How To Be A Good Surfer

A good surfer knows where to they will catch waves before they paddle out. Photo: Maassen

Pay attention. A good surfer pays attention. Small children, newcomers, and people wearing denim sprint unknowingly into the surf. A good surfer pays attention. Don’t operate by guesswork. Check the surf. Know where the waves will be breaking, where they will not be breaking, where you’ll catch waves before you ever become wet, then paddle out.

Surf cameras, surf apps on your phone (cell phones in general), websites, blogs: If you must. But check the surf. Everyday. In person. Surfing is a practice, and it is to be treated as such.

Take care of your equipment. Fix your dings. Change your wax. Learn what works for you, and learn how to ride it. Learn when to ride it. Know how you want to ride a wave before you do it, and choose your board accordingly.

Think. About your waves, about your boards, about your place in the lineup. A good surfer thinks.
If you’re not a kid, let the kids be. Kids are shitheads many times, but they are kids, so don’t get mad at them for being kids.

To that end, a good surfer is a good steward. Of the break. Of the spot.

Shut up. Realize that there’s not a whole lot to say. Yes, the weather’s fine, and yes, the waves are good, and yes, we all hope the wind stays off of it, and yes, it’s really crowded. We all get it. So let it be. A good surfer shuts up.

Let a few go. As much for yourself as for the rest of the people who eventually catch them. Duke said it first: “Wave come, wave go.” The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.

Oh, and this: There’ll always be a better wave. Than the one you missed, the one you just rode, whatever. There’ll be a better wave. The sooner you learn this, the better off you’ll be.

Know how to deliver a good stinkeye, but don’t do it unless necessary. Let your surfing do the talking, operate with the understanding that you are going to get waves because you can.

On this point: Surf at a spot that suits your skill level. A good surfer does not get in the way, does not insert himself into a lineup where he does not belong. Instead, he surfs at a spot where he can get waves, because he can.

Pro tour, competition, surf celebrities, star-studded movie premieres: Okay. But don’t get too excited by any of it. Know that the great aim of all of these entities is to promote “industry” and that the great aim of industry is to get you to buy things. This is truth.

If you have allowed the purchasing of products to become a major part of your surf experience, put this magazine down, sit in a quiet place, reflect.

That said, don’t be overzealous. People try to make money. Understand this, come to terms with it, participate in it where appropriate, but mostly ignore it. Realize it has nothing to do with your experience of surfing, and move on.

Buy surfboards. Know what’s involved in making a board, even if you don’t make the board yourself. Know that it’s a product of craftsmanship, a skill that requires precision to a sixteenth of an inch, a skill that is honed over time. Appreciate this. Also appreciate that you likely don’t have these skills, and find the best person who does that you can have a relationship with.

Pay full price for you board. Because it’s worth it, and because shapers are surfers who don’t get paid enough for what they do. Bring a six-pack when you pick up the board, discuss its making.

Claiming waves is for kids and pro surfers who have been taught to believe that the rest of us are impressed when they grab their genitals after pulling into a tube. We are not.

On that note, insert tube, exit tube. Arms below the shoulders. You are not a wide receiver, you did not score a touchdown, and this is not the Super Bowl.

But: experience some joy. If you feel like you can’t contain that self-congratulatory hoot, don’t. Hoot. Holler. Laugh. Smile. That’s why you’re out here.

Whatever you do, you do not flip off the wave. You do not stick your tongue out. You do not look back to the lineup like an excited puppy dog waiting to see who saw you get pitted. You’re happy. You’ve done well. Good for you. That’s enough, now. Paddle back out, try again.

Speaking of which, stay humble. If surfing hasn’t taught you this by now, keep paddling back out. It will.

Helmets, unless surfing a treacherous slab reef: no.

Clean lines. Know what you can do, but more importantly, know what you cannot do. Surf top-to-bottom, cleanly. That is the aim.

Airs, unless you can do them in a manner seamless with the riding of a wave, are ill-advised.

Airs, that is, are ill-advised for 99 percent of us.

That doesn’t mean, by the way, that we shouldn’t try. It’s okay—good, even—to do things that are ill-advised sometimes.

Always pull in, even if you cannot make it, even if you do not know how to ride the barrel. A good surfer pulls in.

There are women in the lineup. Let them be surfers. They do not want to be hit on when they’re going surfing, and they do not find this attractive. They want to go surfing, same as you. Respect this.
That said, if you want to sneak a peek, go for it.

There is a pecking order, and it is to be respected. Know where you fit in the lineup, and respect this. Wait your turn, because it will come. When it comes, when somebody tells you to go, go. If you don’t make this wave, know that you will be waiting a lot longer for your next one.

A good surfer knows he doesn’t need to fight, but he also knows he doesn’t need to move aside for anybody. Respect, sure, but not fear.

Paddle out to crowded alpha-surf spots with the understanding that it will be crowded, that you will not get waves. Expect this, deal with this, participate in this. Do not complain.

On travel: Put in work. Find a spot. Score it. Be quiet. No Tweets, no Facebook, no pictures, no blogs, no braggadocio. Surfing can teach you how to experience joy and excitement, and how to keep that joy and excitement to yourself. Allow it to do so.

Sometimes you mess up. Sometimes you fall. Sometimes you fail. Don’t punch the water. Don’t scream. Get back on your board, paddle back out.
Always paddle back out.

Surfing is not golf. It is not tennis. It is not to be pursued on the weekends, or in the summer. It is a lifetime commitment. A good surfer knows this.