Professional Big Wave Surfer
Photo:  Camila Neves

“It baffles me that anyone can forget that they are indeed blessed to have the opportunity to play in the ocean.” Photo: Camila Neves

The Inertia

I have heard a lot of things in the water from frustrated surfers:

“Beat it, kook.”
“I grew up here and surf here every day, and I’ve never seen you.”
“Go back to where you came from.”
“It’s not fun surfing here anymore.  Things used to be so much better back in the day.”
“I can’t believe how crowded it is.  Where do all these people come from?” 

These are among the common comments I have overheard regularly from surfers venting their frustration at the fact that surfing is indeed very popular, and the lineups today are crowded with folks of all skill levels.

It is true that today’s broad surfing community possesses variable – and sometimes questionable – understanding of surfing etiquette. Add in a few individuals suffering from a sense of entitlement and a few others who simply demonstrate a lack of common courtesy or respect for their fellow enthusiasts, and we have a recipe for a potential bummer of a surf session.

What I have witnessed in the water with greater frequency really bothers me.  I am not talking about the growing crowds, new faces in the line-up, or the great influx of less experienced surfers.  I’m talking about the tendency of those who seem to have forgotten the very “stoke” of what surfing is all about and have adopted a posture of negativity when they enter the surf zone.

The act of riding waves, in any fashion, regardless of skill or experience is, without question, one of the most exhilarating activities on the planet. It is a celebration of life and energy and creates a profound sense of joy. It baffles me that anyone can forget that they are indeed blessed to have the opportunity to play in the ocean, and will choose to spoil not only their own joy but the joy of others with fits of negativity and selfishness.

I was born and raised in San Clemente, and I have had the great fortune to call its beaches home for 31 years.  I fully understand the frustration a crowded line-up can invoke, but I have found I can continue to have fun in a crowd without letting it affect my outlook or attitude.  It’s a conscious choice. Arrogance, hostility and intimidation are conscious choices as well, but they definitely drain joy from any life experience.

With that in mind, here are a few modest thoughts that perhaps we all should consider as we share the limited quantity of waves that come our way.

1. Surfing is one of the purest forms of fun in the world. You know this… it is likely this very reason that you fell in love with the activity in the first place. Be stoked for others that have found that happiness as well.

2. At one point we were all beginners. It’s very likely that we created some frustration to a more experienced surfer. Rather than lashing out for someone’s perceived wrongdoing or error in judgment, offer some friendly advice as to how they can improve and not make the same mistake in the future.  It’s really OK to talk and be friendly in the water.

3. Ditch the false sense of entitlement. Stop thinking that you are better or more deserving because you were born here or you are really competent. It doesn’t matter where you come from or how well you surf. The ocean and its resources are for everyone to enjoy.

4. How much fun you have is up to you. Even on the most crowded of days, the amount of joy you feel is entirely up to you.   If you choose to focus on the negative, that is exactly how you are going to feel.

5. Fill yourself and your session up with gratitude.  Remember how lucky you are to be in the water and call yourself a surfer. There are many people in this world that would give anything to trade places and experience the joy you know.

6. Surfing is more than the ride.  Savor every aspect and sensation.  Just being on the ocean is magic.  It really isn’t a competition either. Share! Give! Talk! Smile!

7. Have patience. Being patient with and showing respect to everyone in the water (especially the new faces) will make your day better. And in turn, they will pass that on, making everyone’s day better.

8. Everyone’s surfing ability varies.  But down at the roots, our desire is one and the same. We are in the ocean to experience the tremendous joy and sense of exhilaration that surfing brings us.

9. There will always be more waves. Remember, there is always another day and another swell… and maybe even some really fun waves at a spot less crowded, if you know where to look.

  • Chuck Allison

    “If your not having fun, get out of the water”. Surfing is playing in the water…’s supposed to be fun…..

  • “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.” Granted, it’s more fun to surf better… regardless, try to share the stoke. People remember faces in the lineup, so make friends, not enemies. Even if you’ve had negative interactions with someone in past sessions, try to go out of your way to bury the hatchet. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to clear the air.

  • Johnny Bee

    Very wise tips! I’ll had another one, if I may: “Avoid the crowd whenever you can”. Because, no matter how friendly you are or everyone is, if there’s only one asshole in the water it ruins a session. And there’s at least one asshole in every sizable crowd.

  • Chuck Allison

    #10. Paddle out knowing that most if them will be gone after Labor Day ……..

