Mythmaking 101

How to spin your own surf yarn, the right way

Fifteen or so years ago, I lucked into a miracle surf session in Baja. After hours of dusty, axle-grinding driving along the wind-blasted coast near [REDACTED], my friend pulled his truck off the jeep trail near a crumbling precipice overlooking a secluded rock-strewn pointbreak. The spot wasn’t on any of our surf maps, but a few days earlier we’d thought we’d seen rideable waves breaking there, albeit amongst a minefield of boulders. We got out of the truck, walked to the cliff’s edge, peered over, and watched an azure right-hander peel flawlessly between two big rocks. Just as the last section threw over, a figure streaked out of the tube, trailed by a fine mist of spit.

We raced down the cliff and stumbled right into paradise. A topless beauty sunbathed on a palm- and yucca-fringed beach. The solo (and movie-star handsome) surfer got out of the water and gave us a friendly wave. Before an hour was up, he’d told us he was leaving that afternoon, offered us his stash of psychedelic treats and the rest of his somehow still-cold beers, and explained the best tides to surf this mini-Kirra. The rest of the afternoon, and for the next three days, myself and two friends had the most perfect wave we’d ever surfed all to ourselves—overhead tubes, not a breath of wind, more fish than we could catch, and a swell that just wouldn’t quit. At least I think that’s what happened. To be honest, I don’t really know how much of that tale is objectively true anymore. We’ve told that story so many times at bars and while bobbing listlessly during south-swell lulls that I don’t think any of us who experienced it really know what’s true and what’s been exaggerated over time. Was that surfer’s wife really topless?

Did he really just pop out of that tube while we debated whether it was surfable? It doesn’t even matter, really. The myth will live on because we followed the classic rules for how to properly create a surfy fish tale. First, nobody else was there to see our score. This is key when laying the foundation for a lasting surf legend. You don’t want any competing narratives hijacking your story. Also, and this is nearly impossible today because of our monomaniacal drive to digitally humble-brag about our entire lives, but there should be no photos or video. We took some pictures of our mysto Baja wave, but those shots have thankfully been lost to time. Actually, it might be even better if a single photo or video clip is around, with just enough grainy detail to whet the appetite, but not enough to confirm or deny whatever bullshit yarn you feel like spinning. Either way, the world’s handsomest surfer, his supermodel girlfriend, and the towering yuccas were the only witnesses to our little Mexican surf miracle. Our story can’t ever be disproven.

Second, you’ve got to sell the tale. If you’re about to rub your friends’ noses into a deep, festering pile of envy over an exotic surf score, it’s crucial to dig deep for the dramatic.For the tale to develop into a full-blown legend, the real truth must never be known…A thick, impenetrable layer of golden haze obscuring what actually happened must always be preserved. Turning quiet and giving your best thousand-yard stare, going all glassy eyed and misty, or ordering another round of drinks are all classic methods of imparting some seriousness just before you drop the hammer about your once-in-a-lifetime score at a rarely surfed Central California sandbar. If the story doesn’t excite you while telling it, it ain’t exciting anybody listening, either.

Which leads right into the third, and maybe most important, part of building a tall surf tale: constant embellishment. “As we tell and retell surf stories,” says Gerry Lopez in his memoir Surf Is Where You Find It, “waves grow ever more enormous and frightening, wipeouts ache immeasurably more each time, and our heroes dwarf human scale.” Yup. Gerry’s exactly right. Every single time I tell my Baja story, I add something new. Another layer of epic sheen.

The thing is, I’m not exactly lying. It’s just that the trip gets better and better in my head each time I remember it. Was that wave really a carbon copy of Kirra on its best day? I don’t know, but it sure sounds better that way, doesn’t it? And now, if you were to ever tell the story yourself, those details are in your head too. Think of the surf story like a years-long game of telephone. You get to set the thing in motion with your first telling of the tale. Then, each time somebody else recounts the adventure, they add their own little flourish. Before you know it, the tale has become a legend.

This wave at G-Land gets better every time Gerry Lopez talks about it. Photo by Aeder
This wave at G-Land gets better every time Gerry Lopez talks about it. Photo by Aeder

Though for the tale to develop into a full-blown legend, the real truth must never be known. This is the final step in your surf tale’s journey toward mythic status. A thick, impenetrable layer of golden haze obscuring what actually happened must always be preserved.

As the years have piled onto my blessed Baja trip, moments of acute perception have occasionally flashed through my brain. Didn’t I spend, like, an entire day drunkenly wandering to the end of the point? If that’s true, there must have been at least one day when the waves turned to shit. And wait a minute—there was a fourth guy in the lineup toward the end of the trip, wasn’t there? Or am I just imagining him? Maybe we weren’t totally alone after all.

The golden haze has obscured even my memory, and even if I could remember that trip with clear-headed accuracy, I’d never tell. In my little circle of surfing brotherhood, the epic Baja discovery of 1990-something has been inscribed into the surf mythology canon. Who am I to spoil the mystique?