Surfers are Sheep

A herd mentality may be bad for surfing, but it's damn good for business

| posted on February 11, 2014
Rusty Long, never one to follow the herd. Photo: Gilley

Rusty Long, never one to follow the herd. Photo: Gilley

It may sound like an attention-grabbing generalization, but the more time passes, the more I’ve come to believe that it’s true. Rugged individualism seems to have kicked-out a long time ago.

Evidence is rife: Groups of surf school graduates never abandon their learning spot (Really? Back again?), industry execs flock to the same surf destinations year after year (Fiji, Indo, Fiji, Indo, Fiji, Indo), surfing ex-patriots follow the same world tour (Maui, Costa Rica, Cabo, Bali), and everybody buys whatever the top pros are currently riding (Hey everybody, let’s see how many waves we won’t be able to catch today!).

Even in the face of all this evidence, I still had a glimmer of hope for my fellow surfer (and my thruster-adhering self, for that matter) until one day when I went down to Lowers. There was a south swell in the forecast, and I hoped to gather some mid-week, midday unpicked fruit. Unfortunately, when I got down there, I saw that a new northwest wind swell had overtaken the south, and was producing section-y, flat-faced, gutless waves.

As I sat there watching it, I noticed something else. Just a short distance up the beach, less than a 100 yards north of the Lowers left was a newly-formed little right, which was surprisingly steep, consistent, and fun-looking. To my complete astonishment, however, the fifteen or so surfers populating the Lowers lineup were completely oblivious. Despite this ultra-fun, untouched wave in plain view, they seemed determined to stand their ground and guard some of the crappiest Lowers I have ever seen.

It was pretty obvious that these surfers were blinded by Lowers’ reputation as the best wave in the area…without taking a real world observation into account. The only thing I could think of was that these reasonably-talented surfers must have assumed this new wave was some sort of illusion, and that they should ignore it and continue battling over the next round of burgers en masse.

This little scenario seemed to confirm previous suspicions about the surf population. But then I realized that to a certain group of people, this sheep-like mentality provided real hope and inspiration. For marketing guys the world over—whose aim is to persuade as many surfers as possible to mindlessly follow trends and purchase products—the herd is a beautiful sight.

  • some guy


  • CherBoiii

    Please. stop. Must. Keep. Bland. introspection. to-yourself. awful.article..

  • James B


  • Mark Gregory

    Had it been me, I would have paddled out at that little spot up the beach. And within 20 minutes, 75 guys would have joined me.
    I don’t get it. I can paddle out at random beachbreak, same slop all up and down the beach. Within minutes, ‘that guy’ will paddle out and sit right next to me, like its the thing to do. Nobody in the water for at least 100 yards, and this guy wants to sit next to me. Happened yesterday in fact. Soon after, the rest of the sheeple coming down paddle out right there as well. Like it must be better where the crowd is at right?

  • b

    I have been saying this for years “sheeple”. And sometimes have a little fun with it even, ie: I will sit out back and all of sudden paddle really hard right or left and watch as the pack slowly follows suit even though the next set will be setting up in the complete opposite direction and or not at all, then slowly drift back to where I was. its always worth a laugh, and usually a wave.

  • John

    you’re complaining about herd mentality… and you surf lowers. nuff said

  • Rob S

    Mr. Gilley. Please refrain from pointing out secret spots at Trestles, they do not exist.

    • whamo

      I surfed San Clemente for 35 years, and I never saw a wave like the ones you describe. Perhaps you mean “Barbed Wires”? I’m not saying it didn’t happen, flukes do occur, but I’m going to ask Furdog about that wave the next time I see him.

  • Guy

    Dear Rob, good thing god graced the Earth with you and your opinions so that others could learn to improve ourselves by living up to your expectations. Your article basically says, “People buy endorsed and standard gear, this means they are sheep and I’m better than them. To confirm my suspicious I noticed their behavior, they kept trying things that worked for them in the past instead of instantly following the same thing I was doing.” What would it mean for the industry if everyone made their own board and taught themselves and always went to new places? Are you this insufferable with other subjects? Must you be unique in all your endeavors or lack individuality? Why is individuality so important? Are cars too mainstream for you? Do you get around town with something more unique and expressive? Does this make you better than everyone else? Some people just need to get somewhere. For surfing, it’s recreational for nearly all of us and we aren’t recording how many waves we catch or how well we do, or how skilled other surfers nearby are for that matter. I’ve never tried to size up other people to see if they have a “reasonable” skill level. Such would be counter intuitive to why I go. I particularly enjoy surfing because performance doesn’t matter, like it does in virtually everything else I do. And it’s fun, whatever. Can’t people do something for fun without being judged to death for it? It’s not a doctoral program.

