YouTube Killed the Secret Spot

Can secret spots survive the age of social networking?

| posted on February 04, 2011

Your secret spot has finished loading. Photo: Gilley

I’ve often thought that a good sandbar is a kind of a temporary laboratory for the real kind of surf culture—the stuff that actually happens in a lineup. Just recently, however, I realized that a good sandbar is also the perfect laboratory for the idea of a secret spot as well.

Think of any long and relatively unhindered stretch of beach—from Hossegor to Big Sur—and you’ll find a clutch of surfers who keep an eye on the movement of sand. When a bar shapes up into something special, only a couple of trajectories can take place that essentially determine the culture of its lineup.

Either the first couple of surfers who discover the new break simply enjoy it, and return alone, or they blab, and lineup grows, maxing out a limited resource, causing the development of a hierarchy, and creating conditions for the purging of excess and unwanted surfers. The entire evolution can occur in the short lifespan of an average, middle-of-the-beach sandbar.

In essence, either this new “spot” remains a “secret,” or it doesn’t. But I would argue that a lineup that quickly develops on a sandbar is simply a condensed model of what happens to all types breaks when surfers communicate over time. The surfers who establish a spot make an agreement, an unspoken contract, that decides whether a particular break is granted a “secret,” or reserved, status. Either that agreement holds or it doesn’t, but the process is well established. In fact, the very idea of a “secret spot” has held such an ennobled, even mythical, position within the surf culture worldwide that it’s as iconic now as the idea of “the perfect wave” was 50 years ago.

As a cultural development, however, the “secret spot” may not last much longer. In fact, the tools of communication available today threaten to destroy the entire category of the “secret.” And those new media tools employ our personal vanity, or our professions, to do it.

Former Dream Tour surfer Shea Lopez has spent much of his retirement from competition surfing rare, out-of-the-way, or localized spots. He says documenting those spots, is a tricky proposition. “As a pro surfer, documenting your sessions is your livelihood. And so surfing and recording secrets is always a balance. But often times, I’m looking for waves that the average surfer just isn’t looking for, because they’re too remote, too heavy, or just too difficult to surf—rivers, currents, extreme tides, dry rocks, sharks, cold water, or all of the above,” Shea says.

Google claims to have extensive knowledge of "secret surf spots."

Surf magazine editors have long employed tricks to throw potential seekers off the trail, too (usually at the behest of photographers who want to return to these spots). I’ve seen a lighthouse erased, and headlands disappear. Shea says there are standards videographers adhere to as well: no geological anomalies, obvious markers, or even locals (because, let’s face it, some locals are so dedicated they might as well be geological features.)

But the democratization of the Internet has created a new phenomenon.

Earlier this winter, I traveled to a break I’d kept my eye on for a couple years because a man-made structure began to accumulate sand in its lee. It was like watching a geological feature being born, and when the first ridable waves appeared and the shape continued to grow into the extraordinary, a small group of surfers established the classic rotation and hushed tones of a secret spot. A video camera arrived one day, but I didn’t think much of it. Lots of surfers like to review and relive their sessions. The next swell, however, brought a celebrity surfer and his camera man, and the next swell brought more cameras and more pros. And then the crowds came in mass. The jig was up.

Later, I learned that the first video-maker had placed a clip on You Tube with that ever-attractive subhead: Secret Spot. In the video were markers, evidence, and plenty of clues.

The idea of its life on the web, and in the imaginations of unknown numbers of surfers obsessed me. Googling “secret spot” netted video clips from the coast of Georgia to a river in Switzerland, from Northern Sumatra to Los Angeles. Knowing surfers to be some of the most self-interested people on the planet, I found this self-inflicted blow amazing. The logic of it spun my mind it tight little eddies. It was like discovering King Tut’s tomb and twittering the GPS coordinates.

Then the inevitable happened, a surfer posted a clip partly titled “secret spot” to my Facebook page. This was an online “friend,” mind you, not someone I actually know, but someone I understood to be a regular, unsponsored surfer. And that very week, this surfer had surfed a spot he/she considered “secret,” and enjoyed it so much, they posted a video clip of the session onto the WORLD WIDE WEB.

Here is a sample of the responses the video accrued:

“Secret spot video rocks.”

“WOW!!! Way cool!”

“I know where that spot is but I’ll never tell. Great video.”


It turns out that it wasn’t one person, but a surfing couple who posted the video. The woman worked in PR, i.e. a professional crafter of messages. So, I had to ask: Why would you want to post video of a “secret spot” that you enjoy? What about the surfers who you shared the lineup with, and who also considered the spot “secret”? Did you perceive the conflict? And did your perspective on the act of posting the video change once you read all of the comments?

“We learned a lot in 12 hours of posted comments,” wrote my online friend. “I work in marketing so I know how powerful a headline can be. I think the lure of listing the secret spot is like saying ‘neener, neener, neener’ to the rest of the world—like ‘I was there and you weren’t. Ha ha.’ You want to be the star, not the rock you are surfing over.”

