Eala Stewart, Ala Moana Bowls. Photo: Heff
Eala Stewart, Ala Moana Bowls. Photo: Heff

Editor’s Note: The Community Issue

On the inherently conflicted, yet ever-present bond shared by surfers everywhere, from SURFER 58.5

The midweek crowd at Ala Moana Bowls on the south shore of Oahu was light despite the dreamy shoulder-high left-handers consistently peeling along the reef. But even with plenty of waves to go around, the small local crew fell into an exclusive rotation, taking turns picking off the best set waves while outsiders were mostly left with scraps.

I couldn't have cared less about being relegated to second-tier waves; after all, as a visiting San Diegan, what was my alternative? The locals likely surfed that break every day, had intimate knowledge of every piece of coral on the reef and therefore had earned the right to the best sets, so sayeth surfing's unwritten code of wave worthiness. But not everyone in the lineup shared my perspective.

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A slightly overweight, sunscreen-caked, rashguard-wearing tourist seemed a bit perturbed by the pecking order. He seethed as one of the locals — a tall, tan fellow with rippling muscles and traditional Polynesian tattoos on his face — paddled right past us and back to the peak after
getting a long, almond-shaped barrel through to the inside.

"Unbelievable," the tourist said, shaking his head as he started edging deeper. On the very next set wave, the same tattooed local stood up, tickling the lip as a green cylinder formed around him. The tourist had had enough; he scratched into the shoulder and locked into a stink-bug crouch while a series of expletives echoed from the tube behind him. In that moment, I hoped the tourist was thoroughly enjoying the ride, because it seemed that his day would only go downhill from there.

We surfers are a conflicted bunch. On land, we relish encounters with fellow surfers, trading stories of waves ridden, coastlines explored, boards adored, etc. But in the water, all bets are off; any perceived commonality disappears when two surfers are side by side, salivating over the same lump of swell. Considering the fact that surfers are in constant competition for a finite resource, it can seem amazing that we have a sense of community at all.

This issue is all about community in surfing: how it coalesces, how it can change the lives of its members and how it can unravel. On one side of the spectrum sits the surf community of Tarkwa Bay, where the local surf scene prides itself on inclusivity and acts as a refuge from some of the darker elements of life in Lagos, Nigeria ("The Lagosian Oasis”). On the other side sits the surf community of Lunada Bay, California, where a handful of locals have become embroiled in multiple lawsuits amid allegations of harassment, intimidation and violence against outsiders ("Battle for the Bay”).

On the cover, you'll find one of the most visceral displays of community we'll likely ever see in the surf world, when thousands of surfers of all ages, backgrounds and ability levels came together in Santa Cruz to celebrate the life of wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill. The sheer size of the crowd was a moving reminder that regardless of how conflicted surfers can be, our cultural bonds run deeper than we often realize.

Unsurprisingly, a sense of shared culture and community was the furthest thing from anyone's mind in the lineup that day at Ala Moana as the local paddled full speed toward the tourist who had burned him.

"BRA, WHAT THE F–K YOU DOING?!" he shouted mere inches from the tourist's face.

"Well," the tourist started, chin up with a misplaced sense of confidence, "I noticed that you kept taking all of the good waves for yourself, and I'd like to have some good waves too, you know."

There was a pregnant pause as the local looked the tourist over, trying to discern if he had any idea of the numerous bylaws he'd broken and the potential consequences. Suddenly, the local craned his head back and let out the kind of cackling, coming-apart-at-the seams laugh typically reserved for the single funniest thing you've ever heard. The tourist stared at him, awestruck as the local turned and started paddling back to the peak, struggling to catch his breath.

Perhaps that facially tattooed local had figured out something that eludes many surfers: Sure, the surf community may be inherently conflicted, but that doesn't mean we can't have a sense of humor about it.

TODD PRODANOVICH, Editor