Zachary Winkler is just your average middle aged surfer. Hailing from Los Angeles, his father taught him how to surf when he was young. “He taught me about life through the ocean,” said Winkler. “Namely, the power of the ocean, and that crowds were an inherent part of the surfing experience in Southern California.”
Winkler’s father also taught him the most important rule regarding crowds: to talk about them – as often and as much as possible. “He used to say, ‘Whenever it’s more than you and a friend in the lineup, you’re obligated to complain about it.’ I took that to heart.”
From California to Snapper Rocks, complaining about crowds is in the modern surfer’s blood. “It’s lesson one from a surfing parent, uncle, or surf school,” said Winkler. “It’s more important than practicing your pop up on the sand.”
But when he pulled up to the beach on Friday, a radical new idea came to him. He decided, for the first time, not to complain about the crowd.
“I saw a bunch of heads in the water and went anyway,” he said. “When I saw a few of my buddies, I thought mentioning how crowded it was seemed obvious, so I kind of just didn’t really talk about it at first.”
Winkler’s friends were shocked. They thought that maybe his wife had died or something even more serious was wrong.
“We didn’t know what to think at first,” said Henry David, one of Winkler’s closest surf buddies and a Malibu regular. “We thought he’d lost it.”
After a while, Winkler said he began to actively avoid mentioning the crowd, even after getting burned by a pregnant woman riding a Wavestorm foam surfboard.
“I thought it was funny how the other guys were so concerned that I was acting differently, so I kept it up. Even in situations that would have normally caused me to lose it,” said Winkler.
But, it wasn’t until the end of his session that Zachary Winkler had one of the most enlightening moments of his life.
“It was like a lightbulb kind of moment,” he said, laughing. “I just thought to myself, ‘You know, I saw how crowded it was when I pulled up, and I know from coming here often that it’s a really crowded place. Why complain about it? I mean, what did I expect?'”
He tried to explain as much to his friends. They thought he was nuts.
“I tried to talk some sense into him,” said Justin Pert, another of Winkler’s crew. “I told him, ‘It’s like when you walk up to a crosswalk. Even if there’s someone else already there, you press the button.’ After that, Zach just stared at me.”
According to Dr. Harold Meek, a sociology professor specializing in surf culture and chair of the department at UCLA, Winkler’s session was the first of its kind. “Even dating back to the Ancient Hawaiians, never before has a surfer paddled out at a crowded break without lamenting to his friends, or anyone that will listen really, about the crowd itself,” said Dr. Meek. “This is a watershed moment for sure.”
Winkler is more modest about his achievement. “I don’t think I should win any kinds of awards or anything. I mean, the whole thing was really kind of by accident,” he said.
When asked if he’ll continue to avoid griping about crowds in the future, Winkler said he’s had a change of heart, but he doesn’t want to make any promises. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”