The Inertia Founder
Surf Fighting

Nope. Bad. That’s a bad job, guys.


The Inertia

“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.

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.

***

The longboard. A necessary addition to every surfer's quiver. Photo: Chris Grundy

Tranquil, even. Photo: Chris Grundy

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.




  • duckdive

    Haha. So right on! I’m so glad I don’t live and surf there anymore. It is amazing to me how average most the surfers are in LA. And the swell window is certainly limiting as well.
    I had the most unusual run in with two young surfers in the area where I grew up. I was surfing a prime left point break while home for Tgiving w while back. The two were the only guys out at the time. They both caught waves so I was sitting out back and a wave came. Dropped in and was about 50 feet down the line when one of the guys turned and dropped in on me.
    I paddled over to him afterwards and told him not to do it again. He asked what highschool I went to. Here I am nearly 15 years out of highschool. I told him but also said that it shouldn’t matter. So, it didn’t happen again, but the silly situation makes me wonder what is wrong with these kids in that area.

  • surferguy

    Great article about Topanga.

  • freerider

    Gee–I think it kinda makes you want to take up golf–where you can kick back and have a cool one at the 19th hole afterwards–and not hassle the crowds–doesn’t surfing seems so uncool these days anyway–when your mom and dad–yuppies–jocks–soft tops and everyone one else seems to surf…..

  • starwipe

    Sounds like Topanga.

    Only place in LA i ever see bad vibes – and theres only a few people out there that can actually surf and those guys are humble and quiet.. That waves so not worth the hassle of overweight over the hill surfers on crutch boards.

  • Mark

    could be about topanga, but i feel that it’s somewhere else in LA…

    • John

      See this playing out at County Line on the daily. Could be there too.

  • Nora

    Toxic masculinity at its best.

    • Derek Marcellus

      I have big muscles.

    • Towgunner77

      Really? Because women don’t act that way too? Newsflash, women today, more than ever, display what you think qualifies as “toxic masculinity”. And there is nothing wrong with being “masculine”. Your presumption to label it “toxic”, shows how ignorant you are. The people being described in this article do not suffer from toxic masculinity. They suffer from an effeminate society that says its “all about you” and keeps people in a perceptual state of childhood. How can you not see the inherent selfishness and entitlement in the behavior described above? How? Masculinity is NOT that. Masculinity is the opposite of that. So get your facts rights. Masculinity, rather, is excellence…its those surfers that are good surfers and in shape. Fat middle age people, women and men, who throw temper tantrums, form little cliches, pretend their little club has “turf” are all earmarks of immaturity and arrested development. A healthy masculinity, frankly, would have taught those people a lesson a long time ago. But, today, those men who you accuse of being toxic are probably the types that got in touch with their feminine side. So take your 1984 doublespeak and shove it.

  • Dennis Mueller

    That was an amazing and accurate article. Awesome work. We need more writers like your self

  • Michael Blend

    Topanga. They always sit in the middle of the lineup and drop in on everybody. Thankfully it is only 1 or 2 of ’em

    • Ty Forkner

      Great article that really touched home. I live in miami beach and first off, when there are waves everyone and their mom goes and tries to surf. Ive been surfing for 3 years now and i have never met more a holes than in the ocean in miami beach. I dont gdt how peoplencan be so mad in a place so beautiful. If you are a seasoned surfer and you see someone without proper etitquite, how about offering tips and suggestions rather than just complaining.

  • J.W

    great read, spot on. Same goes for Aus – There’s 1 or 2 of those dicks, at every point on the gold coast. I’m over it, over surfing crowds. I just surf on my own (when i can) at people free beaches.

  • Dave

    It has often baffled me that when some guys surf well they automatically think they can fight well. I’m that pudgy middle aged guy that can’t surf so well anymore, but I don’t snake anyone!! but…. people feel free to drop in on me cuz I’m basically a kook now. now, just because I’m a kook does not mean that I don’t stick up for myself. My personal policy has always been the same, when someone drops in on me I always surf the wave as if they weren’t there. That has resulted in some spectacular body collisions over the years, lol. and the offending snake always comes up very surprised and very mad. For some reason they thing that the older pudgy guy is just gonna shrug his shoulders and straighten out.

  • Derek Marcellus

    If Amish people surfed, this would never happen.

  • Craig

    I have been surfing on and off for the past 30 years in So Cal and decided to really take it seriously a year ago. Yes there are about a hundred times more people in the water and I just avoid the crowded places on weekends. My biggest beef is non-surfing parents who drop their groms off at the beach and they have no idea about etiquette. Then they grow up to be those douches.

    • Elbaite

      THIS. A thousand times THIS! When did surfing become babysitting? It’s dangerous all around.

