The other morning, I was surfing the north side of the pier in Huntington Beach. The waves were about waist high, the wind was cross shore, and I was not surfing well. After blowing my first wave of the day, I got inside my head with some negative thoughts, which often has a way of ruining my session.
After about ten minutes, I pulled into a little right that stayed open for me and off down the line I went. It wasn’t anything special but the wave was satisfying enough. I neared the end of my ride and eased into a cutback only to notice a guy cruising along behind me the whole time. I’d remembered seeing him when I paddled for the wave but thought he hadn’t made it. I’d clearly dropped in on him and surfed (almost) the entire wave blissfully unaware. Damn, I felt like a moron. I’ve surfed for 20 years and just like the rest of us, I’ll occasionally drop in on people by accident. Occasionally, they drop in on me. Sometimes I get a little mad inside when they do. But I try to practice kindness and have a positive outlook.
This guy I’d just dropped in on did a great job of the latter. I paddled back out and apologized. “No worries, brother,” he said. “I was trying to synchronize with your turns.” He laughed and paddled off. I laughed.
The next good set wave came in and even though I was in a good position, I left it to him and he obliged. This kind of scene repeats over and over again around the world daily, even when surfing seems to be bringing out the worst in us and our selfish ways. Self-awareness is a great tool to have in life. Compassion has no limit and kindness has no enemy.
That same day, a video dropped on Instagram. You’ve seen it. The video was shared and re-posted by a few major surf media outlets, including this one, showing two guys on a wave in Newport Beach and the now infamous hair pull that capped it all off.
I hate to bring more attention to it all but I think there are some issues to be discussed. The popularity of this ordeal left me with an ill feeling and some questions.
The aggressor in the video is a local Newport Beach Instagram character who calls himself Uncle Tito. Judging by the videos he posts, he seems to be typical of most Instagram pseudo-celebrities full of pseudo self-esteem — the kind of confidence derived from online popularity. In this day and age, many folks are forging their identities through likes and comments from social media and that is a consequence of a world where our value systems are off balance. Status is valued over character. It’s been that way for some time. Even before social media status, career and wealth were often valued over kindness or character. The modern equivalent for the younger generation seems to be how many social media followers one has. This kind of identity can’t mask someone’s true self and those superficial paths often lead to depression and other psychological issues in the subject. We are neglecting our true self and identity for a false happiness.
I’m not saying that all social media is bad. We all use it. But like all things, we need moderation. We all have to realize that likes and clicks only feel good in the short term, just like eating something sweet, drinking a beer or buying something. We get a quick dump of happy hormones and it feels great. If, however, we continue to overindulge in these very things it can create new feedback loops and patterns in our brains and can change our personalities. It all works much like an addiction.
It would seem the guy in this clip knew the cameras were on him and acted according. It worked. 100,000 plus views and all the attention he craves. His various contradictory statements since the incident offer numerous explanations for the actions in his video: he is a “loc dog” and he “can take any wave he wishes at his local spot.” He seems to be justifying his actions by pinning his colors to the mast that he is Newport’s new surfing enforcer after climbing the ranks for 25 years. Frankly, I don’t care. I’m not here to judge either party. I do, however, think we should discuss how social media has evolved localism and aggression in the lineup.
Before viral videos and social media were the norm, violent actions were already commonplace. It’s nothing new. I remember seeing way worse in surf videos in the 90s and early 2000s, glorifying aggression and making enforcers look like lineup nobility.
Localism seems to work when applied to a place like Pipeline pretty well. You put in your time, respect the guys that were there before you, and wait patiently for your waves. Just by reputation alone, most would think twice about paddling out. But let’s remember the history of Hawaii, the colonialism, and occupation by outsiders. One can understand the protection and passion towards the resources by locals. This is all without considering the consequences of mistakes at a wave like Pipeline. What good are rules without enforcement?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a two-foot day at a wave situated in the heart of Southern California. Newport Beach is a strange place to try and justify localism in 2018. It sucks, but don’t we have to accept that crowds are a part of surf culture now. I understand that we do still need the unwritten rules and a bit of order in our lineups. Crowded lineups have their own dangers and a board to your face can certainly do its own fair share of damage, and I’m all for educating people who either break the rules or are simply unaware. However, trying to justify an old-school enforcer approach seems outdated and misguided today.
I have surfed in Orange County for 10 years. I’ve been hit by boards and been dropped in on in big surf. I have also dropped in but I have never had a violent incident. That’s because I’m respectful and I play by the rules. I also am not influenced by Instagram likes. I’m humble enough to know I make mistakes and when someone makes a mistake that impacts me, I can have a word with them without pulling their hair.
I understand the entertainment value in the video we all just watched go viral in the past week and I’m encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive responses reminding us that violence is not an answer. It is concerning though that Instagram celebrities are garnering attention for such negativity and not putting their resources and efforts toward some positive actions.