by Corky Carroll
I was going to save this one for closer to summer when more people are getting ready to learn to surf for the first time, but then this morning there was an incident in the water that inspired me to open up this discussion now, ask for feedback for anybody who might have an opinion on the subject, and then revisit it in the spring with an update. The much-debated subject of proper surf etiquette, or “rules of the reef” as we used to call it.
What happened this morning was a girl surfer took off in front of a guy surfer and the guy surfer pushed her off her board. Then the two of them got into an extremely spirited debate that went on for quite a while, and somehow got into the subject of “woman bashing.” If you were there seeing and hearing all this it was pretty entertaining, if you are of the mindset to see humor in things, or pretty disturbing in the case you take all this stuff more seriously. On the surface this looked pretty cut and dried, but there was more to it. The guy had been taking way more than his share of waves and had paddled around the girl a couple of times to “snake” the wave. So, the girl decided to drop in on him on purpose because, in her words, “he was being a butthead.” The guy saw her start to drop in and told her, “hey, I got this one.” Soooo, it was kinda one of those cloudy deals. Fact is both of them were being a tad over aggressive in an otherwise very mellow surfing scene. This kind of thing happens a lot in crowded spots and those that are known for aggressive surfers, not so much in easy spots and those known for having a lot of beginners, intermediates, longboarders, families, et. But, the fact that these run ins do happen there should be some sort of protocol for right of way. With that in mind I am going to state a few ideas that I hold to be true and open the floor for discussion.
There is a basic rule in surfing. The person closest to the curl has right of way. This is almost always the first person to stand up and/or the person deepest in the wave. There is a gray area where a person will turn and paddle for the wave and stand up first while someone deeper will take off a second or two later. That happens mostly when the person taking off in the front is on a bigger board and can catch the wave sooner. This is where it gets gray. The person deeper still has the right of way 90% of the time. It’s only when the person in the front had clearly staked that wave out and was going for it clearly before the person deeper, and the person deeper saw clearly that the other one was going for it before he or she decided to go for it. But, for the most part, it’s the rider in the back who has priority. To make this more unclear there are those surfers who are known to “snake” people all the time. They will see somebody all lined up to go and paddle as hard as they can to get on the deeper side of them and take off. There are a lot of snakes in surfing. That said, there is a lot to be said about just getting in better position. One common comment, normally from beginners or intermediates, is, “I was sitting there for an hour waiting for a wave and that guy was riding over and over.” Well, whose fault is that? The person getting in good position or the person sitting in one spot expecting that he would get the wave just because he had waited longer? This is a good question, and one that I am sure would be answered according to how experienced the surfer is who is answering it.
At this point I realize that it is going to take more than just one column to address this subject as I am already out of space and still have a lot to talk about. So, I will get back to this next week.
I would, however, like to put out one question for you. In the case of the guy pushing the girl off her board, do you feel that this relates at all to if this was a male or female? This is a really good question for a number of reasons, and I would love to hear opinions.