    • Jeremy Denoy

      Yup! I had this little 15 year old entitled Malibu prick tell me I wasn’t good enough and local enough to deserve a wave when I was surfing the south point of Leo Carillo a few months back. I’m forty years old and I’ve been surfing since I was his age so I quite literally have board shorts and rash guards older than him. After watching this punk kid roll up one afternoon while I was already out and proceed to monopolize every single wave by snaking and jockeying for pole position, I started safely dropping in on waves that I though he wouldn’t make (he was blowing 5 out of every 6 waves) rightfully claiming an occasional wave for myself. The little prince started yelling and whistling at me like I was some kind of dumb farm animal attempting to call me off of “his” wave. I ignored him at first as he had me before I started taking waves, but then after he yelled at me for the third time I decided to have a polite word with him when I paddled back out. I told the little prince just because he was snaking me for position he shouldn’t expect me to give him priority for every single wave. “Take one, give one” I told him. “Give respect, get respect” i said. He proceeded to ask me where I went to high-school and if I was a “local”. He then told me if I was a better surfer I would understand “what it was all about”. I listened to his condescending and insulting speech and then told him ‘to stay the out of my way and to watch out for himself’. I let it go at that. He would have been really easy to thrash if I was the type of person willing to teach an obnoxious teenager without any respect for his elders or fellow surfers a lesson. After all of my years in the water I’m only a weak intermediate surfer sadly, but I am quite competent and I am a stickler for surf etiquette. I always go out of my way to yield to other surfers if there is any doubt in my mind who is entitled to a wave. I have over 60 stamps in my passport, I’ve surfed Indo, South America, Central America, Africa, New Zealand and parts of Asia but this little teenage prince who knows nothing of life and has never earned anything he believes he owns, including his surfboard or his parent’s Malibu zip code, wants to ask me where I went to high school (!) and judges me because I’m not riding one of my short boards on a knee-high day?! Ha! Like I give a sh*t about somebody’s high school!

      So yeah, LA is full of picks, but not all of them are fat and over forty. I strive to seek out drama free open surf lanes but sometimes in a big town with so many small-minded “locals” it’s not always possible. I will drop in on a guy who snakes me more than twice, and I am prepared to defend myself if it comes to that, although I strive to avoid that type of scenario. If surf bullies can intimidate others and get away with their bad behavior the behavior is only being rewarded. Looking the other when you see nasty behavior in the line-up only breeds more assholes. You can stand your ground without getting into a physical altercation, 95% of the time. So far I’ve found LA to be full of passive-aggressive, chicken-sh*ts, at least as far as surfers go. Guys here will talk big and make a lot of noise, but most of them are too cowardly to do anything besides key your car, and that I’ve found people will do that at the drop of a hat in LA!

  • kristip

    I am astounded by the attitude of some “surfers” every day! You would think with so much time in the water they might find some peace… It isn’t just LA either. I think some of the WORST are up near San Luis Obispo County where I grew up and there is a HUGE sense of entitlement by locals.

  • The Stoke

    Really, really enjoyed this article. Keep it up!

  • Bampster

    I lived in and surfed Orange County for 23 years and Monterey Bay for 22 and it’s the same scenario played out at each location wherever surf crowds mingle in our ever popular sport.
    Sad!

  • This is a great piece, specially the “I dip my head underwater and paddle to the top of the point. Waiting.” parts.

    This is one of the reasons I’ve always avoided LA when driving trough California. Although there is a handful of people I’d love to meet, hang out with and some places to visit, I always despised LA culture and lifestyle for the very reason that surfing there has become what it is.

    People’s egos seem to be somewhat more arrogant and pretentious, whether it is someone that works in the film, music and fitness industries. It’s nothing personal against famous LA based yoga teachers, but there is a reason that any training, program or workshop there seems stamped with dollar signs and spiritual bypassed health freaks,

    I’ve had some confrontations of my own with “that dude” in the most concurred beach in all of baja. Cerritos, is both the most beginner (aka kook) friendly lineup. But that’s where the best of the best in southern baja surf, and they rarely participate or even engage in such disputes; Baja surf culture may have evolved from californian surf bros, but somehow the pure and more genuine and humbling spirit to surfing has been relatively maintained.

  • Archibald Lancaster

    This article perfectly describes my experience surfing in Nova Scotia-there is some pitiful hierarchy that I don’t care enough to be part of and many of the “locals” will drop in on anyone they don’t know on waves that most people wouldn’t even get in the water for.

    • duckdive

      Haha. Whoa, even in Nova Scotia??

      • Archibald Lancaster

        It’s a huge bummer because it’s a pretty small scene so you can see them look out for each other and stuff but man, if you aren’t in that inner circle you get yelled at, dropped in on, etc etc. I’m no Kelly Slater but I can hold my own and I go out when the water is down to zero (celsius) over the winter so it’s not like I’m a TOTAL kook or anything.