    • Angeleno

      Hahaha rob gileys blog posts were the only reason I came to this site at first. Prolly the only blog where I’ve gone back and read every post as well. You probably just wrote your essay of a comment to get a response from him or something but if you do read more stuff from him you’ll realize he’s rad! Keep em coming mr. Giley! Your stuff makes me stoked to be a surfer in California, it’s not always great but there’s always some fun to be had.

      • Stu Azole

        keep coming back for more of the same corpo-sponsored writing. Hmm, some might call you a sheep.

  • SonnyBoiii

    Please. stop. Must. Keep. Faux-literate. Hate. to-yourself. inane. comment..

  • yaqui

    People go to Indo and Fiji because it’s home to the best surf in the world.
    The notion that people buy boards like the pro’s used to be true, but now there are so many small wave options that almost everyone has a groveler, and they don’t they are blowing it.

  • ignacio

    i think u missed the part where u paddled over and surfed it… or did u just stay put and choose to write about ur frustration instead?

  • JT

    Surfer these days are blinded by their surroundings. Just because it is crowded I guess that means it is good? Well on the contrary. Next time you go out try somewhere new without a soul in the lineup. It feels much better than dodging a bunch of bobbing heads with bad attitudes. Once again thank you Rob for your imagery and articles.

  • Degree33Surfboards

    More of them over there means less of them over here. The heards keep the open terrain open. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  • Ralph A.

    Exactly two days ago I went to my usual spot. Even though conditions were really poor I went in (just for the merely purpose of exercising). There were like 10 people, same spot as always but this time few or no waves at all. Far to the right at the distance I saw a nicer set of waves, it was like maybe 150 yards. The funny thing was that even when I though to swim there (because it seemed better) I kept asking myself why no one were there… I think I spent an hour thinking about all the reasons why nobody was there already. At some point I went by myself but then all the sudden loneliness hit, and some of those thoughs of why no one were there… Truth is I get scared of something happening when I’m by myself.

  • gern blanston

    Whether you guys like the opinion or not, or that somehow you are offended by it…his point is true. Where I live in nor cal we have a relatively small surfing population and the reality is that not many think outside of the box when it comes to getting waves. Which I view as a blessing. Just a little extra work, hike, backpack or whatever and you can score waves alone.

  • kevinG

    and nothing seems to prove gilley’s point more than all the homogenous bleating on this comment board…

  • NotASurferIJustSurf

    Two examples of the sheep phenom:

    Even though a wide variety of neoprene is available, most surfers go with black.

    I remember pulling up at Lance’s Rights with a boat load of Aussies. It was big. I paddled out on my 6’4, but then went back for my 7’2. The other guys all only had 6’2s. They gave me some grief about paddling out on my ‘gun.’ When they finally got off the boat, they grovelled. I surfed. Later I asked them why they all had 6’2s? They said “because thats what Kelly rides.” The only seppo on the boat, I refrained from making the obvious comment.

  • Philip Chapman

    Same story different era. Check out Dora’s book. Nuff said! the Noid!

  • Philip Chapman

    Sometimes you don’t have to be a sheep. Try the break up/down the beach.

  • Mike Curtis

    Thanks for your article, I loved it! I depend the phenomenon to keep filtering the fools away from the waves like you described. Of course you might want to look a little further than Orange county. Or not! Ha, ha!

  • rob keep em comin

    hey faggits its called opinion if you dont want to hear someone else’s then dont click and comment on the damn article.

    • Stu Azole

      wait, sounds like you don’t want to hear other posters’ opinions. But why did you… uh, oh never mind.

