Surfers are an interesting lot. Exhibiting extreme camaraderie one moment yet degenerating into grade school bullying the next, in my 25 years of surfing I’ve seen just about everything. From Baja California to Northern Oregon to Hawaii and Japan, I’ve surfed my fair share of breaks and have witnessed the gamut in regards to behavior.
The lineup is an equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless. The lineup gives no credit if you’re rich. The lineup requires that you follow the rules, and even when you do, it is often not enough to avoid heckling, snakes, and sometimes physical confrontation. Even the most public breaks with the easiest access are rife with localism. Someone grew up at that very public beach, and in the collective mind of the locals, that equals entitlement.
I’ve seen kids younger than twelve tugging the leashes of other surfers paddling for a wave. I’ve watched on as a 40 year-old insurance salesman exchanged words and eventually took awkward swings at another who snaked his ride. I even witnessed pro Sunny Garcia physically threaten another surfer in a sparse lineup off Huntington Pier for not getting out of his way fast enough in the impact zone. What is it? What causes this degeneration? What makes certain surfers turn into complete assholes when their feet touch the water?
At most breaks it’s best to stay out of the local’s way—and don’t worry, you’ll know them. They’ll chat it up amongst themselves and blatantly ignore an outsider’s attempt to converse. They’ll whoop it up for their buddies as they take off on a peeling right yet heckle an outsider who grabs the wave of the day. Surfers place ownership on a fleeting commodity Mother Nature creates in an attempt to hoard it like so many gold-stealing trolls.
It is an aspect of the lifestyle we need not condone. Yet in order to feel the stoke, in order to possess the enlightenment and experience the high that only surfing can provide, we must accept and deal with this behavior. Surfers are not supportive of newbies trying to make their way into the fold. Surfers will take advantage another’s lack of talent to get a wave. Some of us will propagate the more puerile aspects of the culture while others may try to discourage or at least ignore it. However you deal, this behavior is a part of what we are.
In the end it’s all about you and the wave. And perhaps that’s what creates this behavior—oneness with the wave develops into a selfishness that sometimes rears an ugly head. Like a heroin addict that rips off his own mom to feed a habit, an otherwise decently behaving person transforms in the worst of ways to get that cleanline fix.
No matter how you feel about localism and the culture of the lineup, it is what it is and it’s not likely to change. Our culture is a unique one indeed, and regardless of those aspects you or I dislike, there’s a reason we keep coming back to the water. Yes, surfers are an interesting lot.