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The Ten Worst Habits of Advanced Surfers

2012-12-31 12 min read Surfing marco

YouTube has some funny videos – even about surfing! The one every novice should watch, though, is titled, How Not To Be a Kook.

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The following video is embedded here:

It’s a short compendium of the things you need to watch out for when you start out. The rules of the trade, the etiquette in the water, the all-important right-of-way. The things listed in the video are very typical of novices and any surfer worth their salty hair will know better.

Still, watching the video got me thinking. There is a lot that advanced surfers do wrong. It’s not that it’s wrong because it’s not in the rule book, but because it’s terribly unsportsmanlike. So, here a list in ascending order of annoyance.

10. Crowding the Lady

Seriously, there are precious few female surfers, there is really no good reason to piss off the ones that brave the elements and the douchey atmosphere the bros create.

I see that all the time: one pretty lady gets wet and the testosterone-filled wetsuits swarm over like hummingbirds attracted to a juicy flower. From the point of view of the pretty lady, though, more like the sharks circling their prey.

Attention is probably good for everyone. Attention that is predictable and filled with guys that get in your way, though, is not so hot. Especially once the testosterone makes the bros try their best, which invariably means their most dangerous stunts. Keep it to a minimum!

9. Crossing on the Inside

So you found delicious waves on the inside. You think everybody else is overreaching and waiting for waves that aren’t coming, and you are having a field day catching the little ones.

Problem: you are in people’s line. They catch a wave, and you will be on someone’s straight path.

Tough luck, you say. And you would be right. After all, you aren’t going to catch a lot of waves that would be perfect for you, just because someone farther out tries his chance.

When you start moving parallel to the beach, though, people lose their ability to gauge your whereabouts. They will think you are to their right, for instance, but when they catch a left, you will suddenly be in their way. That leads to spectacular accidents, especially because you are unlikely to be far enough on the inside to give them a chance to realize what happened.

8. Locals Rule

Even the video I linked to above suggests that you let the locals have their pick of waves. As friendly as the advice is meant, it’s also stupid. Locals ride the break all the time, the noob that shows up suddenly is highly likely to be there only for a short period of time.

You should, as a newcomer, be careful at a new break. You don’t know how it breaks, what the waves are in relation to their normal self, and how your board is going to react to them. Be cautious.

As a local, though, you should never think that you are owed deference. The guy that is desperately trying to catch a wave may only have three hours until his flight is due out – it’s quite unreasonable to expect him to give up every decent wave just because you think he’s an interloper. Your intransigence is likely to cause conflict and accident, and you should be aware of it.

Maybe you have seen the drivers that go scarily slow on the freeway. People get behind them, wait to be able to pass, and on a congested freeway, get increasingly frustrated. Then they do something stupid. Sure, you could say it’s their fault – but we recognize that slow drivers contribute to accidents and fine them accordingly. Something that is bound to frustrate is bound to increase risk.

You, the local, are the slow driver in this scenario. Sure, you can use your superior knowledge of the break and of the other surfers to ride any wave you want, but you are only going to cause frustration. At some point, the poor guy that is seeing his chance of catching a wave slip through his fingers will snap and take whatever is available, no matter in whose way he gets. The inevitable accident is his fault, but you contributed to it. And you may be the one that gets hurt.

7. Picking a Pecking Order

Once, i was surfing Black’s on a decent day. As usual, I wasn’t catching much, because it appeared that no matter what I did, someone else had the priority or snaked a wave that would have been mine.

There was a young kid, maybe 12, that paddled up to the lineup. Nobody let him catch anything – for every wave that would have been his, ten guys jumped in and cut him off.

I can live with people that are mean to me. But I will not let you make a child’s life miserable. I waited for a particularly beautiful wave that we (he was just a couple of feet away from me) were in perfect position to catch and started paddling. Only that I paddled into this Black’s left to the right, cutting off everybody to my own right.

As the befuddled hordes decided to pull back, I yelled at the kid, “Go!!!” He didn’t hesitate and jumped on the wave – and did a fantastic job, much to my pleasure.

After that, he had his pick of waves. Which was really annoying. I realized that the guys in the lineup let those go they deem better surfers, and block those they deem worse surfers.

The problem? Aside from being unfair to the “worse” surfers, and aside from the perception not matching reality, blocking noobs has one gargantuan issue (illustrated so well by my story): for a noob, it’s much, much easier to get in your way than to ride a wave. I could have gone all day paddling into people’s way and I would have had a field day doing so. The behavior I encountered rewarded precisely that kind of thinking: You may be able to block me and steal my wave, but I can do so much more efficiently, because I am not missing out on the wonderful fun rides you are having.

6. Paddling Straight Back to the Peak

Frankly, this one surprises me, because it’s fairly common, but it’s one of the things I learned in my introductory course. An amazing number of really good surfers ride their wave and then paddle straight back to the peak. That absolutely asinine, because it automatically gets you in the way of every surfer that is coming after you. It’s particularly bad because you are going to be in the way of those guys that didn’t catch the wave you caught, probably because you were already on it.