So in this case, the one thing that trumps a surfer’s best interest (or the ability to return to a secret spot and enjoy an uncrowded lineup, as well as honor the pact of that lineup to keep it secret) is the immediacy of one’s own glorification in the Internet age.

But the aspect about the slew of video clips titled “secret spot” that I found alarming was that all of the issues that might cause a professional to blow the lid off of a spot appear absent. Everyday surfers with everyday video equipment and software post their secrets on the Internet for bragging rights, and not much more. Yet, the very amateurism that makes those videos interesting also gives away the secrets: landmarks, road signs, reef markers, lighthouses, headlands.

You score, you edit, then you publish. But the power of the information age to exploit vanity, it seems, is stronger than this bit of culture called the “secret spot” that surfers have forged over the past century. Like the lifespan of a sandbar, I fear that the idea of a functioning secret spot will only have held a temporary place among us, degrading in the current until only the lesson of its passing will remain.

  • rifa surf mexico

    wow its all amizing i didiny kew all that !

  • eric kurzbard

    that’s really funny, a surf magazine claiming another media for ruining secret spots.How many spots has surfer magazine exposed?

    • Tom Eggers

      Tooks the words right outta my mouth Kurzy. Could the irony be any heavier?

  • Dewey

    I have been surfing since 1962. Surfers can never keep a secret when they find good waves. There are no secret spots, only easy ones to get too and harder ones to get too. (easy can also mean a place that breaks on almost any swell, harder can also mean a place that only breaks on specific swell types, not just ease of location) The harder a place is too get too, the less people, the easier the more people. Some places are easier now then they were, some are still hard. Part of the fun is the search.

  • Andy

    Not with everybody tweeting the swell

  • pol

    I really enjoyed your point of view.
    Internet has given me te possibility to surf places i’d never surf without it.

    I guess the Cal coast got no more secrets anymore? (in reference to the screen cap.)

    Great article.

  • pol

    I’d like to know your opinion about surfing schools and the impact on the beach crowds.

    In the short to mid term every single wave will be completely unsurfable.

    Paradox here, as many of the teachers and coaches are local surfing heroes, who should be the most concerned about surfing etiquette and about their absolute passion. But at the time, they are people who want to dedicate their lives to surfing and get their incomes from it.

    Im from Spain. Here there is, as everywhere, an increasing surfing practice among people. However, we are at earlier stages of the mass-surfing process, compared i.e. with U.S., OZ, etc…

    cheers, p.

  • Josef

    Nobody owns the ocean. Get over it, share and respect.

  • Aaron

    youtube killed the secret spot…and the internet as a whole killed what surfing used to be…sigh

  • dgbjpn

    It’s not the tools it’s the users.

  • Mitch

    yes, there are literally 10,000’s of breaks still waiting to be found ….

  • Justin

    You could always look at it as never miss another swell or never have another day waiting to find a break.

    At the end of the day, you’re always going to have small out of the way breaks to yourself just because they’re small and out of the way.

    As long as everyone respects each other in the water there shouldn’t be too many problems.

  • http://zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz byron

    I know where mine and YOURS are…

  • Pingback: Youtube a tué les spots secret de surf | Le blog du surf

  • Doog

    there are many rarely ridden, secret waves in the world. 2 words: snicklefritz reef

  • Dano

    Ive got a secret spot, very consistant, super fun, rippable, barrels, surfed it loads alone over the past 2 years. I’d never ever put it on youtube! Sure it wont be too long before somebody else finds it, till then i’ll enjoy and brag quietly like now.

  • Bobby

    Tigershark Point, New England. You will never surf there because you can’t find it. That’s not even its real name. People who know know, and those who dont dont. 5 people have ever surfed there. Internet schminternet.

  • tubejunkie

    Sometimes I like to refer to less popular spots sarcastically as secret spots. It always amazes me the crowds and hassling that some people choose to endure in order to surf the cool spot with the big rep. Sure it’s got the rep for a reason, often it’s a superior wave, but often it’s not the best wave in the area and still it will be the most crowded due to it’s image as the best, or the most core, or where the hot guys surf, etc. etc. Many times a peak within 100 yds might be as good or better but featuring 1/4 the crowd or less. It is on these days that I will jokingly refer to the less crowded break as a secret spot. Myself and all five other surfers there might laugh in a mock conspiratorial tone while looking over at the crowd of fools battling it out just next door with their blinders on. That’s what I love… a secret spot in plain sight!

  • chlalafilms…

    I agree with what this article says, but Ive made videos of North Central Nicaragua for a surf company named GreenSurf Nicaragua for a year. With saying that, I still surf completely empty waves every single day, and I’m not hiding anything.

  • Fernando

    Finally a note on that. The compulsive need surfers have to publish pics and videos everytime they score good waves somewhere is the cancer of surfing.

  • Flailer

    How do you turn a nice,normal guy into an aggressive,selfish tool? Go to surf at ” his” spot. I know cos I was one of them.