  • BOBOMO16325353

    All very nice ideas. Easy to say when your job is to surf and you aren’t limited only a few hours a week to catch a decent wave… let the internet scorn of my comment begin!

    • Johnny Bee

      I work 10 hours a day, I have 2 small kids at home and I don’t get to surf as much as I would like to. Still, I don’t think it gives me the right to be a bully in the water.

    • Michelle DuBois

      You are not the only person who has limited time to do what they enjoy. Try going out early in the mornings when less folks are likely to be out, or adjust your schedule to make time for catching waves and less time for work. Or . . . find a job that allows you more time for things you enjoy. YOUR LIMITED TIME is no reason to be mean or nasty to anyone. YOUR LIMITED TIME IS YOUR PROBLEM!!!!! Find a way to solve it, rather than being pushy, mean and/or nasty to someone else who is trying to have a good time. Your response is selfish, and not in line with a true surfer. SHARE THE STOKE!!!!!! You do not expect folks on the highway to pull over, while you go right on by, because of your limited time! You do not expect people, in line at the grocery store, to let you go ahead of them because of your limited time. Why would you expect people, who do not even know you exist, to not go to the beach and surf because of your limited time. I have to say that yours, is honestly, the most lame excuse of all!!!!!! Entitlement due to any reason is still ENTITLEMENT! Nobody is ENTITLED to the ocean or to waves, even if their time is limited to only a few hours a week. You were not born knowing how to surf, therefore at some point, others allowed you, and probably encouraged you to surf . . . more than likely on their limited time!

    • ichorousmedia .

      some people actually leave their professional lives just to chase waves,
      and it would be a great disrespect to that daring adventurous spirit by
      complaining about your lack of drive to make time for yourself. Not
      saying that you should follow him exactly, but take a lesson from Doc Palowitz
      that just passed away.

    • Seabass120

      Agreed. This article was written by a pro surfer who undoubtedly gets his pick of waves.

  • John Neth

    Nice share, Greg. Thanks for adding some wisdom and kindness to the surf community’s dialogue on this topic.

  • freerider

    You can thank the surf industry- surf schools- ect, for a lot of the crowds.

    • Jimmy the Saint

      Perhaps you yourself can thank them for your own participation – unless you are a bodysurfer who surfs naked that is!

  • Mrgeorge Williams

    1. its way more than fun when you’ve committed a lifetime surfing ..its serious there no reward for dedication to the sport.3.from sacrifice and commitment comes deserving 4.If people would be considerate i could have fun 5. I like 5..6.surfing is life,much more than recreation. 7. Show respect and you’ll get it 8.Be smart enough to stay out of the way. 9. You only have one chance to ride a wave,once it reaches the shore its gone forever,so dont blow it for someone…

    • Michelle DuBois

      I was not aware that there was a measurement for FUN. A new surfer has just as much fun as a person who has been surfing for many years. The reward for dedication, sacrifice and commitment is the ability to ride the waves that others cannot . . . and more than likely will pass on. You are correct in that once a wave reaches the shore it is gone forever, however, there is no limit for the amount of waves to come. Waves are continuously raising themselves up, and I don’t believe we will run out of them anytime soon. Take a few minutes and explain the rules of your break or line up to a new face, and things will go much easier and nicer than intimidating, bullying, being mean and nasty, etc. At my break adults stay outside and the kiddies stay inside. It works well for everyone.

      • Mrgeorge Williams

        touche Michelle…i was tryn to be funny

    • Jay Dee

      I agree. Screw you michelle!!

  • Michael Z

    Number 9, number 9, number 9….there will always be more waves. I have found the exhilaration is not dependent on my ability, but my desire and the ocean. How truly lucky we are. When I act like the kook (never on purpose), I am quick to apologize which seems to restore the stoke.

  • Miles Disch

    dont forget about those party waves!

  • Jimmy the Saint

    I always catch more waves when I am surfing with others than on my own.

  • very nice advice !

  • Inter Rested

    Thanks Greg for sharing your feelings on the matter. Some forget it’s about the STOKE, not just wave count.

  • Occasionally a wave comes along thats more important than my respect for you. This is my apology in advance….

    • Wesley Neill

      A very typically self-entitled comment. I bet you even tell yourself you are still a decent person, after doing something like that. Way to be part of the problem.

