaning into what being a surfer is.
I fervently believe that the spirit of the surfer is what matters. The surfer yearns for an empty lineup, or a shared one with one or two friends.
The surfer is mostly peaceful and loving and kind, but is more than willing to throw down when needed to protect their friends or their lineup.
The surfer isn’t a fence-sitter. The surfer doesn’t spend years confronting their fears in the ocean with hold-downs, injuries, reef scars and much more just to be afraid to tell someone that they aren’t acting right.
I dream of a world where the surfer just fucking cares about what it means to be a surfer.
In this world the surfer chooses their society, their lineup, their ocean, their friends and surf friends that they know in their local surf scenes over the rules and etiquette of “minding our own business” that the shitty world of eight-billion has passed down for us.
Fuck politicians, fuck rules we didn’t create for ourselves, embrace the outlaw spirit.
Otherwise we might just end up having Kaipo and the wall of positive noise tell us that two backside turns under the lip with the pro surfer’s butt five feet behind their legs is the pinnacle of surfing. We deserve more, and we must take it ourselves.