In light of recent events, I have come to realize that there are a plethora of different surfing characters in this big old world. Everything from total beginners, laid-back hippies to machismos and super agro meth heads. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to where and when they paddle out and it seems there is nothing anyone can do about it. Simply by getting in the water at any known break, you are accepting this fact. So, here I am trying to make sense of it all. Are there no longer rules of surfing?
I think the biggest part contribution to the current mess surfing is in is: the Gazillion dollar industry that tells everyone they CAN be the next Kelly Slater. I have had the opportunity to surf with him on three different occasions around world and can say he is a standup guy and a virtuoso. I can tell you that NO ONE is going to be the next Kelly Slater. What I can also tell you is that this media drive has altered the way people surf and that the ocean has pretty much become a free for all this millennia. What has primarily been lost are the core elements of surf etiquette and common sense that keeps things together. Here are ten simple, fundamental, rules of surfing, we can all agree on and safeguard to ensure that we can still have a great time out there doing what we all love to do.
Entitlement & first position: No one is entitled. Not even Kelly. Say that to yourself before you paddle out. Don’t paddle straight to first position unless you are the first in the water.
Communicate: About half of all the bullshit in the water could be prevented with calm and clear communication. Make a call and make it loud. Ask the person who looks too deep if they are going for it, before you turn and burn. “Right,” “Left,” “You going?” “Going” “No, you go!”. When someone is out of line or out of their element, tell them firmly but not attackingly. When people are attacked they become defensive and abandon logic. When it’s your fault, an apology and a smile can go a long way.
Etiquette: Don’t Drop-In without permission. Don’t backdrop someone already riding a wave. Don’t snake. Don’t call someone off when you can’t make it, and don’t donkey paddle or collapse sections. Again, if you do mess up, and everyone does once and a while, apologize, sincerely, even if it means a ding to your ego. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the penalty box for a few sets.
Wait your turn: Paddle to the shoulder. Tell people when they got a nice wave. It feels good and will remind them to wait their turn for another. Move closer only after a set or two has passed. Likewise, if it is your turn and you blow it, back to the end of the line.
Safety & common sense: Every surfer has different abilities and different equipment. If you can’t surf the peak, don’t be there. If you can’t get safely out of the way of the surfers who are surfing the peak, find another break. No wave breaking over five foot is a “beginner wave.” All you are doing is being a safety hazard to yourself and others in the water. No one wants that. Oh, also, never ever throw your board near others, always manage your equipment correctly. You don’t want your surfboard turning into a weapon of destruction
Priority & surf right of way: Person closest to the peak or first on their feet has priority. The Surfer riding a wave has right of way, so get out of the way. Don’t be a deer in headlights. Move! You can’t always head to the green section, even if it means you have to take the white water on the head. When in doubt, back to shore. Remember it’s not a competition. It is the paddlers job to get out of the way of the surfer, take the white water on the head rather than trying to outrun them, even though the wave is gonna rock you a little, it will be much better than a collision. You don’t need to hospitalize someone over a wave.
Crowds: Recognize when a crowd is too much for a break to handle and consider waiting to paddle out or checking another spot instead of adding to the congestion. You may find an empty peak just up the beach. Forget the herd mentality.
Frustration: It’s caustic. If you are having an off day take a breath, smile at the surfers getting waves and maybe even tell them that they are riding well. It’s not their fault you aren’t having a good time. This session may get better, sometimes it only takes one ride, or there will be another surf session for you in the near future. If you are on a longboard at a pitchy shortboard wave, don’t get pissy, it’s the wrong wave for your equipment. If you are at soft longboard style wave, riding a little board, and others are getting in way before you, don’t get pissy, it’s the wrong wave for your equipment. Take it all in, you are still surfing in the ocean and that’s a pretty amazing thing to do.
Respect the locals & the locals should respect you: If a beach has true locals, recognize who they are and how they surf. They will probably be the ones getting most of the waves. They do this because they know the wave better than anyone else. They do this because THEY follow these rules. If YOU follow the rules the locals will most likely see that and respect you. Thus you will be fine and enjoy your session. The one benefit of localism is there is enforcement of these universal rules as opposed to chaos. If you still get shit for being out, what have you done wrong? If the answer truly is nothing, maybe it’s time for the locals to check themselves. It is the responsibility of the locals or the proficient surfers in the water to regulate with firm but not excessive clarity. This seems like it can be intimidating, but this system works. Everyone respecting each other is the best way to deal with the ever growing crowds.
Please follow the rules of surfing. Smile & have fun: Even the worst day of surfing is better than a day without. Billions of the humans wish they could do what you are doing. Be patient and enjoy the ocean.