“If you can’t have a spectacular ride, have a spectacular wipeout. It’s good for the sport.” I don’t know exactly when Martin Potter uncorked that pithy little bon mot. Having suffered through what seems like many lifetimes’ worth of Potter’s humorless ASP commentary, I wonder in fact if he actually said it at all. But never mind. The point stands. Wipeouts are great. A gift to the Sport of Kings; a shining beacon of difference between surfing and every other action-heavy sport. Like tuberiding and noseriding, an A-grade wipeout is nearly as esoteric as it is dramatic. Want to call my bluff as a surfing authority? Ask me why there aren’t three-dozen tombstones lining the bluff at Shipsterns. Ask me why the Boneyard at Mavericks isn’t filled with real human bones. I have no idea. Wipeout causatum is a mystery to me. Nathan Fletcher is still drawing breath after that vaporizing Teahupoo wipeout a couple years back? Clearly we’re still in the training wheels stage in our understanding of wave-reef hydrodynamics. So much violence. So much raw power. And for the most part, so little consequence.
The upshot being that wipeouts are for the most part mock-horrifying vignettes for our entertainment. Always have been. Doc Ball chuckled his way through the captions of his California Surfriders photo book, which came out in 1946, before “wipeout” was in use. “Taste the brine,” was one of Ball’s expressions for getting forcibly ejected from a surfboard, along with “smeared” and “the royal works.” Bruce Brown dropped a half-dozen choice wipeouts into the opening sequence of The Endless Summer. First issue of SURFER, page 26—three fine wipeout pics.
Rock climbers don’t get to mess around like that. There are no tightly-edited “Free Solo Spills at El Cap” vids on YouTube, like the annual Billabong XXL Awards “Worst Wipeout” nominees. Base jumpers aren’t wistfully shaking their heads and talking to the camera about their gnarliest fall, because those base jumpers are pulped.
We wipe out in horrible fashion. We pop up and take a breath, chortle a bit to whoever’s nearby, paddle back out and try again. Make your list of all the reasons why surfing is the greatest sport on earth, and that one has to be in the top three.