“Get the fuck out of here, kook. All these fucking kooks out here. Fuck! Get the fuck out of here.”
He was probably in his late 20s, skinny and pale with long blond hair and a black gauge earring in his right ear. I saw him catch a few waves at the point, and a good surfer would say he surfed poorly. He looked like a Point Break extra from that one house party where a girl breathes fire that ends with night surfing. “If Six Was 9” by Jimi Hendrix scores that scene.
The earring guy grabbed the board of the alleged offender, a balding, pudgy fellow in his 40s.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Get out of the water, you fucking kook.”
He pointed to the beach. His buddies chuckled on the outside then loudly asked him how his last wave was.
“Good, aside from all these fucking kooks out here in the way. Fuckin’ zoo!”
The offense wasn’t clear, but I had been in the water for about forty minutes and didn’t notice any egregious drop-ins or etiquette violations. The bald guy looked demure. Harmless and non-confrontational.
I dipped my head in the water. Paddled to the top of the point. Waited.
Earlier in the week I witnessed a similar scene, but more interesting in that the local aggressor scenario played out in reverse. An older squat fellow, bald and probably in his late forties, arrived ready to confront anyone attempting to “regulate” this very public, very accessible wave in Los Angeles.
He caught a wave at the point and was promptly dropped in on by a slightly overweight guy who snakes anyone he doesn’t know. This guy in particular proudly indulges in loud conversations that exclusively serve the function of communicating his status as “a local.” Said conversations revolve around one of three things: characterizing folks in the lineup as kooks, how the last wave was, or the ebb and flow of his work schedule around predicted swells. He surfs alright. A good surfer would say he surfs poorly.
He burned the bald, chubby fellow two more times within the next ten minutes.
While paddling back out, the bald guy, newly energized, loudly confronted him.
“You’re that guy, huh? I thought you were that guy. I knew I recognized you. We had problems last time I saw you.”
It was waist high. Sunny. Around 10 AM on a Tuesday.
“How about you just shut up and surf? If you want a wave, catch it at the top of the point instead of dropping in on people? You’ve dropped in on three people, not including me, since I’ve been out here in the last fifteen minutes. You think this is your beach? You don’t own the beach. Not when I’m here.”
The regular who stuffed him didn’t know what to say. His Point Break cronies weren’t around this morning. It was a lineup full of mostly unskilled, transient surfers. Status quo for Los Angeles.
He fumbled for words.
“You wanna come out here and give me a hard time? Yeah? Listen to me. This is how it’s gonna go down.”
His grasp at authority was flimsy at best, and the faint, forced hint of pidgin when he said “Yeah?” almost made me feel embarrassed for him. I could tell he barely believed his own words without the support of the Point Break extras. I could hear it in his voice. The bald guy could too.
“We’re both grown men,” he continued. “Let’s just handle this on the beach a couple hundred yards away and settle things in private, yeah? No one gets arrested. We take care of our issues, and if I see you again in the water, we’re square.”
The pudgy fella wasn’t having it.
“No. I’m just going to surf. If you want to catch a wave, you should do it at the top of the point. But you’re that guy, huh. There’s always that guy.”
I dipped my head underwater and paddled to the top of the point. Waiting.
At this point I had witnessed four fights in the last two weeks while surfing in Los Angeles County. They ranged from loud, annoyingly public verbal jousts that never materialized into actual combat to pathetic pushes, threats, and water slaps. Not once did anyone make good on a promise to deliver on bodily harm. That’s not necessarily a good thing. But, it’s indicative of Los Angeles (and Southern Californian) surf culture more broadly.
There’s just something so disgustingly inexcusable about watching individuals in the most affluent beachfront communities in the world posturing as tribal warriors who enforce a scripture of etiquette, hierarchy, and respect that by every stretch of imagination they fail to comply with themselves.
Beyond that, the vast majority of the folks I’ve witnessed bloated with aggressive outrage are extraordinarily average (or more often poor) surfers, and they’re almost always overweight. That’s just an objective observation. If each of the individuals I saw physically confront other surfers in the past two weeks watched footage of themselves surfing and they had to describe it, a sense of shame would grip them. I’ll be the first to confess that I’m an extraordinarily average surfer. So I’m not viewing these infractions as an officer at the top of the heap. Far from it. But I don’t go out of my way to try to make other surfers have a shitty time.
Instead, (and sadly) surfing in Los Angeles has mostly taught me to ignore everyone around me in the water. I’m not keen to befriend would-be locals to work my way up some flimsy imitation of a local hierarchy, and I’d rather not engage the mass of harmless buoys with fresh, scared eyes trying to figure out how to surf. I sit somewhere in the middle – snagging set waves at the famous points where I can, but easily capable of receding into the dark anonymity of the Angeleno hoard.
That’s just Los Angeles surfing. Everybody surfs and nobody surfs all at once.
I suppose that creates awkward, metropolitan power vacuums in overpopulated surf spots where unskilled, overweight surfers become self-elected enforcers.
But, alas, it defies all logic. For in order to qualify as an asshole surfer on the verge of indiscriminately threatening violence at a moment’s notice, one must be two simple things:
1) A very good surfer.
2) In good shape.
I have not witnessed a SINGLE dickhead surfer in Los Angeles who checks both of those boxes. More accurately, they usually check neither box. Usually, they wholly embody the antithesis of said criteria.
My logic in creating those qualifications is simple. In order to effectively exercise aggressive, violent-leaning surfing habits, you should be better at both surfing and fighting than anyone you confront. In Hawaii, that’s typically how it plays out. Super jacked Hawaiian dudes who charge Pipe and train jiu-jitsu semi-professionally are concerningly qualified enforcers. They’re in the top 1% of both activities involved in being a dickhead surfer. They’ve got credentials, and, ironically, the vast majority of them don’t use them.
On the contrary, pudgy, middle-aged men who struggle to do a bottom turn do not make strong alpha males. And Los Angeles is brimming with them. So it’s often a sad state of affairs when confronting the reality of animosity in Los Angeles’ overcrowded lineups. It’s haunting, even.
This morning, I paddle out to the same point.
A longboarder catches a mushy, knee-high wave, cross steps to the nose after a very deliberate, controlled bottom turn, perches there gracefully for several seconds before kicking out. He begins to knee paddle back. Extends his torso, one paddle, then another. The scene was tranquil. On the heels of that wave, elegant.
A coarse bark erupts from five yards away.
“Easy with that longboard, yeah? Take that thing to Malibu. Not gonna work here.”
The voice spits from a greying, pot-bellied man struggling to paddle back to the lineup.
A knee-high wave suited perfectly for longboard lines crumbles slowly past us.
I dip my head underwater and paddle to the top of the point. Waiting.