Roughly 20 years ago, roughly 90 percent of the surfers in any lineup were competent. Around 5 percent were excellent surfers and 5 percent were learning. About five years ago the numbers flipped, as evidenced by a statue celebrating the triumph of the kook, in Cardiff (Thanks for that J.P.). Previously, learners were separated from the pack by process of elimination, quickly learning to take smaller, easier waves that were appropriate to their abilities. Subsequent to the invasion of the last decade, unwritten rules have gone by the wayside, and our self-policing sport has become chaotic. No matter who tells you otherwise, there is nothing more obnoxious than a kook with attitude.
Blame it on coastal migration, blame it on the Internet, blame it on those outside-type magazines that have put surfing on some sort of premature bucket list.
Localism is easy to condemn. It is obvious that each of us have equal rights to the waves. Newcomers to any surf spot are entitled to waves, no matter how brilliantly or poorly they surf. That works until a novice paddles out a discount store surfboard, unaware that they are entering a dredging ledge where waves break over inches of water. Or opening day at Swami’s where the lineup is already dicey, and made more difficult by the droves of wide-eyed learners going over the falls, only to brag to their dates over dinner (yes, we have all overheard you) that they were ripping. A video would go miles toward humility.
But danger in the lineup is not strictly the domain of kooks. Recently, another surfer — who apparently felt that his wave had been taken — held a friend of mine, who happens to be an excellent surfer, underwater. At this point, when our unwritten rules break down police are called to take care of things. While I agree with this as a solution, it may prove detrimental to our freedoms in the long run. From time to time, someone from outside the surf community suggests planting cops in the lineup, something I believe would be ineffective and exaggerate the problem. All the learn-to-surf books will tell you that the surfer closest to the peak has the right of way. This is true, except when someone continues paddling behind you, or is too deep or too inexperienced to make the takeoff. To date, the locals at each break have done a pretty good job of enforcing the rules.
Surf breaks everywhere are now completely overcrowded. With too many surfers and not enough waves, we need the rules more than ever. Problem is, 90 percent of those in the lineup have no idea what the rules are. Rule No. 1 is common courtesy. If you are riding a longboard, a stand up board or a kayak, you should never take off on someone on a shortboard. In fact, you should yield a few waves away to those on smaller vehicles. Rule two is similar to rule one: Know your place in the lineup. If you are a kook, start in an area where there are few surfers, and please don’t try to pretend like you know what you are doing, if you don’t. The Swami’s lineup, which is shared by those on boards of all sizes, is beginning to boil over with anger from those who are being dropped in on by arrogant or ignorant learners on giant boards.
Maybe what we need is a posting of some very basic rules about sharing waves. Maybe, as Swami’s local Dave Gladstone suggests, every graduate from every surf school needs to pass a test before being launched into the real world. Maybe each of us should sit back, get to know one another and unite against our real foes, the polluters. Maybe the local and the kook should each consider giving a wave away once in a while. After all, a local is only a kook who has been around a while and learned the rules.
Filed Under: Sea Notes