Just as localism doesn’t have to be drowning a kid who dropped in on you, acceptance doesn’t have to be giving out free hugs in the lineup. It can be as simple as letting a beginner paddle for a wave they are in position for without paddling for it yourself, even if you know they won’t catch it. It can be asking the new face where they are from. Hooting for the little kid on the foam top unknowingly hanging out in the take-off zone. As a society, we love to attach extreme images and definitions to words, but usually the truth is somewhat more subdued and a bit tamer. Whatever your definition, the graffiti reminded me that neither acceptance nor localism had yielded to the other.
I stopped thinking about the graffiti when I realized there was a good chance I was about to smash my board by slipping on a rock before I even got into the water. No, don’t help me up, just spray paint “Kook” on my chest and call it a day. Thankfully, I avoided that hilariously awful outcome and found the antidote to my anxiety in steam roller rights reeling off for hundreds of yards, while offshore winds licked at their peaks. The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey roared in my head.
It wasn’t long before the rumors of localism were confirmed. I’d been sitting on the shoulder, trying not to step on any toes. Picking off waves too wide for the rest of the pack. The first time it happened, I just assumed the guy was old, and new, and didn’t know any better. An elderly gentleman in an obnoxiously 70’s wetsuit dropped in on another surfer and proceeded to surf off into the sunset. His ride was accompanied by endless yells of “Kook!” by almost everyone in the lineup. Give the guy a break, I thought. I mean… He’s old.
A few minutes later, it happened again. This time the guy looked right into the face of the surfer he was dropping in on, but went anyway, laughing while he did it. And the thing was, he seemed to be a pretty decent surfer. How, in the time it took to reach that level of surfing, had he not learned that you don’t drop in on people?
“Hey,” a surfer yelled when the culprit had paddled back out. “Hey, what did I tell you last summer? You don’t surf here. You don’t fucking surf here.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little as I watched this angry fellow paddle off after this old man down the beach, yelling the whole way. A little harsh.
Just as I figured localism would manifest at some point, so would a beautiful version of acceptance. I had been sharing conversation with a local guy out there on a single-fin funboard. His style was blowing my mind. It seemed he had caught a hundred waves already, always strolling to the end of his board like he just wanted to check out the view from there for a moment. Sickeningly casual. It had come out that I was traveling from the Outer Banks.
“Oh, cool. You guys get surf there?” He asked, sincerely unaware that an ocean existed on the other coast that could create surfable waves.
“Yeah. Sometimes.” I felt my East Coast ego deflate for a moment, but the unintended insult vanished when I finally scoped a huge peak bending wide enough to give me a chance at a ride without a hundred other people paddling for it. I dug deep, refusing to blow what could be my only opportunity at a proper wave at Trestles. The only problem was the Funboard Kid was paddling right beside me. Closer to the peak… Dammit.
“You got it?” He says. I look at him confused and say nothing. “Take it,” he yells.
I’ve never actually felt my legs burn on a wave before that one. It just kept rolling. Forgiving every awkward carve I threw at its lip. When I finally reached the end of the conveyor belt, I looked back and Funboard Kid was a speck of neoprene. He’d just given me the best wave of my entire life.
Until that day, I had always been of the mindset that there is no room for localism in the water. I considered myself a diehard advocate for acceptance. After that session, my perspective changed. There’s a reason why the walk down to Trestles is riddled with contradiction. One moment you’re being told to get the hell out of town. The next you’re reading a diagram detailing the breaks for all the newbies and first-timers. The battle between acceptance and localism will never end. Because the truth is that surfing needs both. Surfing needs people willing to heckle surfers with no inkling of lineup etiquette. I know I sure wasn’t about to accost that neon-clad old guy, but I sure appreciated the fact that someone put an end to his habitual drop-ins. Surfing also needs people that adhere to acceptance. People that can be in position for the wave of the day, and say, “Go ahead! Take it!” You can’t appreciate the good without the bad. As long as the two ideas remain in balance, the future of surfing will be just fine.