An article in a local newspaper recently highlighted an age old incident of surf rage, something that seems to be on the increase. What’s causing all this aggro attitude in the water? Does it boil down to so called “tribalism”, locals who think they own a spot and lay claim to it above everyone else? Is it overcrowding due to the growing popularity of the sport? Or are we simply becoming a selfish, goal driven, generation of greedy humans?
Surfing is a sport that has always had a chilled, laid back vibe about it that was associated with the hippy set of the 70s, but which developed into a more mainstream, popular sport when big brand names started sponsoring major events. Brand “surfing” mushroomed from a dope smoking cult like activity into the mainstream media, with clothing lines, drinks, movies, surf schools and big money contests. No more free surfing, it’s about the contest, the money, and if you’re not a pro, then you wanna be and you want as many waves as possible to practice the moves the pros do.
A lot like any other sport I guess. The age of professionalism. It’s not a bad thing. After all if you want athletes to excel, entertain us and survive, then pay them. Except as seen with so many other things, money brings out Mr Nasty. Look no further than “Lance-I’ve never tested positive-Armstrong”, or “Hansie-the-devil-made-me-do-it-Cronje”. So what does that have to do with the rest of us mere non-pro mortals? Well the way I see it it’s like this. With all the social media thrown in our faces all the time, we strive to be like our heroes. Flash, Brash and loaded with cash mostly. So we set our own goals to be faster, fitter, richer and flashier than the rest. We compete with everything. Instagram and Tweet your hot date, your retro kit, your bling car, your time trial result against the grannies at the gym pool and the size of the waves at your secret spot. Which is no longer a secret as its been tweeted a million times and surfer dude from Dusseldorf down there with the Iphone is doing a live crossing to the world of geek surfers. Its country lane driving vs Jozi rush hour traffic.
Most of us understand the unwritten laws that apply on a surf break, although sometimes things don’t always work out that way. It’s like most things in life. Shit happens, people make mistakes, sometimes knowingly, other times not. It’s all about how you handle these things. In SA, a country with a high road accident and death toll rate, where tolerance is forgotten and he who has the biggest / fastest vehicle is king, there have been many incidents of road rage, some have left people paralyzed or even dead. Many have caused accidents. Tolerance is long forgotten. The world is indeed going off it’s head when one surfer tries to strangle another in the water or someone in a 4×4 packed with kids, pushes you off the road.After spending some time traveling in SE Asia where population numbers are tenfold and having risked my own life riding a motorbike around the backroads of N. Vietnam and the crazed city streets of Hanoi, It has taught me a patience and tolerance that I probably would never had. You learn that you too can make mistakes. After 3 weeks I once happily cruised up a busy one way at night in a crowded Hanoi city centre, hopelessly lost. Nobody batted an eyelid. I only realized my mistake after 200ms. Nobody screamed or shouted abuse, let alone threaten to kill me or push me off the road. Everyone hoots. It’s normal. It’s a warning that they are behind, in front or next to you, passing or about to turn in front of you. Here, if you dare hoot, whether at a pedestrian about to be skittled, or a car turning in front without indicating, you’re sure to get the middle finger at least, probably followed by a string of verbal abuse. “Don’t you know WTF you are doing? Can’t you see what I’m doing? Who the hell do you think you are? Don’t you know who I am? Can’t you see my car is better than yours therefore I must be more important and clearly have a busier schedule so get out of my frikking way asshole, c*&%, f0@&!%g doos. And your mother shagged my dog and look at you now.” This all said whilst turning beetroot red and frothing at the mouth. It’s the same with cyclists and cars. And I know everyone is going to scream – it’s the F…… Taxis! Really? They are surely outnumbered by the amount of blonde ambition, nail varnished, botox house executives driving polished 4×4’s that never will see a dirt road, while booking lunch on her mobile with Mabel before picking up the kids. They command 2 lanes. And 2 parking bays. And indicators were an optional extra that hubby forgot to order. “I’m busy honey, late for lunch, now scoot along off the road.” Cyclists are hardly an innocent bunch either. It’s common to see the neon, lycra clad brigade, riding 2, 3 or 4 abreast along a winding coastal road. “Its the Argus Cycle tour in a month and we need to train. Gonna knock 30 seconds off last year.” Really? Doos. Cycle in a single file or I’ll knock 30 years off your life. Now move over I need to get to my surf break before work. Having had my first real surf experience at the end of a busy season in Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka, I consider myself to be beyond fortunate. I had a great time. There were many other tourists at varying levels of competence, I was a newby (still am and will be for a long time!) and I paddled for everything that looked like a wave or a foamie. People dropped in on me, I dropped in on others, but we were all having a great time. Besides dodging the other surfers, there are a few dozen fishing boats cruising in and out from the shore as well. There were many locals around, mostly young guys who teach surfing or fish for a living. They were eager to make the most of the end of the season waves. And probably more than tired of a few non locals getting in the way. Except the smiles could not have been bigger. I even got a helpful tip every once in a while. When I did unintentianlly drop in, the dude just cruised past me as I flailed to get out of the way. He paddles up to me after, I was expecting a harsh verbal attack, but all I got was “Hey lady – that was a good wave – next time paddle harder, come I show you”.
It’s all in their attitude to most things, surfing and life.
Along with the overcrowding, we have become a stressed society obsessed with ME. It’s about how much I can do, to earn as much as I can, to pay for as much as I want, whenever I want it. It’s more evident over the holidays, when sleepy seaside towns are crowded with flashy cars, bearing whinging wives, screaming kids, muscle laden drivers, nannies and all the toys. Its your 3 weeks to flash your cash, strut your stuff and enjoy life to the max. Because you CAN and when it’s done it’s back to your hectic grind of work work work, the job, the muscles, the bike, the board and whatever else. The holiday makers want it all as it’s their precious time off and the locals want it all as it’s “theirs” anyway.
In Sri Lanka, the pace is slower, the vibe is more mellow, the people are friendlier, and they welcome non locals. Maybe in time to come when it gets busier and the locals become more “western” in their habits it will change. I hope not.
So, the nature, colour and vibe of surfing along with everything else in life is changing. It’s not only the hardcore dudes that have access anymore. It’s open to all of us, even us 40 something learner surfers. Embrace it. Like you were stoked when you first got up on a wave or had your first barrel ride. People that share the ocean whether it be surfing, sailing or paddling have always kept an eye open for each other. Don’t let that drown. So you miss on a few more waves, share the feeling dudes!