The Current State of Surfing

September 1, 2015

The Current State of Surfing



It was the kind of night that Southern California dreams are made of. Some friends of mine had miraculously secured a campsite at Leo Carillo the same weekend a modest swell was set to come through. On top of that, it was a full moon, so we would be able to paddle out at 10 PM, just as the street parking closed and all the day-trippers would have to make the hour-long trip back home, wishing they could have stayed longer. Yes, all was set for the perfect end to summer...that is, until, about 30 other surfers who must have had the same genius idea we did decided to paddle out.
"Since when did night surfing become day surfing?!" one guy lamented out loud, verbalizing the obvious disappointment we all felt. To make matters worse, about a third of the people on the water were some of the most obnoxious surfers I had ever encountered. I had one guy literally run into me as I was dropping in, and then on the next wave drop in right in front of me. When I called him out on it, claiming the inside position, his response was an uncaring (or possibly oblivious), "Dude...."
Despite the circumstances, I managed to catch a hand full of nice waves, though my friends were not so lucky. The next day, however, this time with the sun shining on a rare warm-enough-to-surf-without-a-wetsuit day, it was more of the same. Less obnoxious (thank the Lord), but as I paddled to wait my turn in the lineup, I noticed that the same five people were catching every wave. I quickly learned that there was no such thing as a lineup at this spot, and if you wanted to surf, you had to head straight to the deep inside to have the supposed right of way; and this only worked if no one else decided to drop in in front of you, or if you could swing in under them before they got too far. It was chaos, a zoo, one of the least respectful surf environments I've ever been in.
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Full moon at Leo Carillo
Maybe I'm being a little over dramatic (I did manage to catch some great waves), but at the end of the day I couldn't help but feel disheartened. I always thought there were rules to surfing, etiquette and respect to keep peace on the water as we try to all enjoy the same thing. Courtesies such as the inside man gets the wave and taking turns through the lineup have governed my surfing for years. But if you check out any Malibu surf camera on any given day, I guarantee you will see one surfer drop in on another in the first three minutes. It seems the culture of many Southern California spots has become, "Do what it takes to surf a wave, regardless of who is on it already, if you have the right of way, or whether or not you're being a dick."
It's not like that everywhere. And maybe that's just the way surfing has to be (after all, Hawaii has some of the best waves but also the worse localization). But competing for a little piece of water that's not even yours to begin with just seems very unlike the spirit of surfing -- the camaraderie, the peace, the pursuit. Call me an idealist, but I think surfers can be better to each other out on the water, even at a crowded spot, just as we can be good towards each other as we compete on land and in life.
Vying for the same goal of scoring an excellent wave does not have to mean drowning the guy next to you just to do it, which is what it may turn to if we don't realize that the waves we're riding have nothing to do with us outside of our shared desire for them. We had no part in creating them, no say in shaping the ocean floor that caused them, and in no way can claim them as our own. And so why do we act that way as we ride them?
I say, with respect to each other, the ocean and our shared love of surfing, let's take some advice from Bill and Ted and be excellent to each other. It might just make our surfing lives better and our beaches a little more enjoyable.

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