Instead, just like they taught me on the DVD before I was even allowed to touch a board or look at a wave, paddle straight out and then, when you reach the level of the lineup, turn towards the break. It’s really not that hard.

5. The Trick on My Head

So you are a hotshot and are having fun on your wave. It’s petering out, though, and you want to perform a last trick. There is a guy right ahead of you and you want to show off. You perform the trick right in front of him, then fall off the board. Onto the guy’s head.

Following the advice given on the Surfing for Dummies 101 DVD, when I caught a wave and I am standing in waist-deep water, I wait until the set is over. That way everybody gets a chance to ride without me being in the way, and I get a chance to paddle out without duck diving under 10 foot monsters.

Unfortunately, that means I get my unfair share of idiots that do their trick on my head. it’s usually a front side snap that ends in whitewash, and way too often their board says hello in the rudest of ways: fins slicing into my feet or arms, or board nose rubbing my nose.

If you want to be cool, show off by showing you are responsible. A reasonable person would think you incompetent if you can’t put safety over bravado.

4. The Game of Chickens

Often, at beach breaks you’ll find a wave that has a low section in the middle, so that it’s a left and a right from opposite ends. Two surfers that catch the wave are bound for a collision course where the wave will break onto both of them, with predictable consequences.

Elementary physics teaches us that this kind of collision is much worse that a collision between a stationary (or slow) surfer and one that is riding a wave, because the combined speed is much higher.

Of course, when two guys are riding the same wave in opposite directions, they both think they have the right of way. They both do, of course, and the resolution of the matter is left to a game of chicken: which one of the two will give up first?

It’s really hard to fault one or the other party in this situation, but the danger is clear. Pull out before it gets scary, and do yourself a favor.

3. The Turn-And-Go

So you caught a wave – bravo! Then you turned around and paddled back to the break (uh-oh). As soon as you get to the lineup, a sweet wave is coming your way, so you turn around and paddle into it. You are such a stud!

The problem: while you were paddling back to the lineup (which is a bad idea because of item 6. above), there were a bunch of people that had to give up on a wave because you were straight in their path. You say they could have gone around you. But maybe they are not confident enough to do so, or too risk-averse to paddle into the path of someone whose behavior already marks them as inconsiderate.

When you then get to the lineup and free the resource you have been hogging for no reason at all, it’s the first moment for some to catch a wave since you caught your last wave. When you turn around and leap for the next wave, you take from them what they have been waiting for. They are going to be unhappy, especially because you are going to get into their way again on your paddle out.

To make matters worse, the turn-and-go has the severe problem that you typically don’t have enough time to assess the lineup. You won’t be able to tell whether someone else is going for the wave, since you have been paddling out and not following what’s going on far out there. You have a much higher risk of collision, a much higher risk of injury, and a much higher risk of pissing people off. Don’t do it.

2. The Arc of Thievery

A very common, and very annoying behavior: a wave is coming into a crowded lineup, and one surfer tries to get in position and paddles into an arc that ends at the position of a surfer that is trying to get into the wave. If you hadn’t moved, the wave would have been his. Since you paddled in the way, rule resolution is thrown out the window.

The problem with this approach is that your attempt is easily thwarted by pushing in your way. You can go for an arc that gets around someone, but not without that someone getting a chance at that very same maneuver, with the difference that his arc will cut off your arc.

What are you going to do when that happens? Cry a river? Strangle the other guy with your leash? If you have the right to paddle into other people’s way, they have the same right. It’s a stupid escalation of motion, and nobody wins. Ultimately, half the attempts at theft I see end up in a stalemate in which neither surfer gets the wave.

Unless the person in whose way you are riding doesn’t try to catch waves (in which case you definitely should try, but consider yourself at lower priority than the other guy) – keep out. The only thing you accomplish by trying the arc of thievery is to increase the probability of making it impossible for both to ride, and to cause bad blood to flow.

1. Child Pushing

The absolute worst behavior I have routinely seen coming from advanced and experienced surfers is when they push their kids into someone else’s way.

Granted, it’s usually the parents that are otherwise douchey in the lineup. You know, the kind the fakes ignorance when you confront them and in general assumes that other people are too cowardly to make a stink when they are wronged.

Not a good surfer by any stretch, I absolutely abhor douchey behavior in the lineup and will confront anyone that tries that. It leaves people baffled – partly because I am not better than them and hence shouldn’t be lecturing people on safety and sportsmanship, partly because I make mistakes all the time and hence shouldn’t be judging others, and partly because they just don’t know what to say when they are confronted.

The dad that teaches surfing to their kid and pushes them into someone else’s wave, though, is much worse than the douche that does so himself. You know, the dude that yells “Go! Go! Go!” to a poor kid, having the child paddle into a wave that someone else already took.

There are three main problems with that. First (and least important) the other surfer is going to be cut off by your child, which is bad by itself, and no better than if you had done it yourself. Second, you are training a child to be an inconsiderate douche. Third, and most importantly, your child risks a lot more from a collision with a man twice or three times his size than the man himself. By putting your child in someone else’s path, you pre-program an injury much more severe than the one you would have suffered on collision.