There were only four guys out. Buddies, they surfed together this day and were generally stoked, as they should’ve been, the waves were surprisingly fun. A spit of south wind had textured the lineup, making it look less than ideal. But the dredging nature of the low-tide cleaned up the wave faces just enough.
I stroked over to my usual spot, lining up just left of the street on the hill. Sitting up on my board, head down, arms relaxed and waiting, I gave off no airs, no overt signs of territorialism, no coughing, clearing of the throat or spitting. None of the signals you might witness from an insecure male surfer attempting to stake his claim in a crowded lineup.
As I waited, one of the guys, a longboarder, paddled just a little past me, swung around on an incoming wave and paddled furiously. His paddling technique, or lack thereof, was such that, with each dip of the arm, he bobbed side-to-side. Anxiety and a single-minded determination poured from his furrowed brow. He was going to catch this wave, port-to- starboard bobbing by damned.
The wave also came to me, and I felt it was my turn, so I too turned to go.
The longboarder dropped in and I hesitated at the top, let him pass me, and dropped in behind. He had no idea. All was fine. We both bottom turned and drew our boards up to mid -face on the wave. Not surprisingly he caught a rail, so I drew my line even higher, going around him on the top half of the wave. “Hey, what the hell is this shit,” he cried out confrontationally as he and his board sank. I rode on for another 25 yards or so.
As I paddled back out the four buddies stared me down. I could tell they weren’t happy, and I struggled internally with what had just happened. I had meant no evil. There was no malice. I simply rode behind a longboarder on a wave I sincerely believed to be mine. But uncertainty crept into my conscience. Perhaps I was wrong. By the time I reached the lineup I wasn’t sure.
“I asked my buddies if you were an asshole,” the longboarder shouted out to me with derision highlighting the word ‘asshole’. “And that last wave pretty much confirmed it.”
I paddled into the mix, sat up on my board and began reasoning with them. “Look,” I said, my voice projecting as if I was super-sizing my order through a slightly opened car window. “We can take turns or we can hassle each other. You tell me how you want to play the game, and I’ll play it. How do you guys want to do this?”
Nobody answered; they just sort of muttered some stuff, so I re-positioned the question into a statement. “Ok,” I said pointing to the furthest buddy outside as a great five-foot set wave approached. “It’s your turn. Go man. Go!”
I genuinely and sincerely cheered him on, as I wanted to diffuse the situation. I simply wanted order. I mean, there were only five of us out.
Unfortunately, the guy couldn’t pull it off. With all of us, myself and his buddies, watching him, cheering him on no less, he couldn’t catch the wave. An entire set of waves went by–good waves, five-foot set waves-all unridden. One by one, the buddies had each missed their chance.
I was a little perturbed. Now I may or may not have been an asshole on that first wave, it depends on who you ask. But to call me out and then not be able to back it up with some semblance of performance (just catch the friggin’ wave) was absurd.
“I’m a little out of sync,” the one buddy shrugged to me. He must’ve known a lineup foul had occurred, because he made his way to the channel to sit beside his friends, none of whom could show face at the take-off spot.
I was now by myself, in position, without a soul around as another five-foot set approached. I looked over to the four buddies in the channel and a light went on. “Thank goodness for kooks,” I thought to myself. I felt somewhat vindicated for my past…ahemm…indiscretion (all right, all right, I was an asshole!).
A beautiful outside wave was feathering and I awoke from my self-induced hero worship by hustling to get into position. I was all alone, too alone. This wasn’t right. I had too much time, too much space. Worst of all, I began to think.
“Am I too deep? Don’t forget the boil. Make sure to stall. Is this wave even going to break. What did I have for breakfast?”
A ‘zen moment’ this was not.
It was going to be a late drop. I swung around, took two strokes and free fell into a late, but very makeable drop. The four buddies in the channel were actually hooting as they stroked furiously towards the shoulder. “This wave will show them,” I thought haughtily, as my hideously frail and over blown ego almost burst out of my Gath helmet. “My performance on this wave will be the final nail in the coffin. I was right! I am right! Complete acquittal and total vindication was only a bottom turn away!”
And then horror of horrors, I pearled deep and hard. And right in front of all four kooks.
As I spun underwater, embarrassed and certainly misunderstood, all I could think of was taking my rightful and earned spot in the channel next to my brethren. Thank goodness for kooks-myself foremost amongst them.–Scott Bass