An important change is happening right now: I am finding myself yelling more and more often for people to get out of my way on a wave. Just yesterday, I had to do it five times.
Now, you may ask, what is the reason for this change? Are people getting ruder and snaking more waves? Not so, it turns out. People are just as nice or as rude as they ever were, but I am getting better at surfing.
It used to be that I was too afraid of my incompetence to actually jump on a wave that someone else was paddling for. I would start paddling, notice that someone else was getting into the wave, and give up. I was frustrated all day long – and while much of it was the unsportsmanlike behavior of certain surfers, a good chunk was also that I didn’t want to compete, because I didn’t know how to handle the competition.
I am feeling much more confident, nowadays. I have steered around other surfers successfully, avoided hits and bangs, and I have cut out of a wave when someone snaked me badly. I also got faster on the face, estimating the correct speed and angle better, and catching a better spot for take-off.
The result: I reliably catch waves, some of the time ride them to completion, and I am now better than the majority of people in low-brow breaks of Pacific Beach and Scripps/Shores (still can’t touch the gods of Black’s though).
I think my frustration got really bad a few weeks ago, when my own surf buddy snaked me. I yelled at him, and he was very ungracious (giving the standard snaker lines, “I didn’t see you,” and “We were far apart anyways”). Just after he snaked (didn’t drop in, though, as we were more or less on parallel paths), another guy did the same. I was furious and sat out the remainder of the session.
I learned. Now I don’t take it lying down any more and shout out when I am planning to take a wave and someone else makes as much as an attempt to paddle in. It works: the yelling scares the snaker, who typically knows he didn’t check who was there, and had reason to assume someone else was on that wave.
Of course, to enter the pantheon of decent surfers, I will have to master two more skills: one technical, one social. The technical skill consists in surfing around someone snaking. Kelly Slater does that all the time, and he’s really fun to watch when he does that. He’ll just choose a path up or downwave from the snaker and wave. A particularly bad snaker might get his board overturned, which is really dangerous, but nothing a wave might not have done on its own.
The social skill consists in dialing down the yelling. A simple whistle suffices, if the other guy is a decent surfer. You need the yell only for kooks (a term really reserved for people that get into the water without knowledge or application of surfing rules, which is valid for beginners and advanced surfers alike).
The day, on the other hand, was marvelous. Waves in the 4-5 range everywhere, all directions, clean conditions, just a hint of an onshore wind. Sunny and clear. It was a nightmare to find a parking spot, already, and it’s just June. Sigh!