OK, Fine. I Surf.

The repercussions of admitting you're a surfer

| posted on January 22, 2013

Ridiculous questions, a side effect of admitting you're a surfer. Illustration: Prodanovich

I arrive at the cocktail party knowing that at some point or another, I’ll have to do the ugly deed. I’ll have to take a deep breath, swallow hard, and tell the person I’ve just met that yes, I am a surfer.

We’ve all had those hesitant moments. It’s certainly not out of embarrassment that I rarely disclose to strangers that I surf. It has more to do with the fact that things instantly change the moment I reveal my lifestyle to a non-surfer.

Here are a few of the responses I’ve gotten after informing people that I surf:

“Oh! Can you give me/my kid lessons?” This is great in certain situations, e.g. you’re on a first date with someone and looking for a reason for a second. But typically, life doesn’t work this way. More likely, this reaction comes from someone that you want absolutely nothing to do with, e.g. the business contact that can’t swim, or the soccer mom with four kids.

“Do you know Kelly Slater?” Yes, of course. The most popular surfer and I are best friends. In fact, next week we’ll be sharing a hut on Tavarua together. You could make yourself seem pretty important by going along with this one in particular, but at some point you’re going to have to produce the bald-headed one, and he usually doesn’t show up at random cocktail parties. Good luck making this one work for you.

“Duuuude! Cowabunga, bro!” Maybe they don’t say this exact phrase, but certainly some variation of it. They immediately size you up, look you up and down for a hemp necklace/bracelet, puka shells, and a tribal tattoo. It’s usually best to walk away from this type of person—or prepare your ears for an endless stream of Jeff Spicoli quotes. Even if you are sporting the above-mentioned accessories, it’s best not to feed the bears, so to speak. You won’t change their perception, so let’s not dig this hole any deeper.

The only place where we are safe from this line of questioning is among other surfers. We can discuss our latest exploits in the water without being patronized, and we know that we sound much more normal than the stereotypes would have people believe.

If you do end up speaking to a non-surfer who asks what you do, perhaps keeping our little secret society under wraps is best. After all, if the phrase “Only a surfer knows the feeling” holds true, there’s no way we could ever explain it to an outsider without coming off as a little crazy anyway.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    I think your problems are only beginning when you start talking to other surfers at a venue away from the sea. “what size board do you ride?” etc etc, bascially what you are been asked, or you are asking is ‘are you a real surfer?’, ‘are you a kook?’ ‘how hardcore are you?’ and heaven forbid ‘is he/she a better surfer than me’.

  • vidal

    I was about to hit Like on the FB icon, then i realized, if I do, it’ll post to my timeline, and I’d be doing one of the lamest thing a kook can do, announcing to the world non-stop that he’s a surfer. So, as much as I appreciated the article, I’ll keep it to myself.

  • mike

    I get one of two responses: ” I’ve tried that once and I wasn’t good at it.” Or, ” can you teach me?”

  • Louise Sorensen

    I didn’t realize surfers had these problems. I live in a land locked area of Ontario, Canada. No ocean, no waves, no surfing except of the internet variety.
    To me surfing on the waves looks like the epitome of freedom and fun.
    But I doubt I’ll ever actually get to try it.
    So I do what I can where I live.
    I walk my dogs in all weather, from -20 to +31C, rain, sleet, snow, ice or sun. The only weather that stops me is a thunder storm.
    And I cross country ski from my back door in the winter.
    And I tweet with a surfer avatar, because it describes the freedom and fun I have surfing the web.
    If you think mentioning that you’re a surfer is problematic, try telling people you’re a writer.

  • Mark

    Your right Jimmy, but a TRUE surfer doesn’t worry about if someone is “better”. Only people doing it for the wrong reasons do that, IMO. Sad thing is too many do, do that.

  • Luis

    Yeah, there are a few other “catch phrases” non-surfers usually throw at me which give me instant headache, such as “You surf? Where? Wherever I can find good waves… Yeah, but where? WELL, IN THE F***IN’ BEACH YOU MORON!!!” or “yeah, I would like to try it… it must be cool to be inside the barrel” as if it’s just a wlak in the park. As you said, only a surfer knows the feeling, so non-surfers are better left in ignorance about that.

  • William Stack

    I think this by Gibbings tells it better. So worth a read:

  • newb

    i just say i can’t stand up on a long-board. that stops the conversation pretty quickly. unless they ask what a long-board is.

  • Scott

    I Completely agree, fuckin hate that awkward conversation. There’s really no point explaining what we do and why we do it to those who will never comprehend. My parents think I dress in neon wetsuits and wide stance on knee high whitewater for Christ sakes.

  • hanna

    my problem is the reverse: depending on where you live (like the island on which i reside), everybody surfs. therefore, in social situations, one has to make an effort not to get drawn into some generic surfing conversation….”did you go out yesterday?” “catch it last Tuesday?” “just got a new quad/fish/longboard/whatever”…”just got back from CR/Bali/Indo/wherever”….equally tedious, imo.

    • kalani

      you’re obviously NOT a surfer. I love talking surf w/ others since I love surfing. Love being out in the water, seeing the dolphin pod go by during my a.m. surf, sun setting during afternoon surf, talking about the new swell, where you/i surfed last, where you’ve been on your last trip…etc. In social situations, the people i enjoy talking to are others that share my interest in surfing…not some random, making small talk about the economy, football or zombies in DC.
      and that’s what i mean about being a surfer and a person that surfs.

  • mike

    This is why I love Hawaii. In Hawaii if you surf you are just like everyone else and If you are good you get respect. As far as teaching the kids to surf mostly the dads,moms,aunts and uncles handle that.

  • John

    My friends are always like “do you ride in the barrel” as if every surfer can do it

  • glenn

    I travel inland a lot from the durban (sa) coastline to a mostly Afrikaans speaking people of which most have never even been to the beach! these dudes turn nasty after the question every time (probably due to jealousy). I have learnt not to say anything as they want to punnel me anyway when they hear me talking English and put two and two together! landlocked dudes hate what we have!

  • henrique

    They also ask if have ever watched “Point Brake”…

  • rw

    Surfing isn’t very cool, but it’s fun as hell.

  • Judge #3

    Surfing is mainstream now!!! This was an issue 10+ years ago, now everyone and their mom surfs so we all can “relate”

  • nick

    yes dude

  • bob

    crazy is ok

  • Local Union 13

    That’s why its much easier to not label yourself a fuckin surfer.

  • http://yahoo Sara

    When I’m asked if I’m a surfer I say, ” I’m not a surfer just a girl that likes to surf”.
    So much so, when I started last summer I spent almost every weekend driving over 3 hours just so I could spend several more hours trying to stand up on that board!
    I’m not by any stretcch of the imagination a “surfer”, if you were to tell me you surfed I would probably ask you the same questions with the exception of helping me to be a better surfer. Take pride in this sport and NEVER not tell someone you surf because deep down inside they wish they were doing it themselves! ; )

  • Kalani

    Ok, so, you’re from the midwest or some other inland area. You go to CRica, SoCal, Waikiki or wherever… take a surf lessons and eventually paddle out on your own (and flail, of course). He/she goes home and the odyssey of being a “surfer” begins… wears surf branded clothes and god forbid, goes on a surf trip, etc.
    Just because you’ve surfed or surf (occasionally) doesn’t make you a surfer.
    And being a surfer no longer has the connotations it once did, like in the 80s (largely due to Fast Times, though I really like that movie…it’s hilarious). People are way more aware these days unless of course you live in Kansas or some other dreadful inland area.