In this time of crowded lineups, frayed patience and every wannabe groupie teen fashion sucker buying a cheap pop-out and proclaiming themselves surfers, there’s rarely a time you paddle out when you don’t feel even a little friction.
The media is the first to jump on the hype, painting a morbid picture for fearful parents, evoking the age-old cliché of socially maladjusted surfers.
According to the headlines, you’re more likely to get coldcocked than barrelled and you face a scene worse than a bad day in Bogota if you dare paddle out at a notoriously localised break.
And sure – you know what, it happens. I’ve seen boards driven over in the parking lot, bloody noses staggering up the beach, altercations of all manner from fifth generation residents and weekend warrior blow-ins alike. Some people have just got bad bones and there’s nothing that will keep their anger or their ego in check.
But this isn’t another hype-pumping, fear-mongering, drama-building tale of caution. It’s not addressed to the masses, the passive many who, whether through inexperience, naivety or plain old bad luck, find themselves on the blunt end of a dickhead’s fist. No, this one goes out to those dickheads.
‘Surf rage’ is a paradox, an oxymoron of gargantuan proportions so contradictory in its hypocrisy that its enough to make you want to punch someone – how ironic.
Why do we go surfing? Is it to parade our peacock prowess, impress the crowds, score points, score chicks or clutch and scrabble our way up the social ladder in some other Prima Donna display?
Is it to save our lives, save our families, save our dignities from a thousand tormenting oppressors? Of course not. We go surfing because, in the most monochromatic simplicity, we love it.
So leave the shoulder-chips on the beach because, for you or the many you share the water with, there’s just no place and no need for them out in the water
We dream all for five long days of getting out there, washing the bleached, dry-cleaned stench of the week-long office from our skin, rinsing homework woes from our scholastically saturated minds, shed every hassle like the peeling skin from our sunburned shoulders and regain that Cheshire grin that only salinic stoke can provide.
So leave the shoulder-chips on the beach because, for you or the many you share the water with, there’s just no place and no need for them out in the water. If you’re surfing with aggression and anger, you’re missing the point and you’re selling yourself short.
Every form of surfing requires a certain fluidity. Surfers are increasingly turning to yoga to enhance their flexibility and agility in the surf, but the first and strongest manifestation of aggression is exactly the opposite.
A rager will immediately gain an unshakable rigidity, shoulders, legs, arms all becoming tensed in all their self-induced ire and four times out of five they will choke on their next wave, locked up and unable to land their feet or swing through a drop or bottom turn. The crowd laughs, mocking the karmic failure and spiraling him further down into a no-win battle with himself.
Bringing your attitude into the break will never end happily. It will render you incapable of enjoying the session, knot your brow, wipe the smile from your face faster than the grommet you spat at will wipe the floor with you on his next three waves.
He’s laughing now, having a ball and a bunch of good waves while you sit there steaming and destroying the very reason you paddled out.
Sharp words do have their time and place. If someone is continually dropping in, snaking, stealing waves and being greedy they need to be pulled in, but there are ways to do it that will shine you brightly as the hero of the lineup, rather than the over-fuelled unit with the bad attitude.
We’ve all become over-zealous in our wave count, we’ve all been the stoked-out grommet, fresh out of school and desperate to jag as many rides as humanly possible in the hour and a half mum’s patience will last before she calls you in to drive you home. Criticism can be constructive, and when the results pay off your smile just gets bigger.
Some surfers, especially beginners or the ego-trippers who think they’re one sponsorship deal off the World Tour but are actually fresh out of their floaties, are nothing less than a liability.
But whether it is lack of experience or an over-abundant ego blinding them, more often than not they just don’t know any better, so getting abusive is not the answer and will only make you look like the bad guy.
With beginners, they all need our guidance. We were all there once, paddling with the nose way up in the air, flailing on a board about twelve feet too short for us because ‘that’s what Kelly Slater rides’ and catching far more stink eyes than waves.
But we all also had some kind words, a gentle nudge, some tip-offs from a goodly sort that gave us a leg-up in our skills and took us to the next level.
Beginners don’t even know what a drop-in is, let alone possess the proficient abilities to perfectly execute one
Beginners don’t even know what a drop-in is, let alone possess the proficient abilities to perfectly execute one, so give them a friendly word of advice, tell them they’re on the wrong break for learning or even get off your board and push them into a couple.
They’ll love you for it, you’ll get a warm, fuzzy glow and if you play it right, you’ll push them onto the inside and they won’t be able to make it back out.
We all need educating, even when we should know better. All the shouting and screaming will only wreck the session for everyone. You can serve lessons, even harsh ones, in passive tones.
If some punk is stealing all the waves, rally the troops. Guaranteed if one person is being that much of a wave hog, you won’t be the only one to notice. So whisper around, make a fair comment, and if he or she doesn’t comply, block them, herd them in, get your newfound mates together and have a laugh at the greedy grub’s expense.
Nobody owns the ocean and, no matter who you are or how long you’ve lived somewhere, you can’t call the ‘Locals only’ card. The population is growing and surfing is following the same path.
It’s only going to get worse and if you try to fight it, you’ll only get jaded all the more rapidly. Learn to live with it or find another break, it’s that simple.
The Newquays and Snapper Rocks and Malibus of this world have their reputations for a good reason, but they are drastically overcrowded on a good swell. At these times, take a long, cool drink of rationality before you leave home.
It’s going to be packed – of course it is – web cams, surf forecasts and a million pictures in a thousand magazines have already seen to that. If you can bite your lip and deal with it, go ahead.
If not, head down the beach, drive in the opposite direction, aim for waves half as good and a quarter as crowded because, though you may not be scoring perfect Super Bank barrels, you’ll be scoring empty waves by the dozen, rather than one lucky scrap with a hundred other guys trying to steal it off you.
The enigma of surf rage will rage and rage on. Some people truly believe that theirs is the right to every wave, that they know best, that they own the break and that they were somehow born perfect surfers, never once in their lives to set a foot or fin wrong.
But they do it to themselves, they destroy their own enjoyment through their refusal to let go. Surf rage sucks, sure it does, but it isn’t going away.
The ridiculousness of it is that no one suffers more than the idiots getting punchy and, through drop-ins and learners, body boarders and clubbies, tourists and blow-ins, theirs is the biggest loss.
And so Mr or Ms Dickhead, take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, do you want a good session, emerging crusty and weary with a smile on your face and a new best friend who just caught his first wave, or do you want a chipped shoulder, an aneurysm from stress and a lineup laughing at your stupidity?
It’s your call.