When I was asked to write a surf column for this issue, I immediately started fearing for my safety.
I thought about the verbal (and possibly physical) abuse I could take from fellow surfers for writing anything that portrayed surfing in a positive enough light to get more people interested in the sport. As Prof. Sweeney would tell you in his Geography of Surfing class, waves are a commodity: it’s all about scale.
Most surfers know the blissful rush that accompanies a ride, the satisfaction of a big whack off the top, the feeling of being home in the strangely muted roar of a barrel. Best of all, a surfer knows the joy that comes with leaving the water after a good sesh as you strip off your wetsuit (unless you’re lucky enough to be in tropical waters), blow giant salty snot loads out your shnoz and take a moment to reflect on your waves, the water and the sun.
When your mind is in the right place, surfing provides exercise and spiritual orgasm at the same time. I can remember the best five barrels of my life. They also happen to rank among some of the best moments of my life.
But it can be disappointing when you get to your feet on a decent wave and barely hint at pumping down the line—only to pull off the wave a moment later as some kook launches his polka-dotted 7’9″ hybrid twin fin straight at your dome with face-smashing, skin-splitting, tooth-knocking force. (“Oh sorry brah, was I in your way? Why were you going right? I totally thought Rincon was a left…”)
So here’s my disclaimer: If you want to be a surfer, you’ve got to earn it. And that means doing your homework. Although it may look easy at times, surfing is no joke. The ocean is no joke. The animals in the ocean are no joke (I still have problems with the ‘S’ word). Big waves are no joke. Sharp fiberglass fins and pointed epoxy noses are no joke. Rip tides are no joke. Spitting barrels over dry coral reef are no joke. Necrotizing fasciitis (from coral infections) is no joke. If you want to be a surfer, you’ve got to act as a beginner of any craft or sport would: cautiously at first, and always respectful.
Read Shaun Thompson’s The Surfer’s Code. He’s the world’s first professional surfer and he still shreds a stick better than you’ll ever be able to (locally to boot!). Memorize it. Pay attention to every rule, especially the following: “I will never turn my back on the ocean.” Surfers far better than you or me (R.I.P. Mark Foo, Malik Joyeux) have lost their lives to the ocean.
It may take some time, but once you’ve found your footing on your board, come to understand the right of way rules in a crowd and learned to pick out the right times of day to go for a surf, you’ve probably also learned how to get your ass cussed out viciously by a local and how to avoid drowning as you simultaneously drink gallons of salt water through your nose and tumble around underwater like a Mexican jumping bean. Or at least you should have.
If you are attempting to carry on surfing as a life passion, you are probably going to experience a shit-ton more dangerous, adrenaline-spiking situations in the water. And you’re probably also going to spend a gazillion hours a day fantasizing about warm water, moderate off-shore winds and empty lineups. Actually, you’re also going to spend thousands of dollars on surfboards, wetsuits, gas, plane tickets, hostels, taxis, hospitals, taco stands and surf videos in your quest for the ultimate ride, the perfect session, the hidden spot you’ve traveled the world to find.
So all you wannabes, stop your itching to be able to say “gnarly” in casual conversation. The G bomb is reserved for those who have experienced the gnarly. Your day will come. Until then, I will just do my part to follow Thompson’s ninth rule: I will pass on my stoke to a non-surfer.
Daily Nexus surf columnist Elliott Rosenfeld is shocked by how many masturbation innuendos exist in surf slang.