It was summer.
It was holidays.
It was busy.
Everyone was competing for waves. Everyone was bitching and moaning about tourists. But one guy in particular, who clearly thought himself quite important and some kind of general surf-break ‘authority’, was surfing with a very particular brand of heroic arrogance, sitting with his chest puffed out and loudly bitching and moaning and carrying on and swearing at people, so that everyone around him could hear how much he hated “this”. He was a total downer. I couldn’t help myself and had to ask,
Me: “What are you taking about? What’s ‘this’?
Him: “All these people in the water! It’s shit.”
Me: “People? You hate people?”
Him: “Ohh, well, you know, when it’s busy like this. I hate it.”
Me: “Well, it’s Saturday morning at Wategos, so what did you expect?”
His friend laughed and shook his head conspiratorially with me as I paddled away...
Busy surf breaks are a reality where I’m from. Even with only the locals a break can seem crowded on most days, but throw a mid-summer holiday crew into the mix and what you’ve got is an instant party! Well, maybe not a party exactly, but some kind of major gathering of feuding people. Well, maybe not that either, maybe it’s just a surf break! But whatever it is, it really is a funny little dynamic. There are insults and threats being thrown about as well as flirtation and laughter. I’ve heard the older locals bitching in the mornings about the amount of young people in the water (“Don’t worry mate. The school bell will ring soon and they’ll clear out! Ho ho ho. Guffaw, guffaw”), I’ve heard young crew carping on at the older guys (“Fucking old man longboarders”), I’ve heard tourists banging on about the locals (“They’re so aggro”). I’ve even thrown about some 'screw-you' comment myself! In fact, I think it’s fair to say that none of us are angels when it comes to surf-break etiquette.
Waves and their apparent scarcity are the cause for all sorts of disputes, insults and small kindnesses in the water. And I love it. Not always, but if I want to be on my own, or just with my friends, then there are a host of options to choose from. So if I take myself into a break that’s busy and popular and heavily trafficked, then that’s my choice and I have to take it on. It doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated, but in the end I try to reflect in my behaviour that it was my choice.
And anyway, I’m a bit of a voyeur. I love "this". I love watching how other people surf, especially in a crowd. I love seeing who gives waves away and who weaves through the beginners and who insists on taking everything they can and who is trying something different and who is flirting with who, and who’s surfing with friends, or alone, and what boards they’re riding and how…
The other day, a friend and I were discussing how sometimes surfing isn’t at all about waves. Sometimes it’s about being in the water and cruising and hanging and spending time with people and trying different things and not asserting yourself. Sometimes it’s about being in a crowd. Sometimes its about sharing.
Whatever it is, it’s not rocket science.
Then again, that all goes out the window when I can’t get a table at my favourite cafe…