Dark days for a once happy boy-man whose eyes have been opened to the horrors of being a lifelong surfer.
The Disney-ification of surfing has been written at ad nauseam: the advent of the leash, big-wave vests which suddenly enable the likes of me and my 50 closest friends to paddle out at waves far beyond our grasp, the dreaded midlength.
Reading those who have dipped their pen into this tired inkwell often conjures images of old men no longer able to paddle into waves, cursing me for my youth and still-intact hairline.
But, on the wrong side of 25, maybe it’s my time to enter these hallowed grounds.
Surfline is killing surfing.
It has been an abysmal summer in San Diego. Small, windy, and inconsistent. I’m pretty sure I’m getting scoliosis from schlepping my log down to the beach every morning. At best, maybe two swells since May.
Still, like the junkie I am, I check the forecast religiously, multiple times throughout the day. And, to my utter amazement, I notice something. Maybe, just maybe, a swell. In fact, the first swell of fall. Nothing special, but just enough to pull the trusty shortboard off the rafters.
Surfline sees it too. That all seeing monster. It knows. It always knows. A week out, it gives the day a modest 2-3+. Seems about right given the forecast.
But then, an Instagram post. “First WNW Swell of Season Provides Widespread Waves to California.” A menacing blob dashes across the screen, plunging into California.
It’s 24 hours before the swell arrives in San Diego. 4-5. Surfline posts a cam rewind of Mavericks, captioned “Swell Update: @peter_mel packed one this morning at Mavs.” A lone figure pulls into an unremarkable closeout at Mavericks.
I check the forecast before bed just for giggles. Has the swell turned code red yet? What’s the Surfline color code for “Epic” again?
2-3+. An unremarkable 2-3+. Exactly what the forecast calls for. Surfline pulls off the ultimate bait and switch.
I pull up to the beach a little earlier than usual. I have to be at work early and I have a feeling there’s going to be a crowd.
The street is full. A surfer next to me pulls on a brand-new changing poncho. It matches his out of the box suit. I can almost smell the new neoprene.
Now, I surf a nondescript spot every morning. No camera; not even a Surfline entry. A C-grade spot that can get fun but is tucked away and crushingly mediocre.
On any day, 5 or 6 guys, 10 max. Today, 40.
I paddle to the outside peak, a tricky part of the reef that is seldom surfed. Two locals turn and grin at me, quietly lamenting the absurdity of a 40-person lineup.
One of the bigger sets swings wide and I’m in position. It’s standing up on the reef. I set my rail.
Like a gimp-styled superhero, he drops in from the heavens. Arms flailing, an unintentionally delayed bottom turn. I straighten, lest my bang rails with this intruder. He does a few ungainly pumps, straightens, and kicks out.
And then, the pièce de résistance. He flashes me a shaka. Not a limp, ironic shaka, but a hard, twisting shaka. The kind that makes your forearm cramp. It’s not an apology. It’s an “aloha, bro.”
You know who he is. He exists in every lineup. The surfer just competent enough to wreak havoc in a lineup.
Jen See’s already made the connection, but it’s worth repeating. This is your fault, Surfline. You’ve created this agent of chaos. You’ve pumped him full of color-coded, easy to read, always embellished forecasts and pushed him out to sea.
And that was fine. Even nice. A discerning beginner could piece together how to read buoys. You taught us something. You taught me something.
But then you decide to double down. You started throwing out meaningless buzzwords to your 2.2 million followers. A post (or two) for every “swell.” Code red. First swell of the season. Hurricane X. Raising the temperature, giving the masses exactly what they wanted.
And yes, the brands didn’t help.
They clothed him, put him on a 7’0” funboard, and told him jazz hands look cool on a wave.
But you’re the one who put him in the water.