Localism is a strange thing. It’s long been looked at as a sort of arbiter of fairness and a measure to keep breaks safe, but there’s another side of the coin, too – the idea that waves are for everyone. Case in point: Malibu. Brad Jacobson, a man who is exceedingly familiar with how crowded Malibu can get, recently captured the video you see above… and it’s Malibu at its best and worst. The waves are great, but the crowd is not. Since locals have historically been the ones who maintain a pecking order and enforce the unwritten rules of surfing at “their” wave, the video above could serve as an example of what surfing might look like if there was no one to enforce those rules — or, for that matter, if there were never any rules to begin with.
Hardcore localism has waned in recent years, likely for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because there’s a higher likelihood of legal repercussions. Perhaps because there’s a higher likelihood of your actions being broadcasted on social media. Or perhaps because surfing’s popularity has exploded so much that most of the people who might be more likely to mete out punishment have simply been overrun and given up. There are places in the world where a pecking order is still observed, but not like it used to be.
Malibu could accurately be described as a kind of birthplace of California surf culture. The Gidget Era ensued there, as well as the myth of Miki Dora, who portrayed himself as someone who actively despised anyone surfing the ‘Bu while embedding himself deeply into a burgeoning scene that he claimed to despise. In Gidget, he doubled for James Darren, who played Moondoggie. After Gidget’s box-office success, a spate of surf-inspired movies hit the silver screen, and Dora landed roles in all of the major ones, including Ride the Wild Surf, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and more. He posed for surf ads and had signature surfboards made under Greg Noll’s line, all the while verbally crucifying the industry he was working for.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to consider what surfing might look like if all the rules were out the window, though. If dropping in didn’t matter. If there were no repercussions for the unwritten rules we try and abide by. If surfing was just a free-for-all. And when it comes to thought experiments, having a visual can be helpful. And Malibu can be that visual.
A long time ago, I was complaining to a friend that it’s impossible to get a wave by yourself at Malibu. She laughed and said something that’s stuck with me. “If you’re not in front of someone at Malibu,” she said, “you’re behind someone.”
While it’s not exactly exclusive to Malibu, that sentiment certainly is more pervasive there than anywhere else. Move a few miles down either way from First Point, and you’re far more likely to see someone pull off a wave or, even better, simply wait until no one else is on it, as the rules dictate. Sure, there will be the occasional drop in, but at Malibu, it seems as though everyone has simply accepted the fact that it’s going to be a party wave.
It is, though, still possible to find that unicorn session at Malibu, but when the waves are good, it’s all but impossible. I was lucky enough to be unlucky enough to lose my house in the Woolsey Fire. I say lucky enough to be unlucky enough because there was one silver lining after that boiling inferno swept down to the Pacific: the morning after, as I was trying to get back to my house, I stumbled across head-high Malibu with four people out. All of us were burnouts, and not in the Spiccoli way. The air was full of smoke, the sun was a dim orange ball creeping past the horizon, and, for a few brief hours, we were able to find some distraction from the fact that we’d lost everything.
But that’s not a likely scenario these days. The wave at Malibu won’t ever be uncrowded, and as long as the general surfing public accepts the fact that if you’re not in front of someone there you’re behind them, we’ll be able to have a look at what surfing might look like if it was an entirely ruleless activity.