A couple weeks ago, my younger brother organized an early morning surf session with friends and family for his 24th birthday. There were six of us who paddled out at Pleasure Point at first light, including my dad and a few friends from church who are just learning. The waves were small and gutless; mostly waist high with some chest high sets- perfect for beginners or for messing around on longboards. Everybody in our group was longboarding except for me, who was riding a 5’6” small-wave shortboard. We started off surfing 2nd peak, a softer wave that suits beginners better. I was having fun on the smaller 2nd peak waves, catching waves with family and friends; but after watching several sets roll through 1st peak that were faster and better quality waves, I couldn’t help but paddle away from my group in search of higher performance waves that were better suited for the board I was riding.
There was a small pack of about six surfers sitting at 1st peak; a few of the men in their 60’s and a few in their 30’s. While probably more experienced than the surfers at 2nd peak, they all seemed to be average and fairly mellow surfers- certainly not your stereotypical, intimidating and protective, local shredders. So when a set wave came through, and I was positioned closest to the peak with priority, I did not expect for anyone to commit Surfing’s cardinal sin of dropping in and cutting off the surfer already on the wave and closest to the peak. I was in disbelief when one of the older, 60+ year old surfers dropped in and cut me off. Thinking he may not have seen me, I hollered so that he knew I was behind him, but he remained on the wave as my friends looked on from 2nd peak, in shock that someone would pull one of the most disrespectful moves in surfing.
Insulted by the lack of etiquette, I remained composed and opted to take the high road, letting it slide and giving him the benefit of the glaring doubt. I paddled back out to 1st peak and waited with the same group of surfers, together with the man who had just cut me off. Another set approached, and as I paddled for one of the waves that I was in position for, I noticed that he was also paddling for the same wave. Sure enough, he cut me off a second time. This time, for the sake of maintaining any level of self-respect, I could not let this one slide. I sped up to him and pushed him off the wave, as I heard him mumble “F*** you!”. I continued to ride the rest of the wave to myself, and as I kicked out and turned to paddle back out to the peak, I could see my friends looking on with smiles on their faces, and the crusty old man sitting and waiting angrily for me to paddle back out so that he could confront me. Oh, I could not wait to hear what he had to say.
“I dropped in on you because you burned me earlier on one of my waves,” he claimed, which was simply not true. I responded that he must have confused me for someone else, as I do not do that to other surfers. The conversation then continued in circles with him telling me not to touch him again, and me telling him not to drop in on me again. My crew of family and friends kindly paddled over from 2nd peak to defend me if needed. But he noticed and paddled off to the others at 1st peak, whining about the incident to them.
When the next set wave came in, I caught it and was finally able to surf it alone and in peace. It was one of the best waves of the morning, and I did a couple nice turns. When I paddled back out, the etiquette-lacking surfer’s so-called “friends” complimented me on the wave, saying how nice of a wave it was. Eventually the man paddled in, not saying anything more to me after our confrontation.
A few themes are reinforced in my mind from this experience and some can be related outside of surfing. The main takeaway is to not let people push you around. Have some self-respect. Had I not said something, that old man may have walked all over me that day, cutting me off on every wave. How can one allow that level of continual disrespect, and look at oneself in the mirror every morning? I would rather speak up and get beat up, than to be weak and submissive to such disrespectful behavior.
My friends joked that I took a calculated risk in confronting the surfer at fault. There were six of us, and he was one older man with a couple other surfers who “questionably” had his back. I will admit that there are circumstances where, based on skill level, conditions, and the surfers who are out, one may not be in a good position to call out surfers who drop in. However, I have great respect for those who always yield to the surfer in position on the wave, no matter the skill level. You learn a lot about who a person is by the way the treat others in the lineup.
(photo is me at Little Windansea, a few peaks north of Pleasure Point)