"I surfed with an ape today. Shaved headed, intense, grimly glaring down the waves and everyone around him." Art: Damian Fulton


The Inertia

I surfed with an ape today. Shaved headed, intense, grimly glaring down the waves and everyone around him. I’m guessing he thought he was pretty radical, but he surfed like an ape. Squat, bow-legged stance, both arms dangling from sloped shoulders, arms bent down at the elbow, hands curled as if gripping an invisible tree branch. Worst of all, he hopped up and down on his board like a happy, perhaps orgasmic ape, all the while his board maintaining a straight line trim. Ape.

I surfed with whole cult of happy people today. Smiling, chatting as they stood on long, wide, thick barges, holding long paddles in their hands, all clustered together like a log-jam on a river, right at the main peak…a veritable island of carbon, styro, and epoxy…and white teeth. They took all the best waves, their amoebic mass scattering off in various directions, paddles waving at the air like one winged insects, boards teetering off kilter as they struggled to keep in trim. Often falling awkwardly, like drunkards off a curb, their barges fluttering shoreward with the whitewater, threatening to club and maim children on boogie boards in the shorebreak. After the sets would pass, they would all paddle back to the lineup, to cluster again like metal filings around a magnet…right at the main peak. Smiling always. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I surfed with a good surfer. Strong paddler, even on quad shortboard, he weaved around the floating detritus of epoxy, styro, and carbon, snagging some of the best set waves right out from under their noses. Up and riding, he had all the current moves; Whap! Thwacka! Thwacka! Whap! He tore the mushy walls to shreds; spray flew. Heads turned. Ooohs, ahhhs, were uttered. He too smiled, a little smugly I think, as he paddled back to the lineup. Yet for me, he seemed to make it all seem like a lot of work, like he was trying too hard. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m old school, I like grace, flow, and carve, maybe a little longboard footwork; I don’t find it aesthetic, all those snaps and squiggles. Pumping, pumping, thwacka whacka, pumping, pumping, whappa whappa…pumping, pumping, pumping…yeeeeahhh, big air (well, a foot or two off the lip anyway,) to fakie, to…well to flopping down in the whitewater…as the wave reels on…sans ripper… Don’t get it; old school, okay, old fart, whatever…not aesthetic…MHO

I surfed with a GoPro, vid kid. His cam, anchored to the nose of his funboard, pointed back…to him. He wore a baseball cap, I guess his trademark for the vids. Maybe he considers it cool, a bit of a tweak…ha, ha, I’m so cool I wear a ball cap when I surf; that means I don’t fall off, much. The kid caught a lot of waves. Didn’t seem to notice or care that anybody might be behind him. He even dropped in on me a couple of times; looked back, and went anyway. Then he had the audacity to call me off a wave I was considering…little shit; I been surfing this break since before your Mommy and Daddy popped their first zit, kid. You haven’t earned the right to call me off a wave, you haven’t paid your dues, you, you, you whippersnapper, you. You and your stupid GoPro…go straight to You Tube when you get home. Jeepers, I see a lot of these cams on boards these days, always on the nose, always pointed back at the surfer. As if the surfer is the thing, not the wave. As if we all want to see your distorted big feet in the foreground, and your pointy head up there in the blue sky. GoPro…go f…yourself. Please.

I surfed with an old local. Guy’s been around even longer than me. He pioneered this spot, wayyy back. He fought the fight, years ago, to have this spot designated as a surfing area, wayyyy back. He’s always been kind of an enforcer, when it comes to letting people who are not surfers, on surfboards, know that they have no business being out at this spot. Today I saw him yell at a bunch of boogie boarding kids in the shorebreak when they jumped, enmasse in front of him on his first wave. They scattered, quickly. Scary when some old guy is yelling at you…and you’re only ten years old. Later, he yelled at one of the SUPers. Joined in, like the second man in, in a hockey brawl, when the ape started complaining that the SUPer had messed up his ride. The old local shouted the SUPer down when the guy pleaded his case. Funny thing is, even though the SUP guy was huge and imposing, heavily muscled…and tanned, and the guy yelling at him was an old gray haired guy in his seventies, the SUPer moved down the beach. Score one for the old local. Irony though, this old local used to be one of the most prolific and unrepentant drop in artists at this spot. Wave etiquette never applied to him. He was not well liked then…hell, he was hated really. But now he’s the venerated old local. And he is a nice guy, now; old locals he used to burn now consider him a friend. I even forgave him all his past sins. Heck, longevity counts for something and he’s synonymous with this break, after all. Ya gotta respect that. Doesn’t change the fact that he used to be the biggest dick in the water.

