The other day out in the water on a pretty good day at an undisclosed break in Los Angeles that rhymes with El Corto, I watched a guy get burned. Pretty standard. Nothing new to this undisclosed break that rhymes with El Corto.
The burn victim, a salty old local on a 7’0” “shortboard” who was probably too deep, was snaked by a younger guy of similar skill-level on a blindingly white Haydenshape. The kind of white that causes retinal damage if you’re not looking at it without polarized lenses. Or whatever Eddie Rothman’s always wearing. Eddie might have a Hypto. Anyway, the kid on the Hayden was probably on the better side of the section.
What struck me as odd, however, about the situation was how utterly offended the burned man was. Mad in that 4-year-old I don’t care who’s watching me have a breakdown in the supermarket, I just want a Snickers, mummy-way. Crimson-faced, forehead-vein bulging, he paddled back out spewing the very rhetorical: “Why would you do that to me?!”
Now, everyone’s entitled to their own reaction and systems of dealing with the world’s perpetual injustices I suppose — some like to burn flags, some like to bottle it up — but what’s with the “me”? Like, when exactly did getting burned get so…so personal?
Again: “Why would you do that to me?” Cut out the “me” and the question really isn’t as impractical as that salty old loke would have you believe. Honestly, there’s a million reasons why I burn guys from time to time, or get burned myself:
Because it’s Malibu and everyone’s doing it. Because you look like a kook [do pardon me, if I’m wrong]. Because if you did it to me, I wouldn’t really care, I’d just try a finner off your wake; plus, it’s Malibu, so I get it. Because I haven’t gotten one in a while and I’ve seen you get three. Because you were too deep. Because I’ve never seen you out here before.
I’d burn me too if I’d never seen me out there either.
Now, I’d love to preserve the unspoken etiquettes that you’re supposed to learn as a beginner, and apparently there’s a book called the Surfer’s Code that just might outline those rules, but I also know that in the real world not everyone crosses at crosswalks or drives the speed limit or adheres to The Code. I’m a haole from Oahu and I’d get burned just for being one in the lineup. Nothing personal, just how it is out there. Plus, most of us don’t have jerseys on in 3-man heats getting incentives to make the Top-10 this year, so WSL-rulebook aside I ask: When is it OK or not OK to burn a stranger? Let’s try and answer that.
When it’s OK…
When he/she is a total kook. C’mon, you can watch someone paddling for a wave and know they’re gonna blow it, just by the way they’re paddling. Disagree with that statement, or find the term “kook” quite relative? Then you’re probably that guy paddling.
On a split-peak. (When they refuse to split it). Take Lowers, for example. Aw, but you’re a goofy foot, and you’re on the other side of me, and you really, really wanna go left? Go fuck yourself. If you’re not gonna get barreled, be a decent human and share things like you were supposed to learn how to in kindergarten
Break-specific. Soft point breaks coughMalibucough or waves big enough to party on, (hi Waimea!)
If you scream “doubles!” before taking off. This only works in average/below average waves. And if the person you burn hasn’t been waiting forever. And if they’re not a pissed off local. And if it’s summer…actually, I feel you should always be able to burn people in the summer.
When a kid pussed out or blew the last one (or two). Aww but they’re just a kid? Sure. But he or she’s also got, like, 10 more years to figure it out. Plus, grom-abuse is a lost art.
When it’s NOT OK…
Waves of consequence. Pipe, Teahupoo, Waimea when it’s too big to throw that aforementioned party. Where someone could get seriously injured by your burn.
Barrels. You ruin a barrel for someone, you go to hell. Or at least Huntington Beach.
If you can’t confront them after. Wanna blatantly burn someone, but don’t have the balls to look them in the eye afterward? Then you ain’t ready to play with fire. If you burned someone for a reason, be prepared to explain your case.
When a grom is out with their parent, getting pushed into waves. Have a heart, the kid’s, like, six!
Legend or Pro. While the term “legend” gets carelessly passed around these days like a case of HPV — no, the guy at Chipotle that gives you free chips is NOT a legend — it’s not cool to cutoff men/women that have actually contributed to the sport. And pros, well, they’re probably just gonna bottom turn around you and make you feel shitty about yourself…so up to you.