Thursday, December 11, 2008


Surfing is one of the most joyful sports I've ever done. There is something quite magical about being out in the water on a beautiful day, getting exercise as you paddle around, keeping an eye on the peaks approaching from the horizon, and finally being in the right position to catch the wave and ride it.* And it's a very zen experience, and one which focuses your mind utterly on the task at hand. When you're paddling for a wave, all you're thinking about is your paddle strokes and whether the wave has "caught" the board and popping up in the right place and angling the board to take it down the line and on and on.

Plus, if it's a decent size wave, i.e., as tall as I am, like the waves I was trying to catch yesterday, there's always the prospect of being out of position and having large, heavy waves crash on your head and hold you down, or being on the wave, only to have the nose of the board shoot down into the water, sending you tumbling while heavy waves crash on your head and hold you down. Surfing is fun, but there are many ways to get hurt, so you need to focus.

Which is why it sucks when localism rears it's ugly head.

Localism is the tendency of locals to be aggressively territorial about a particular wave or break. Most of the time, if you practice the rules of surf etiquette, i.e., yield the right of way to the person already on the wave, don't sit out waiting for a wave in a spot that will nose in on someone else also sitting nearby, etc., you'll be OK. Respect and the aloha spirit will win the day.

But sometimes not.

Last week a couple of huge swells came in from the north, creating massive waves on the North Shore (one day the waves were 30 feet at Sunset Beach) and smaller, ideal conditions on the west side of the island, which gets "wraparound" swell. So Jason and I headed out to a break on the west side called "Tracks" where we've had fun in the past.

We weren't the only ones with that idea. There were at least 75 people out in the water, all locals except for one lonely haole woman sitting out behind the waves. I was instantly intimidated, and vowed to myself to stay out of everybody's way, hang back, and only catch a wave if I was truly and indisputably the only one in position to catch it.

So I paddled out and sat behind the waves, watching where they were breaking and where people were positioning themselves to catch them, smiling at people when eye contact was made, and generally doing my damndest to avoid offending anyone. A couple of times I tried to go for a wave, but was out of position and didn't catch it.

Turns out, this wasn't just bad luck on my part. It was a deliberate effort by the locals to block me off the waves. I discovered this in two ways. First, I finally, finally was in perfect position to catch a gorgeous wave, about 5 feet (or almost as big as me). I had it, I was on it, and I was about to pop up and ride it. When all of a sudden, this little shithead kid races around me and dropped in on me, i.e., cut in front of me on the wave so that I had to pull off to avoid hitting him. As I said, "heeeeey!" really loudly at him, he looked back at me and laughed. Fucker.

The next wave I tried to catch I was out of position and got pounded, so I decided to call it a day and head back to the beach. Jason stayed out to try to surf some more.

As he paddled around, he overheard about 4 guys talking to each other and conspiring to block his access to waves or drop in on him when he caught one. And that other lonely haole girl that was there? They were doing the same to her. So he finally gave up and we went home.

It was one of the most frustrating surfing experiences I've ever had, and the first one that left me so angry that I would wake up in the middle of the night stewing about it. And not stewing as in, oh, I should have said something or done something. There's nothing to say or do. I doubt anyone would have laid a hand on me if I had raised a stink, but they definitely would have gotten in my face and tried to scare me, and they definitely would have laid a hand on Jason, so it's not worth it to start something.

It's more stewing of the, surfing is supposed to be so much fun, there are waves enough for everyone, why can't people just practice this aloha spirit you hear tell about so much in Hawaii? Why the bullshit aggression? And for God's sake, there's enough going on in your head when you surf without having to worry about getting the shit kicked out of you because some aggro punk doesn't like the color of your skin.

Enough time has passed that I've calmed down about it, but that day, I was thinking that Hawaii would be really great without most of the Hawaiians. I know I sound like an asshole, but it's how this place makes you feel sometimes.

*Much of the pleasure for me is attributed to being out in the sun and warm water -- I don't get the guys who put on 7 mm wetsuits with booties and hoods to surf dark, angry looking waves in places like Iceland or wherever. Though my brother has to suit up to surf in New Hampshire, and I guess if it's all you've got, you do what you've got to do. But the pros who travel to places in northern Europe to surf in the freezing cold are nuts.


  1. That is crap about the locals the good news is that we have no such problems here in NH. We are lucky just to get surf.

  2. of course the water is usually on the cold side

  3. Anthony has one of those million mm suits for surfing at the beach here, but he says that surfing in southern Portugal beats the hell out of the chill.

  4. I just can't help wondering what's wrong with people? What a shame that there isn't enough good will to let everyone enjoy the waves.