I surfed with a clueless kook from Quebec today. I’ve seen him out in the lineup all summer. I’ve seen him drop straight into wave after wave all summer, almost every time, directly in front of someone who is up and riding. I’ve tried to avoid him all summer but today, I was victim to his cluelessness. Today he pulled his patented maneuver directly in front of me. There was a collision. A flash of his orange board. A thunk. A swirl of bubbles and his arms and legs in various contorted positions. When he popped up, eyes agog…I snapped. I yelled at him. Told him he has to start looking before he goes. He mouthed a protest, proclaimed his innocence. I cut him short. Reiterated, “YOU HAVE TO LOOK!” I hated myself, even as I was yelling. It takes a lot for me to snap, it really does. But c’mon, dude, if you were driving on the highway, they woulda taken your license away a long, long time ago. You cannot be so clueless; it’s dangerous to me and everyone else you cut off all summer. I didn’t want to yell at him, but somebody had to. And so I snapped. If it counts for anything, I felt bad afterwards. He was just a beginner. And there was a bit of a language barrier; his English was not good and I know even less French. I was not a very good American ambassador for this Canadian tourist today. I felt especially bad because another surfer, who’d witnessed the whole thing, tag-teamed the Canadian, in support of me. The poor guy moved down the beach and I didn’t see him again for the rest of the session. I’ll never forget his eyes, his bewildered, apologetic eyes, so blue, so beautifully blue in the filming water on his face…even as I yelled at him.

Today was just a typical summer weekend day at my local spot. I call it a zoo day. Every imaginable animal was out in the water today. Even an ape. And even though I caught my share of waves, even though I managed to weave my way around the two chatting girls on longboards and then bottom turn around the overturned SUP in front of me, and catch that one really really good set wave, and even though I rode it all the way to the beach and another girl on a SUP, paddling back out, hooted at my ride, it was not an especially enjoyable session.

I’m torn. I wrote in an earlier essay how the enjoyment I get out of surfing is directly proportional to my own attitude and perspective. But then there are days like today that really test me. I remember when surfing used to be about style and grace. A time when respect and deference to skill and experience mattered. When you had to earn your place out in the lineup and wait your turn. When surfers rode the wave more than the board; when you learned to read the wave and take what it offered, not impose your own contrived repertoire of moves on each and every wave you caught. When it wasn’t merely about catching the highest number of waves you could, but surfing each wave to the best of your ability. I understand, and I do truly believe that everyone has a right to enjoy what the ocean and surfing have to offer. And I know that that is different for each and every surfer. And I believe that every form of surf vehicle, from SUP, to shortboard, to longboard, to handplane, to boogie, to paipo, to alaia, to mat, to one’s own body…are valid and worthy of a place in the water. But the lineup shouldn’t be a zoo, a circus, or some sort of Mad Max, post apocalypse free-for-all. We’re not apes, we’re surfers. We’re supposed to be better than this day that I surfed…


  • Carlos

    Great writing. I totally feel connected with your thoughts. A lot to think about from this kind of experiences. Viva la wave!

  • Carlos

    Great writing. I totally feel connected with your thoughts. A lot to think about from this kind of experiences. Viva la wave!

  • Carlos

    Great writing. I totally feel connected with your thoughts. A lot to think about from this kind of experiences. Viva la wave!

  • Jon

    I really enjoyed this post. Exactly how I felt at Rockaway yesterday.

  • Jon

    I really enjoyed this post. Exactly how I felt at Rockaway yesterday.

  • Jon

    I really enjoyed this post. Exactly how I felt at Rockaway yesterday.

  • Jon

    I really enjoyed this post. Exactly how I felt at Rockaway yesterday.

  • Maureen

    Thanks, Jon + Carlos!
    Be careful, it’s a jungle out there!:)