      • Guest

        naa im not entitled but i am a pretty nice person i just yell party wave before i do so

      • omg you write the funniest judgements of people…keep up the good work wesley i heard Gods taken the day off

        • Wesley Neill

          You’re right. Do whatever you want. Take from others, act like an a-hole and then yell “only God can judge me!”…

          It seems to work for the rest of society, so go ahead.

          • People are more laidback over here we just share waves we all know how to surf around each other its nbd man take a chill pill

          • i dont really do that its just some crap i posted online

  • also a longboard and sitting out back helps (#11)

  • Raul Quintanilha Messias

    ”I’m a local!” -”What? I didn’t go to school with you and I haven’t shagged your sister, so beat it!!!”

  • Lombongin

    “The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations…
    Well, those are really good days”
    Ray Wylie Hubbard

  • Chuck Allison

    Throw back Tuesday! This is one of the best most positive thread ever on this site!……love it

  • ichorousmedia .

    I remember crowded west swells at the lane where I would be patiently waiting at indicators for sometimes up to an hour before I could manage to snag a wave. SUP’s and longboarders would paddle back out beyond me and take everything they could, leaving me and the other shortboarders with scraps. At the time I wasn’t very good and was just happy to be out there and get one good long wave, but these days there is just no way I could settle for that. Now I search for nooks and crannies in the lineup, peaks and waves that other people aren’t looking at for some reason. Even if it’s not as good, I’ll go there because I’m nearing the best of my surfing years and every wave I get give me that much more experience. These days the thing I appreciate most are those rare days when you find a spot under the radar or the crowd clears out and it glasses off. I will always hate crowds, and probably hate good surfers more than bad ones because of how many waves they take. Everyone needs to spread out and make a new definition of what is acceptable for stoke. I took up longboarding on small days, and it is the best choice I ever made.

  • chuckles

    Surfers are arrogant, narcissistic and selfish by nature. With social media and the me me me me me look at me and my goPro generation, we have become egotistical selfish self seeking self obsessed douchebags. Time to put the goPro down and put a hand out to those less fortunate and share what we have been given so freely. Surfing is a privilege not a right. We own nothing. We owe everything. Moving forward …

  • duckdive

    The best way to get more waves is to surf more.

    In my 30+ years of surfing in CA, I’ve really only had three significant run ins with a-holes, and of course some stuffs here and there. Two of the incidents were in my hometown in PV when I was back for holidays at Ind and LB. Funny thing is that having spent college years surfing in Santa Cruz and then living in San Diego since 1996, I realize how bad the swell window can be for LA and PV… maybe that is why they are so grumpy. The other incident was at NB in PL in San Diego… I lived in OB for 8 years. If you’ve been there, you probably know the guy who wants to be an enforcer. On an early fall day that was inconsistent, he just kept paddling around everyone (only about 7-8 guys) and taking the infrequent waves. So I thought I’d sit next to him to kind of make a point and at least be next in line. He went off cause he got the point. Two other sessions he called me out, and then he followed me on the shore and said “I ought to kill you”. Yeah? Well, the cops have his name now. And btw, he loses his board more than he gets barreled.

    Intimidation, threats, localism (when it is more than asking for respect) are just poor behavior by people that have issues, whether it be entitlement, selfishness, ego, etc. Sure, we all want to get great, memorable waves and push our surfing. And it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with crowds.

    Like I said… the solution is to surf more.

  • Lucas Lazari

    agreed… my city is more than an hour away from the nearest beach and this beach it’s always crowded. i can’t afford to surf less crowded spots every weekend, so i have to cope with it… the problem is that people does not know the meaning of sharing

  • drwireless

    It’s not the crowds. I love seeing others enjoying the sport that I have loved my whole life. It’s the danger and lack of accountability that comes from a general ignorance and lack of etiquette and respect that many newbies are just not taught. Compare the Malibu lineup on a south swell to Lowers, and the crowds are big at both. I’d say Lowers would be the safer of the two as the general skill level of novice surfers there is higher than Malibu, thus the chance that they were taught anything before paddling out is greater. For those beginners who don’t have surfer friends to teach them, take a lesson from a reputable professional.

  • Fred Reiss

    You can be a perfectly decent person in the water, kind to others, and share waves, and there will still be someone in the lineup who will burn you, act like an idiot, fall of their board and let it go and not care who it hurts.

