Surfing is a sport with some interesting paradoxes. If you see a fellow surfer on the beach or parking lot, odds are that a friendly conversation will ensue whilst you swap fish stories about the epic waves that you have just had. At a party, finding out that someone you met for the first time is also a surfer will undoubtedly spark an immediate bond as you talk about the weather — not from lack of other conversation, but with enthusiasm and passion as you discuss what waves tomorrow may bring.
In the water behind the waves, though, is another story. It’s true that everyone is there for the same reason, to ride epic waves. But the fact of the matter is that everyone wants to ride the MOST epic wave — and they want to right now. This means that the rules of fairness usually go out the door — simply waiting your turn is not an option. In the surfing world, an unspoken social hierarchy exists — one that is sometimes spoken very loudly through fists. This hierarchy implies that certain people will get preferential treatment on the waves of their choosing.
This guide is for those visiting a new break for the first time — even the first dozen times. Following these guidelines will help you move up an echelon or two to help you get more waves sooner — and less black eyes.
Your First Paddle Out
If the particular break is very localized, meaning it’s the same crew time and time again, this can be intimidating. When you reach the lineup, don’t be overly chatty — just smile and wait for the next wave. The important thing here is to not get over-eager for getting a wave — being the newbie on the scene you’re basically entitled to whatever scraps are left over after everyone else has had a good wave. If you try to paddle into a wave on the first set, be ready to feel the wrath. I usually spend at least a half hour getting the scraps on the side, on waves too small for other’s interest or a wave that someone bailed on. Not only does it keep people from getting mad at you, but it is also a great way to learn the dynamics of that particular spot, as every spot has different nuances.
Waiting Your Turn
After some time on the side getting scraps and not getting in people’s way, the other surfers will hopefully notice that you have been patient and welcome you into the proper lineup. Yet not getting chased away is only half the battle. Now that you are in the prime spot, I would still wait until everyone has “cycled through” — meaning everyone’s riden a wave in. Not only is it respectful but you will also get a good idea of the best place to start paddling, and the best place to stand up. Sooner or later you will be in the right place at the right time, and your wave will come.
The First Wave
You can be certain that the other surfers will be critiquing you. If your arms are flailing, or heaven forbid you miss the wave or wipe out, you might as well paddle in with your tail between your legs and call it a day, because that’s the only wave that the rest of the crew will let you have. But if you get up with confidence, don’t try to show off, and do what everyone is there to do (have fun), then your status in the lineup will be accepted and you will be welcomed to the pack.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you to travel with ease, seeking out new spots everywhere you go, and hopefully making a few friends along the way — both in and out of the water.