I simply could not believe it. This freaking guy. He'd barely scratch into a wave at the boil-ridden, sand-sucking point we were surfing before hilariously biffing the drop and getting pitched into the flats, board tombstoning. While he flailed around on the inside, I'd edge over to the peak to take his vacated spot. But every time he'd blow one, there he'd come, walking back to the top of the point where he'd jump in and begin his paddle, trying to work around me to get back into pole position before the next set came. He tried this three times, each absurd walk around forcing me to paddle battle him all the way to the rock stack that marked the beginning of the takeoff zone. Finally, I boiled over with rage. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I snapped. "Have you even made a single wave out here? Get to the back of the line!" I bellowed, red in the face. Who was this guy anyway? I'd never seen him before, and this wave, while not exactly a secret, takes a little bit of sniffing out to find. In fact, just a few years ago, each face in this lineup was familiar.
At this point I should probably mention that the waves were, oh, about 1 foot. Two, on the rare sets, if I'm being charitable. Also, we were the only two surfers in the water. And I was riding a soft top.
Those kinds of piddly, friendly conditions aren't normally of the sort that provoke angry confrontations. But because I'd never seen him before even though I'd been surfing this wave for the better part of a decade, I felt duty bound to bite his head off. It was my self-appointed role as a regular at Spot X to make sure newcomers felt at least a little trepidation around us lifers.
He apologized, said he didn't think I'd mind since I was catching so many waves, and he wasn't gonna go on waves when it was my turn anyway. Feeling bad, but not that bad, I told him it was OK, but he'd better not get used to trying that shit when it was bigger out there—like chest high. Then he went in, and I floated there, victorious, waiting for the next 1-foot wave to come lazily bouncing around the corner.
As I sat in the lineup all by myself after barking a competitor out of my territory like an elephant seal in heat, I realized I'd finally made it to the highest rank of local at this spot. I'd achieved the coveted status of "Asshole." I marveled at the whirlwind it had been: the blood, sweat and tears I'd shed to earn the right to curse at fellow grown men for groveling in tiny waves in the wrong way. Years ago, I was the unsure new guy, paddling out from way down the beach, head down, content with scraps. Now here I was, meting out watery justice.
There are, in fact, a series of waypoints on your journey from "Hey, who's that guy?" to "Oh crap, there's that dick who rides a soft top and yells at people."
When I was a newb at Spot X, it felt important to act like I'd surfed the spot for years, even though none of the locals had any idea who I was. I parked at the edge of the lot—never at the front, of course—and sidled up to the check out spot with purpose, but also with my head down, avoiding eye contact. When I felt super ballsy I'd throw a lazy "What's up?" peace sign/nod combo to nobody in particular, to make it look like I had a buddy in the parking lot. I paddled out at the edge of the lineup and was satisfied with barely-breaking scraps. This phase lasted one season.
The next year I was the low surfer on the totem pole, but at least I was on the pole. I'd get a nod from a local at the coffee place, but they didn't know my name. They'd seen me in the lot, and while paddling past my groveling ass on the way back to the peak. I'd surf the spot when it was too windy or the tide was wrong. Locals saw me dripping wet after a session and got used to the idea of me being there. Maybe they thought I figured out a window they hadn't thought of—or they dismissed me as a kook.
The next step was the easiest: I'd make sure to paddle out well before the tide swung to the proper level to turn the spot on when nobody else was out yet. Then, as it got better, I was still there, but had already established my spot in the lineup. Just like that, I was in. Well, just like that, but it took two years.
For a while, it was great. Then, for whatever reason, about five years ago, the entire surf world stopped working during the day and discovered this little spot. Midday, midweek, whenever—the spot went from three or so people at a time to ten, seemingly in the span of weeks. There was much yelling in the parking area, much shaming of newbs, yet still they came, pouring over the bluffs like they were the Agent Smith viruses in the final "Matrix" movie (look it up, kids).
That was the final step on the way to me becoming a screaming lunatic. It didn't really matter all that much at first—a flexible schedule meant I could still be on it when nobody else really was. But then at a certain point, the flow of new faces was too fast. It couldn't be staunched. Which is how I ended up losing my temper while on an 8-foot, baby blue and neon yellow foamie in water shallow enough to stand in.
The thing is, what I didn't share earlier is that part of the reason I employed my patient strategy at first was that I too was yelled at my first time at that break. I got a little greedy, a little out of my place, excited that I'd found a new, uncrowded spot near my apartment. One serious barking from a very large, very bearded local, and I remembered: "Oh, right, you have to earn this."
Hopefully my soft top tirade taught the same lesson. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go yell at drivers for doing everything wrong.