  • Goproith

    If the sun was at zenith and the military base just opened a newly located break right in line-of-sight from the trapezoid, the off-kilter, do-gooder is probably just out from that military base. Only thing for the marketer and the metephorical herding of sheep is that real marketers put people into cars and surf marketers keep trending people surfing Trestles and photographers in line on the western side of the tracks.
    This article is the greatest writing ever in the surf world, in my opinion. Send in the drones, but first get acquanted with three movies before going out. Delta Force (Chuck Norris), Rocket Man, and Screamers; these will make you ready-made for any surfer adventure.

  • Facebook User

    I think surfers and the wider surfing community esp within australia are a bunch of self-satisfied, quite dumb and complacent, upper-middle class coastal snobs who need to think a bit more about the rest of the world and not just themselves once in a while.

    POPE FRANCIS and THE VATICAN [Protestantism/Anglicans and the ‘American Evangelists’ both black and white included]

    portrait of the myth, the man the dogma?

    The obssesssion these old men of the Vatican like Pope Francis have with the crucified figure of an overtly muscular, very healthy, white anglo-saxon male, naked and bloody on a cross speaks volumes for a Church and a Religion that at its heart is disturbing and ultimately very negative.
    A beautiful image it maybe, but it is also hideous too at the same time, an image that appeals to the two worst aspects of the human psyche both narcissism and cruelty in order to assuage some ancient guilty appeasement to the gods by sacrificing someone or something.

    [afterall the whole jesus thing is little more than the Prometheus myth retold. And even before the Greek god Prometheus there was the Egyptian god Pheonix, again similar mythology. its obvious the early jesus cults were well researched and pretty enterprising too for that matter.

    And who gets to play this sacrificed Jesus character one has to ask?

    -No doubt some poor bastard who’s either been unwittingly, ceremoniously slung into an anachronistic cauldron run by spiritual fakes, or more likely some poor unbeknown sod who has rather been shanghaied against his/her own free-will into playing the modern returned ‘jesus figure’ for the 20th and 21st centuries…because if such a person had have been asked up front no doubt there would have been a case of outright refusal to obey the instigators of all of this self-serving nonsense and great and higher purposes/commands.

    Guaranteed the sort of righteous folk who like this kind of thing are on an intellectual level very shallow people indeed. Mindless and shallow and pretentiously ‘non-materialist-non-narcissistic’.
    The same sort of people who think someone like Gwyneth Paltrow is really deep and meaningful and a basic, kind hearted soul who is not an inbred preppy psychopath either, who can actually act.

    Again the type of folk inured to this sort of thing are usually from pretty well-off backgrounds which explains the rosey-eyed world view and idealistic nature they tend towards others esp those from lower class backgrounds.
    They’re most definitely not from low socio-economic backgrounds or of the working classes that can be guaranteed!

    And rarely is the sacrificial victim a nice, well educated, upper-middle class rich kid, it would have to of course be generally and stereotypically someone of low economic means with little familial backup who is seen to be and considered disposable enough to suit the evil minds behind such religious/spiritual machinations engineered to facilitate and expunge some unconscious corrupt guilt the wider body politic senses of itself.

    If these church/religious leaders like the new media saavy and enlightened newly elected Pope Francis and his kind ever had their ‘Jesus’ actually arrive back on earth one day in order to seek his ownership of ‘their’ control and stewardship of the Christian church’s [both the catholic and protestant churches including all of the little jesus based cult’s] and all of its accoutrement and lucre guarded over by these Holy-men and women, Priests and Popes and Bishops etc., all for his own personal useage-

    [ie possibly to use for acquiring land in the best parts of the world with which to fashion a majestic home or two upon in which he might also choose to partake of various high-class whores and other fleshly pursuits- like a nice large collection of art and trinkets, perhaps some nice expensive wines/spirits/cocaine, maybe a little yacht or three-none of which happened to be under 60 foot in length and perhaps a little gambol here n there at various casino],

    – I feel damnably sure that the slitherer’s who now watch over the various Christian church would very quickly have their ‘lord jesus’ quietly hung, drawn and re-crucified before the deadly hour of dawn preferably before the sun was set.
    All to make damn sure that all the excessive power, glitter, gold and other largesse like the vast holdings of real estate that these church’s/religion’s own was never lost from their controlling, greedy, insidious, tenacious grasping hands basically. -greg hoey [australia]

  • Eric Hirsch

    this article is so true