Surfers generally don’t have very many reasons to be bitter. We have a hobby that simultaneously gives us a tremendous exercise that would give even the most hardened yoga master a deep burn, and it just so happens to be much more fun than stretching and holding poses in a 110-degree room. You may take this kind of healthy physical activity for granted, but go to the gym sometime and watch the meatheads grunt as they bench press mountains of weights, snorting lines of protein powder in between each set, and then you will get some perspective.
Surfing can get the blood pumping like nothing else on this giant mossy rock, and we subconsciously start to crave that feeling that comes from riding a wave. When you are surfing good waves, the processes taking place in your brain give you the feelings of excitement, pleasure and occasionally fear. When your brain hasn’t released those chemicals in a while, things start to, for lack of a better word, suck. I’m not saying that when you buy a surfboard you might as well be starting a crack habit, but similarly, I’m sure many surfers would start taking trips to the pawnshop with their friends’ flatscreens if you could buy good barrels. When the surf is bad for too long we just feel generally dull and irritated, skulking around like the living dead, wishing we had some kind of purpose other than simply sustaining life through food and water until we see the golden glimmer of waves on the horizon. This general malaise and malcontent that accompanies flat spells is why I’m not surprised to read about an assault on a seaside surfer by a sponger a little over a week ago.
Shocking as it may be, spongers are not the harmless little shiny buoys that they seem to be. Although they are barely ranked above kids with water wings in regard to their skill and understanding of the ocean, they can apparently throw a mean right hook from time to time. So, how this occurred was the sponger blocked the surfer on a knee high wave, the surfer called him a kook and then the sponger proceeded to leap off of his craft with the vehement fury of a man possessed and struck the surfer twice on the top of the head and once on the side.
This sort of thing is one of the worst symptoms of our addiction. Many people plus no waves is an equation that doesn’t usually produce anything good, and this is an example of what happens when we are neck deep in a flat spell and struggling to keep our head above water. Anyone who has been surfing long enough knows this scene all too well.
Last year I surfed Sandspit on a less than epic day, as it had been head high and rifling the day prior, but we were now receiving the chest high leftovers, the pinnacle long past. I waited patiently for a good wave, and when I was face to face with one I turned and paddled. I had noticed a vexingly aggressive Brazilian sponger dropping in behind me, but I was already in it and not willing to reconsider. I rode the glassy beauty all the way into the beach, getting my jollies along the way. When I got to the beach I looked out and saw the Brazilian cursing and splashing at some invisible man, and then when he caught my glance, he gave me what was perhaps the most impressively deliberate show of a middle finger that I had ever seen. He leaned into it and held his finger high and proud. I could almost picture a referee holding it up for him like a triumphant boxer in his moment of glory.
This exhibition of testosterone was not lost on me, but I’m not usually one to look for fights, especially with Brazilians. So I smiled and waved, pretending to be ignorant as to the meaning of a middle finger and pretending like I didn’t know I just completely hijacked his best wave thus far. We didn’t end up fighting, but I knew that if I kept anything other than the stupid blank grin on my face that I would soon be another number in the statistic of Brazilian Jujitsu-related deaths in Southern California.
Sometimes surfing gets a little ugly, but the fact is that we bring the same amount of maturity to the ocean that 5-year-olds bring to the sandbox if we physically beat each other over waves. I’m not saying that you need to sit back and let someone snake you on a mean one, but if someone does, uncoil the fist you plan on hurling at them and stick out that mighty middle finger. They will probably get the point, especially if you’re Brazilian.