  • Fred Reiss

    Why is it, if you’re nice to the people in the water they see this as an opportunity to burn you? I have found the people with the worst attitude are the beginners. ANd the ones with the foulest mouths are the women. And the ones who usually say the ocean is for everyone that as an excuse to ignore the basic etiquette. Do you just go on a tennis court when someone else is playing and start playing because a park is for everyone? Every activity has rules. And you also ignore the hordes of surf schools that are charging people to find “stoke.” Where is theirs? In their wallets.

    • If you think instructors at surf schools find “stoke” in their wallets you’ve definitely never worked at a surf school. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. The stoke you get from it is exclusively second-hand and you’re compensated for minimum wage (with a take-home bonus of 5 new bruises a day) and sometimes not at all, depending on the purpose of the camp. It’s sharing your passion with a total stranger and giving them an open opportunity to fall in love with it as well. The gratitude and fulfillment you take home at the end of the day far outweighs the paycheck. Plus, instructors are the ones teaching etiquette to the newbies ahead of time so that they learn not to drop in on you.

      • Fred Reiss

        I can’t drink your Kool-Aid. It’s not proven by the reality of classes getting packed and charged in surf spots. If your passion outweighs your paycheck, why are you even doing this for a living. Why not go out alone, and share your stoke for free. Because, it’s the money. You don’t need to be an instructor to do what you’re saying.

        • Who said anything about making a living? Many of us volunteer our time for organizations like Waves of impact or the Wounded Warrior Project or help out with youth camps on the side because we believe in the cause, regardless of a money-aspect.

          Instructing and surfing are two entirely different things – both satisfying in entirely different ways. If you’ve ever taught another person (particularly kids) to surf, you know how contagious the thrill they get from it is, and that’s what teaching is all about.

          While a check for your time is a nice perk, anyone who works at a surf school and only takes away the money they earn from it is in entirely the wrong line of work.

          • Fred Reiss

            Yeah, civic-duty. You bring the template of organizations into the water. Instead of one-on-one in daily living. Yes, then you network and run press releases, and have pictures of yourself in the paper. Sorry, I respect more people to do hospice volunteering. But good luck applauding yourself, you can hang out with other people like you, and pull up in groups, because you live for groups, being recognized by them, making a living within and from them, and playing in them–somebody always has to SEE and HEar what you’re doing me. And here you come with a crowd of smiling people carrying Costco foam boards and being positive, and driving everyone out of the water who doesn’t match up to your standards by your actions. My guess is you haven’t surfed for more than three years. Sorry, if I keep my hands in my lap while people who are just like you, applaud your own actions.

  • Sam Hawk

    I think there is a lot more to it than this. As a surfer who was surfing long before cell phones and the internet came along, I think surfers have a responsibility to not only extend aloha in the water, but not be a dickhead about crowding a lineup. Why should I extend aloha to a group of five guys who show up in one car and paddle out to the peak I am surfing alone and now its a crowd? I mean, really? You cant go find your own peak? Or better yet, come to the beach alone?
    Why should I extend aloha to a guy I see taking a photo of a set and then texting it out to his buddies basically saying “get over here, its going off” and basically doing all they can to bring more surfers? Why not just piss in your own bed before you turn in for the night.
    Why should I extend aloha to a guy who I know is only there because the internet said “spot A good today and here is how you get there” and he never puts in his homework and pays his dues? he just shows up because he paid Richie his $60 a year and when Richie says jump, he jumps and doesn’t even think about the impact he is having?
    I’m not saying be a prick, but I am sure as hell not going to give a wave to someone who has not earned it. I worked hard to learn my spot. I put in decades. I got up at dark thirty and got skunked more times than I can count. I broke boards, swam for my life, surfed crappy days and didn’t get a single wave, basically have run the whole spectrum. Then when it gets perfect and glassy and 10 foot I am supposed to be all warm and fuzzy when the sheep show up? Sorry. Maybe Greg long and Gandhi but not this cowboy.
    There is a balance. Extend aloha, yes for sure. BUT do your part to a) find your own wave b) come alone to minimize impact when you cannot find your own wave c) make as little impact as possible and don’t show up with your own crowd d) don’t go on the internet or cell phone and tell everyone how you scored and basically insure the remainder of the swell will be crowded e) don’t blog and spew and make a big deal about your waves. Surf, go home, and let the experience wash through your insides. Learn to appreciate your experience inside yourself without having to tell everyone how good you got it.
    It benefits everyone. Until a surfer truly earns it, they will never know the satisfaction of figuring it out on their own.
    And if it’s crowded, don’t surf.

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