        • duckdive

          That is just selfishness on their part. What I’ve learned is that being in the water is the first step to enjoying surfing. Next is finding the best compromise of the best waves with the least amount of people, especially dicks. Sometimes that means being at the hotspots, and other times it means being at the average spot.

  • Grant Hinner

    No surprise. This is rife here in Australia, especially around Sydney. I’ve found that 95% of the time it is middle-aged men. Whether they think it’s the way you have to be, or that they feel they deserve the waves since they followed the rules as they saw them “go to university, get a job, slave away, work hard, sacrifice your health and other dreams”.

    Then they get to middle-age and do one of two things, realise they were probably wrong and want to make up for it and as a result have a chip on their shoulder; or they feel like they “paid their dues” and now are are more deserving of waves than others. Either way, most of the aggro I’ve experienced (personally or have witnessed) has involved this demographic and almost always they are actually the ones at fault for an indiscretion.

    It’s not just in the surf they are like this. Groups of them can be seen on land riding on the road in groups on expensive road bikes in logo covered lycra suits that leave no man-flab unseen. Again, many of them act above the rules (or in this case, the law).

    Welcome to the age of entitlement.

    I rarely surf my local in the mornings on the weekend. I generally wait till after lunch when the wind is onshore and the crowds have gone. Just peaky waves, me, a dozen others spread out, and about a thousand blue bottles in between.

  • I got assaulted punched in the face n my board got broken at topanga beach in the malibu area by this fatty bold angry agro “local” just beacuse i took one of the good waves… he droped in on me after he saw me already riding then did a cut back right into me he chased me down to the beach then his homies joined him
    I got harrassed by this posers it was 3 of them daaamn they deserve to be in jail i’ve seen them do it to other people old man even to woman … Something needs to be done this wonderful libarating beautifull activity that is surfing has a cancer in southern cal n its those middle age rich assholes that claim to own the spot … This happened last summer can i still press charges? I have the dushbags license plate he is so stupid he didnt even noticed me taken the number in front of him… One of the dudes in the line up is a lawyer i know that for a fact,,, i have a feeling some of them must have familly in the police or something be cause their public display of violence is so consistent n deliver with confidence is nearly impossible that they are still there…

  • BeyoncesButthole

    I like the concept of your guys blog but you need to turn the pretenious douche nozle down about 3 notches.

  • MJ White

    Not like this at all in Jersey during a decent winter swell (Yes, Jersey does get great winter swell, watch some youtube videos). Everyone here is pretty docile and spread out. This is for two reasons. Our best swells are in the cold winter months and the rip is super strong with a heavier break. First you need to get into a 5mil for 40 degree water, sometimes in the 30s, and 30 degree air temps. Then you have a current paddle battle with all the extra weight. It’s a win win here. If you don’t love to surf you don’t go out in the winter. If you do love to surf you need to be in decent shape just to do all that and make it out if it’s 6ft and up.

  • Michael Falkow

    I have had exactly the same experience in Los Angeles. Excellent and articulate article. Unfortunately it’ll never be read by these Neanderthals.

  • surfpunk

    It sounds like Sunset point in los angeles hahaha.

  • William Ripley

    lol so true best stuff ever. On the big Jan 12th 2016 swell a guy was yelling at a surfer ” I’m gonna drown you out here!!” I turn my head and a 10 foot set is coming in. Man…… Not the time or the place 🙂

  • Patrick Smyth

    Gave up surfing SoCal years ago. Too much localism, and I was a local! Lots of cheap flights to Nicaragua and Panama these days.

  • Shane O’Connor

    most likely this is about Topanga, which is one of my favorite breaks in Los Angeles. There are totally tricks to avoid this. The “locals who had Dad who used to own a house here” usually only show up when it is ideal conditions…. so if it is nice, go somewhere else. The crowds are not a big deal on weekday afternoons. The inside and beak break are often better shaped then the point or the top of the reef, although smaller. West of the top of the point malibu side can be awesome with the right swell direction.

    The big problem of Topanga is that everyone thinks that sitting in front of the tiny palm tree is the best spot. It is the best spot for maybe 3 surfers, not 50. Spread out and everyone can catch awesome waves and rip.

  • Craig

    I prefer Brazilian dance fighting to surf fighting.

  • Craig

    They will spend an eternity in purgatory being dropped in by kooks and noobs at Canoes, but instead of clear blue water, it will be like when the treatment plant failed and dumped raw sewage into the bay. If by the chance they might catch a wave it will swamp out followed by a 100 wave set of 50 footers at 5 second intervals. Then it will start all over again.

  • Jeremy Denoy

    “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.”

    Sounds about right, all sound and very little fury from these tough-guy LA surf warriors. I bet 4 cars got keyed though.

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