Surfers are Sheep

A herd mentality may be bad for surfing, but it's damn good for business

Rusty Long, never one to follow the herd. Photo: Gilley
Rusty Long, never one to follow the herd. Photo: Gilley

It may sound like an attention-grabbing generalization, but the more time passes, the more I’ve come to believe that it’s true. Rugged individualism seems to have kicked-out a long time ago.

Evidence is rife: Groups of surf school graduates never abandon their learning spot (Really? Back again?), industry execs flock to the same surf destinations year after year (Fiji, Indo, Fiji, Indo, Fiji, Indo), surfing ex-patriots follow the same world tour (Maui, Costa Rica, Cabo, Bali), and everybody buys whatever the top pros are currently riding (Hey everybody, let’s see how many waves we won’t be able to catch today!).

Even in the face of all this evidence, I still had a glimmer of hope for my fellow surfer (and my thruster-adhering self, for that matter) until one day when I went down to Lowers. There was a south swell in the forecast, and I hoped to gather some mid-week, midday unpicked fruit. Unfortunately, when I got down there, I saw that a new northwest wind swell had overtaken the south, and was producing section-y, flat-faced, gutless waves.

As I sat there watching it, I noticed something else. Just a short distance up the beach, less than a 100 yards north of the Lowers left was a newly-formed little right, which was surprisingly steep, consistent, and fun-looking. To my complete astonishment, however, the fifteen or so surfers populating the Lowers lineup were completely oblivious. Despite this ultra-fun, untouched wave in plain view, they seemed determined to stand their ground and guard some of the crappiest Lowers I have ever seen.

It was pretty obvious that these surfers were blinded by Lowers’ reputation as the best wave in the area…without taking a real world observation into account. The only thing I could think of was that these reasonably-talented surfers must have assumed this new wave was some sort of illusion, and that they should ignore it and continue battling over the next round of burgers en masse.

This little scenario seemed to confirm previous suspicions about the surf population. But then I realized that to a certain group of people, this sheep-like mentality provided real hope and inspiration. For marketing guys the world over—whose aim is to persuade as many surfers as possible to mindlessly follow trends and purchase products—the herd is a beautiful sight.