How many times has it happened to you? After surfing for hours, catching waves at will you utter that seemingly innocuous phrase: "One more wave and I'm going in." Immediately, as if you declared a magical command, the ocean goes flat and you sit waiting for a wave that refuses to come, and rarely lives up to expectations. As surfers, we tend to shy away from anything that might put our accumulation of waves at risk—even if the threat is only a superstitious one. However, as your intrepid Surf Tip guinea pig, I felt obliged to throw my personal surfing experience under the proverbial bus for the greater good and to further our understanding of the phenomenon. I would spend a month verbally declaring my last wave. The locations would vary but the criteria would remain the same: I'd call my last wave and then use a stopwatch to time how long it would take for me to catch that wave. I would also rate each wave according to a personal judging scale (1) and report back with my findings on the "Last Wave Syndrome" (L.W.S.). The empirical evidence is published here.
True to form, my first declaration was a fiscal disaster (if you consider $31 a disaster). It happened at lunch while I snuck out for a proposed hour-long surf. After putting a dollar in the meter, I proceeded to overindulge in a consistent shoulder-high northwest swell. Then, with 12 minutes left on the meter and at least 15 waves under my belt, I declared my last wave. At first nothing changed, as waves continued to pour through, however, being that it would be my last wave, I made sure to pick off a good one. Then the phenomenon struck. The waves slowly stopped pulsing, and soon it was a lake. I have a personal aversion to paddling in under any circumstances, but when my meter expired, I had no choice. While a number of outside factors could have caused the lull (tide, dying swell, wave selection), I could safely blame L.W.S. for my predicament. Breathless, I arrived at my car to find a cop putting a ticket under my wiper.
According to my empirical evidence—based on 22 separate sessions—the interval between my penultimate wave and my last wave was 19% longer than the average interval between my other waves. Furthermore, that last wave was, on average, significantly lower on my stoke scale than any other. This average took a hit when I crushed the tail of my brand new board on a pathetic excuse for a last wave. The repair cost, added to my parking ticket, meant that L.W.S. had already cost me in excess of $100. The average "stoke index" dropped even further because any good wave I got would, despite my best efforts to resist, drag me out for "one more." It seems that getting out of the water after a great wave is like leaving the bar after a particularly refreshing beer. Impossible.
Exceptions Are a Rule
Somewhat inevitably, I snagged an epic last wave two weeks into my experiment. The wave, which was caught at dusk, involved a deep barrel, some spit, and an excessive outward display of joy (2). Sure, there have been some famous last rides (3), but none so famous as this one seemed to me at the time. Of the 22 different sessions that made up the experiment, this last ride became the first one that could indisputably be labeled "the best one of the session." A small miracle, no doubt, but one that was followed by the requisite retribution: 11 days of utterly unrideable surf (4).
Declaring that you're going in affects the people you're surfing with too. In a crowd, some surfers display a willingness to let you get the next wave just so that you get out of the water. Others, I fear, are too familiar with the tactic and purposefully try to out-hustle what they perceive to be a hustler. This, of course, exacerbates the problem, leading to longer waits for the final wave. Still, others just looked at me strangely, no doubt wondering why a total stranger felt the need to tell them he's going in.
Since the numbers corroborated my initial dread of calling my last wave, I began looking for answers as to why the phenomenon exists. Surely, there is no difference between the last wave and any other. The random period of time that I spent in the water could not possibly have an effect on waves that were spawned thousands of miles away. The numbers proved otherwise, suggesting that L.W.S. didn't exist in my mind, but rather because of my mind. My theory is that the finality of the last wave brings on a new set of pressures and expectations. Reaching those raised expectations is almost impossible. Of course, I realize that there is no way to compare the evidence with anything else because not declaring your last wave would simply mean that whichever wave took you to shore would become your last wave. Therefore, there can be no data. However, the startling numbers revealed in my experiment led me to believe that it would be far safer to never utter any L.W.S.-inducing words again. So, from now on, if I plan on getting out of the water, I'm going to adopt the same brutal honesty I employ when I'm enjoying too many beers with friends. I'm simply going to say: "One more, and I'm staying."
1. My own, and in no way reflective of any ASP-sanctioned judging criteria.
2. Read: claim.
3. A.I.'s at the Pipe Masters, Bodhi's in Point Break, Sonny Bono, etc.
4. My apologies to everyone who suffered a surf-starved Memorial Day weekend. It's my fault, I defied L.W.S.