If you’ve ever surfed a crowded break, you know the inherent hazards of simply paddling out. Where etiquette and an organized chaos of sorts should reign supreme, carelessness and egos often take a sad piss all over your sunny summer session. Sure, there might be a hundred folks sitting on the peak, but ideally, a set of unwritten rules governs who takes what wave, who goes which way when splitting the peak, and so on. Sadly, there are too many instances where those “rules” fly right out the window. We’ve all seen it.
Recently, at Lower Trestles, surfing’s unwritten rules were smashed to bits when our friend Mike Cianciulli at Surfline was the victim of a dangerous lack of etiquette.
“Generally, I prefer to self-inflict my surfing injuries,” Cianciulli wrote in an email. “But the fact that I nearly lost my eye due to the carelessness of someone else is enough to make me question surfing Lower Trestles ever again.”
During a lull, Cianciulli paddled towards the outside. A long-overdue set arrived, and he caught the first wave. While in position to go right, the left bowled up. He bottom-turned as the dense pack quickly scattered.
“While I was rotating through my top-turn, I noticed a girl duckdiving right below me. And inside of her were three other grommets all bailing their boards. I jumped off the wave so as not to run the girl over and penetrated the surface somewhere amongst the yard sale. Underwater, I tumbled for a second or two and then…WHAM!”
He opened his eyes and saw a blue-colored nose of a surfboard. He immediately felt for his eyeball, still tumbling underwater. He confirmed he still had his eye, but when he surfaced, the water was red with blood. The kid’s board surfaced next to him.
“Do I still have my eye?! How is my eye?!”
The kid’s friends responded that he still had his eye but suffered a massive cut. The culprit, however, was frozen in water like he had just seen a ghost. Cianciulli implored the kids to always hold on to their boards before bolting in for help.
“Thankfully, there was a nurse and doctor out at the point and they confirmed my eyeball was fine but that I’d come within less than a centimeter from having permanent damage.” Even the lifeguard and ER doctor were surprised how lucky he had been.
I truly hope Mike’s experience sets an example to keep us safer in the lineup. The truth is, whether you’re surfing with one person or one hundred, this is a vital lesson for everyone who enters the water, regardless of skill level. It’s important to know that taking a wave on the head while attempting to duck dive is fine. Even if you look a bit kooky getting sucked back over the falls because you mistimed the duck dive in a state of panic, you’ve done everyone a service by not flinging your board into uncertainty and risking injury, or worse.
“When I was a kid, we’d be frothing to get a free Nose Guard to put on our used surfboard,” said Cianciulli. “Nowadays, groms are more focused on putting a sponsor’s sticker on their noses than learning proper surf etiquette. I hope this can be a lesson to everyone out there to be responsible for themselves and control their equipment.”
Next time you decide not to circumvent the lineup by paddling around, consider this story.