How did you go? With the Christmas crowds that is?
I took my own advice and it worked a treat. My home break Noosa was pumping with people. So I fronted up each day with a reduced expectation … that I would catch just one wave and be happy. Then when I caught about ten waves, I went home ten times happier than I expected. For me, my surf happiness is relative to my expectations. And in this crowded age, I suggest you gear your expectations to the numbers.
As usual where I live, I saw some classic faux pases of surfing etiquette. Some people certainly know what they are doing when they break the rules. But some don’t. So here is a summary of surf etiquette as best as I can make sense of it.
1 – R.O.W. – Right of way is given to the inside position. This is determined around the area of the initial take off point. In this zone, whoever is closest to the more critical breaking part, has earned themselves right of way. In other words, right of way goes to the surfer in the steeper, more difficult part. At my local pointbreak, this is the surfer closest to the rocks. At a beachbreak, it’s the surfer closest to where the wave first peaks and breaks.
2 – First to feet – Surfers riding longer boards and SUPs who are out wide and get first onto the wave through paddling advantage generally do NOT have inside position. They are playing it safe when right of way really should go to the surfer in the steeper, riskier part. Once again, they might catch and claim priority with this tactic, but it wouldn’t cut it for them in Hawaii. They’d be on the beach nursing their wounds.
3 – Snaking – Surfers who have paddled up to the inside position while others are riding, then spun around and taken off, have not earned inside position. This is sneaky. It’s not waiting your turn, It’s called snaking. Whilst they might try to claim inside position on you, they would not claim it on a big Hawaiian local. So don’t fall for it.
4 – Paddle Wide – It’s so annoying when you’re riding a wave and people paddle directly in front of you. It’s bad manners, dangerous and lacking common sense. Would you walk in front of a car hurtling down the freeway? Ummm no. So paddle wide enough to allow the rider freedom of movement. If that’s not possible, then paddle behind their projected path. If that means you have to deal with the foam – sorry – that’s the rules.
5 – Be predictable – Relating to point 4 – If you can’t anticipate the approaching surfer’s line, then paddle the best direction you think and stick with it. Be predictable so they can work around you.
6 – Board control – Don’t take off in front of surfers unless you’re confident in dodging them. It’s not worth the risk of killing somebody. If you are at the learn to surf level and can’t control your board – either pick a clearer line, get off before you collide or go surf somewhere less crowded.
7 – Hold your board – Never let your board go with surfers behind you. Duck-dive, eskimo roll, grab the nose, hold the leash … anything. Just hang onto the thing. If you are not capable of that – go surf some place uncrowded until you are.
8 – Localism – Surfing is localized so get used to it. Right or wrong, locals will take more waves than visitors and you can’t fight the system. So show respect and tread carefully. Nine times out of ten, this approach will win you some level of respect back.
9 – Everybody hates wave hogs – Don’t be one. It could be the hot shortboarder, the stand up paddler, the cheeky grom or the salty old logger. Normally somebody out there has an advantage over others. It’s just that some choose to exercise that more than others. Good surfers have earned the right to catch the better waves because they have paid their dues. Just don’t catch all of them! Let some good ones go through to others. As painful as it might be, try saying “you take this one.” Otherwise you’ll be reviled by everybody out there.
10 – Keep your cool – Maintain some level of decorum. If you drop in – apologize. If you get into a dis-agreement with somebody – explain your position but don’t rant and rave in an upset or abusive manner. If somebody is hogging all the waves, politely explain to them that there are others out there as well. Don’t be a pussy. But don’t show anger and aggression. It just never works and only escalates. Not nice.
I think this covers 99% of situations. There will always be a few grey areas. There will always be some selfish ogres throwing their weight around. But hopefully this little explanation can help you make sense of the pecking order and know how you fit in.
And remember what Mahatma always said: “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Wouldn’t that be nice if everybody followed that advice?
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