It was hard to believe: A surprise west swell had snuck in overnight, and now I had a peak to myself at Black’s. For being this uncrowded, it was as good as I had seen it in years. It wasn’t big—maybe a little overhead—but some beautiful, consistent, glassy A-frames were pulsing out of the canyon and delivered to us on a platter.
When I say, “us,” I refer to the 15 or so lucky souls who were out with me, all spread evenly down the beach like polite men using an expansive, multiple urinal facility.
When Black’s is this uncrowded, you keep a wary, pessimistic eye on the road and the Glider Port trail to see what kind of evil surf tour group is coming down the hill to spoil your fun. With CIA intensity, every movement down the cliff is monitored and assessed.
Being mid-week, there wasn’t a lot of people making the trek down to the beach, which today was a very welcome sight. However, about 20 minutes into my private peak bliss, I spotted two surfers walking down the road, and then walking up the beach towards North Peak.
I assumed, and I think my fellow surfers assumed, that these two guys would assess the crowd situation and continue walking past us to where yet another peak was delivering the goods.
However, to my complete surprise, these two guys stopped at the part of the beach right in front of my precious A-frame, and began to suit up.
This is when the impure thoughts started to kick in.
As they prepared to paddle out, I couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom the audacity of these two characters. What they could possibly be thinking. Why they weren’t paddling out down the beach where it was just as good, and completely empty.
Were they two La Jolla alpha males looking to assert their dominance and jump my claim? Or two visiting pros who maybe thought talent alone entitled them to surf wherever they chose?
The more I thought about it, the madder I got. Madder even, when I could see that one of them was sporting some sort of weak excuse for a moustache.
As they paddled towards me, I turned my back to the beach and tried to ignore them. Just faced the horizon and rehearsed snide, subtle comments that could be delivered on their arrival.
When I detected their presence next to me, I spun around to face them, and was about to say something sarcastic when I noticed something wasn’t right: They were both smiling.
This made me even madder. I began to boil. To seethe.
Before I could say anything, the guy closest to me opened his mouth, “Holy Shit, look at that one!” he blurted, now pointing up the beach at a roping left. “I’ve never seen a wave like that! That’s crazy!” he continued. “We saw you up here and thought we should join you. Is it OK if we surf here? We’ve never seen waves like this before! Does this place always have waves like this? Holy Shit!”
These words hit me like a hammer. These guys weren’t here to raid my treasure, they were here to share it. They weren’t a threat…they were novices. They were stoked out of their gourds.
Confronted by my mistake, I was crestfallen. Ashamed. Hit by a lightning bolt of guilt. Here I was, just stewing in selfishness and greed, while two relative beginners enjoyed, reveled, and basked in Mother Nature’s glory. The way I should have been.
I just looked at these guys with their gigantic smiles, nodded, mumbled something unintelligible, and paddled away.
What had I become?
Apparently some sort of human hemorrhoid.
As I paddled up the beach, I thought about all the bad feelings and fights and harassment I had witnessed and heard about over the years, all in the name of surfing. Of the North Shore, Kauai, Mauritius, Queensland, Baja, La Jolla, The Ranch, Oxnard, and Palos Verdes. Of elitism, localism, violence, anger and grumpiness.
And then I thought about my daughter who was just learning to surf, and her incredible stoke. About the proliferation of surf schools and how everyone just hoots and smiles all day. About a summer day at the beach where the human soundtrack is the laughter of innocent first-timers and literal screams of oceanic delight.
And then I realized that experienced surfers have it backwards: we’re the kooks—because apparently, the longer you surf, and the better waves you surf, the bigger of a dick you become.
Now the fog was lifting: Surfing was like Bogart’s transformation in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It starts out with wild-eyed innocence and spirals downward into a paranoid cauldron of greed, anger, and false-entitlement.
And here’s the really insidious part: Most of us never see it happening to ourselves. Inside, we still feel the same youthful joy when we ride good waves…but in order to secure this fix, on the outside we unconsciously start to act more and more like bitchy crack heads guarding a stash.
We think we’re Frodo but we’re actually Gollum.
Of course this is an exaggeration and there are thankful exceptions, but for the most part this transformation is pandemic. If you look for it, this salty, hemorrhoidal exterior is plain to see in every lineup.
We claim to feel this indescribable rapture, participate in this secret thrill, live and command life with the sport of kings—where, actually, most of us act like Barbarians: My wave, kook! Go home!
And these days, you don’t even have to go to the beach to see this ugly behavior in action. Thanks to the internet, our dark side is exposed like a festering wound for all to see. A brief look at the blogosphere comment boards on surf websites will show you an infected Petri dish of entitlement and hatred. Just stale, white-haired dog logs thrown every which way.
Even a blog with humorous intent and a tongue-in-cheek name like Waxing Gaseously is not immune. In a short span of eight short blog posts, the mean-spirited bile is splattered everywhere.
Like this bouquet of roses for Are You a Souther? from ‘Joam:’
“That was f—ing retarded, I hate you surf industry homos.”
Or a fun-filled, glowing appraisal from ‘Whamo:’
“Gilley started out like a promising writer, but he’s turned into a turd.”
Or a playful psychoanalytic study of The Young and Not-So-Brilliant from ‘Jojo:’
“Man, what made Gilley so bitter? The fact that he enjoyed a career most photographers can only imagine? Maybe he’s pissy because no one shoots film anymore? Whatever. I already find his schtick tiresome. It’s formulaic, it’s uncreative, and it’s certainly not clever enough to be funny. A column about young people being “stupid” is like an investigation of (gasp!) erectile dysfunction in middle-age men. It’s just too flaccid to be interesting. It’s also kind of sad. Rob, I know you were a young, stupid person at one time in your life. My advice to you: Go find that kid. I’d be willing to bet he’s a lot more fun than you are.”
Or an important, constructive writing lesson from ‘Nor Cal Locc:’
“Can you write something not ending in a one-liner? God that is like writing rule number 1. I won’t even lie. I’m jealous you have a writing job, when you obviously have not had an ounce of education on the subject.”
Or a loving, Waxing Gaseously blog status report from ‘Adam:’
“Jesus, these are getting worse every day…”
Or an oh-so-clever, turn-about-is-fair-play take on He’s on my Boat Trip from ‘SurfersAgainstBadBlogs:’
“Yes, Gilley’s blog is on my boat trip.”
And finally, one more helpful writing tip from ‘Nor Cal Locc:’
“Learn how to write. Kook.”
Sadly enough, Waxing Gaseously comment boards are actually tame and positive compared to many surf-related blogs. Surf websites are filled to the rafters with spewed venom (mostly from anonymous sources using clever pen names) so toxic that it would make a spitting cobra jealous.
All in the name of surfing.
So for all you experienced surfers out there, and especially for you mean-spirited blog haters, here’s my advice: Go find that wild-eyed kid again. Share a wave. Smile. Be more positive. Don’t take things so seriously. De-fang yourself. Remember what it was like when you first started surfing.
In fact, to remind yourself, go ahead and create your own formulaic blog that always ends in a one-liner.
Embrace your inner Frodo.