Does Localism “Work”?

A cost benefit analysis

Could this lineup use more or less localism? Rob Gilley opines. Photo: Ellis
Could this lineup use more or less localism? Rob Gilley opines. Photo: Ellis

"God, I wish it was a little more localized out there."

It was kind of a weird thing to say, but I knew what he meant. My younger friend had just experienced a particularly anarchic session at a nearby reef break, and was lamenting the lack of a regulated lineup.

"Be careful what you wish for" is the cliché I should have came back with, but instead I just let his statement hang out there in the wind. Explaining to my frustrated friend why he probably shouldn't be pining for more territorial waters would have been a difficult and complex task.

From 30 years of observing guarded lineups across the globe, the first thing I should have told him is that localism is an inexact science. Regardless of how close you live to a spot, or how many years you've put in, or how well you follow the unspoken rules, or how good of a surfer you are, you are still subject to the whims and moods of the presiding alpha males—often hair-trigger snap-cases that hand out arbitrary verbal or physical punishment at a moment's notice. There are never any ironclad guarantees of pecking order, etiquette, or safety. It's frontier justice, in the loosest way.

More to the point, though, is that heavily localized spots—almost without exception—carry a pall of negativity. Everyone is perpetually surfing on eggshells, even the inner crew. Any perceived slight—let alone a misbehaving interloper—can ruffle feathers, wake the beast, and turn the euphoria of good waves into stifling revulsion. No matter where you sit, it's impossible to stay unaffected by verbal or physical confrontation.

To me it's this underlying tension—this dark undercurrent—that runs counter to the very attraction of surfing itself. The principle reason we base our lives around riding waves is for the rapture, and this kind of euphoria has a hard time thriving in a negative ion vacuum. From my perspective, it's the collective pleasure of sharing an insane day of surf with a group of like-minded individuals that ultimately produces the catharsis.

Which is why I think any claims about localism "working" need further evaluation. Saying localism works is like saying tyranny works—sure, it's a more ordered society, but at what cost?

Thoughts?