  • sharky cold and fickle

    you dont need secret spots when a “crowded” day at your local break is still less then 10 people. no waves up here in oregon just sharks and kooks in wetsuits

  • Nor Cal locc

    Seriously, A surf magazine commenting on the end of “Secret Spots.” get it in your head KIMBALL TAYLOR, “YOU AND YOUR FELLOW EMPLOYEES HAVE DONE MORE IRREPAIRABLE HARM TO SURFING (and its secret spots )THAN ANY OF YOUR READERS COMBINED!!!!!!!!”

    Anyone with half a brain and a keen eye can find, search for, or research, any secret spot with a high success rate.

    Wait, kimball taylor, you have half a brain, because you just wrote this article.

    the only way to gain forgiveness is by sacrificing yourself at the top of the blacks cliff

  • kent

    i have a great secret spot…unfortunately come summer 10000 people show up to swim in it and i get a ticket for surfing within a 100′ of a least i got a month or so left before the water gets to warm to swim in…long live the jellyfish…

  • SeanDavey

    Well, I too see the irony in Surfer mag calling others out for exposing spots. Here’s an example. I did a trip somewhere south of the equator in the pacific several years ago. The surfers and I made a pact with the local folks that we wouldn’t name the location or any of it’s surfspots. Come round to publishing time and they’ve taken my words and had someone else rewrite them and simply added all the names in there. I was pretty gutted, to say the least, because that’s not my style and I had given my word. I was told then that Surfer had a bit of a reputation for disregarding photog’s secrecy requests. That was then and this is now. I’d like to think that Surfer conducts itself in a more sincere fashion these days. And for those at Surfer who are wondering which story, our trip was at the same time that Katrina hit the gulf coast…..

  • BIg Sponge

    Yeah, we have a guy on the Big Island that has invited KS and SD to a little “secret” spot too. Now everyone’s going there! Wow! Thanks ah…

  • RyD

    This is the future that is now surfing. Our society has become so used to instant gratification, that it doesn’t even know or remember what it was like putting in the labor and research to find and protect a secret spot. These people aren’t even real surfers but rather posers surfing just because it is “cool”. The counter culture of surfing has been so diluted by all of these kooks, that it really doesn’t exist anymore. It truly is sad. It’s so bad sometimes that when I’m sitting out there waiting for a set I actually become embarrassed being associated with these types. There are too many people who should not be on a surfboard. Surfing is not just an activity or sport but rather a way of life. What happened?

  • steve

    Why doesn’t the surfrider foundation buy one of those sand dredging barges and go up and down the coast creating hundreds of “secret spot” sand bars. Then the supply might meet the demand – basic surfanomics.

  • sid sanders

    thats what localism is for

  • SeanDavey

    Oh great. I mention the fact that Surfer exposed a place against the wishes of all who were involved and you guys delete my comment. Total lack of credibility guys. I only mentioned it because you guys were calling out youtube etc. Pot calling the kettle black……..

  • Sam Wallace

    Surfer is not calling out YouTube. The argument, if you actually read the article, is that the surf world–aided by new technology–is changing the way we spread information. There’s no finger-pointing involved. Great article.

  • Richy

    so where is the spot

  • Christian

    if the hawaiians wouldnt have shared their invention of surfing this very webpage would not exist… joy is the only thing that doubles when being shared

  • Ed

    The best surf spot is Prowlers, Egypt, Mavericks, Peahi (or Jaws) and of course Cyclops and Pipe

  • jayne hathaway

    You all are missing the point. Ever since the Bronzed Aussies, the corporate surf machine has grossly overpromoted the sport, to MAKE A BUCK. Now because of that, we have three generations out surfing now. Add to that the population increasing worldwide, THERE ARE NO MORE SECRET SPOTS. To say its the fault of this one or that one, is like fleas arguing over which spot on the dog’s back they own.
    Surfers always have been very shortsighted. And the corporations obviously didn’t give a damn if they ruined the sport for everyone but the rich, who can travel to Indo and do the boat trips, for $5K for two weeks.

  • Corey

    I have a little secret spot of my own in the San Diego area. I know people have seen the spot, and it has this nice wave that hits this reef nicely. But it still is rarely surfed.

    I guess that’s because it takes a little local knowledge to find. And it’s intimidating nature, that has this spot empty. (Which empty waves can be hard to find sometimes in San Diego. Especially in the summer).

    I’m going to move too Oahu in a couple weeks. And even though it’s a surfer paradise. I gotta say, I’m going to miss my little secret reef. I hope when I get back it will still be where the, ” Loner surfer” can go.

    If you find a secret spot, please. Keep It A Secret!!! Big crowds and uneducated people can lead too serious accidents and tempers flaring. Naturally, in popular surfing regions this is amplified.

    So please just shut up. If you happen too be lucky enough to be invited or find one of the few secret breaks left in a place where crowds are a problem. Like California, Hawaii, etc.

    While they can be seemingly rare, they do exist. Besides respect from locals is way better then any short-lived fame that a big mouths might experience.

  • DDF

    Do you like to hear yourself speak…. Why is it that most “attempted” writers stretch words, subjects, and points. What is your actual point ( in less than 50 words ).

    I would post my name and email but I already spent enough time reading the article.