Locals, Regulars and Visitors – Determine Your Status

We started off this series on surf etiquette by determining that surfers hate rules. Please, no shackles. To establish any set of rules, with any continuity, throughout global coastlines, well, let’s just say we fight an uphill battle. To further the problematic nature of rules, surfing etiquette is organic. It changes with time and with geography.

You will, no doubt, be able to poke holes in the concepts I lay out, prod at the generalities, and flat out disagree. These ideas are alive, open to change and open to ridicule. I welcome constructive criticism, as it will help to flesh out concepts and clarify sub-cultural norms (the beginning surfer wonders why it is okay for many riders on one wave at Cowells, but not at Steamer Lane). Nevertheless, we have to dive into the murky waters of rules and codes and guidelines, so here it goes.

The last installment we looked at generally accepted rule, a) surfer on the inside has priority. This time around we look at the grander ambiguous concept of ‘respect,’ more specifically ‘respect for locals.’ A worldwide mantra, spoken in many languages, “respect the locals.”

What exactly is respect?

What exactly is a local?

The foundational pillars of common respect which emanate from civilized societies everywhere: honesty, open-mindedness and kindness. Everyone deserves to be treated in this manner. Things may deteriorate out in the water, but we must all start from this level of common respect. Speak the truth, listen intently and show sincere concern. For surfing this means self-awareness. Understand you skill level in relation to those around you, and act and react accordingly.

Among worldwide surfing lineups, no matter where we are or who we are, there are three status distinctions that each of us falls into. We are lots of things, but in regards to respect we are either 1) a local 2) a regular or 3) a visitor. Where we reside within these status distinctions dictates how much respect we give and how much respect we get — above and beyond the common respect mentoned above.

Sounds easy enough, but wait. You might sincerely believe that you are a ‘local,’ when in fact you are not. To clarify I suggest the Pubic Hair test.

A ‘local’ is anybody that started surfing his or her beaches or breaks before puberty. If you were paddling out before the appearance of your black curly fries, then you are a ‘local’ at or near that spot or beach generally within a 5 mile stretch up and down the coastline. If not, then you are not ‘local.’ You are either a ‘regular’ or a ‘ visitor.’

If you’re a visitor, well, you are a visitor. You know it.

A ‘regular’ is a surfer who at some point was transient but eventually set down roots in said area, more than likely after college or some other man-making event such as war service or perhaps a two-year post-high school globe trot.

For the record, ‘locals’ and ‘regulars’ commingle and are often indiscernible; unless skin color easily sets them apart. As a ‘visitor’ it does not matter, simply move to the back of the pack, pick up scraps, and subjugate yourself. But if you are a ‘local’ or a ‘regular’ it can be very important. For example, a 10-year haole surfer at Hanalei, while getting plenty of waves from ‘visitors,’ will not be so fortunate when ‘local’ heavies paddle out.

Understanding who the ‘locals’ and ‘regulars’ are, and if in fact you are one of them, is crucial to the welfare of a pleasant lineup and the concept of respect.

‘Locals’ are generally good (often great) surfers due to their knowledge of the spot and the amount of years put in. By age 20 locals are 10-year vets at their respective spots. Now, ‘regulars’ on the other hand, their skill varies from kook to professional. This is where a lot of problems occur. A ‘regular’ who has been residing in the area for 20 years often gets ahead of himself and claims ‘local’ status. A smattering of minor ego flare-ups occur in lineups around the world between the ‘local’ and the ‘regular.’ Either way, the ‘regular’ and the ‘local’ are respected, vital components of each surf community.

This does not mean if you are a ‘local’ or a ‘regular’ you have a license to be an asshole. In fact the opposite is true. Respect, like wealth from sound economic policy, trickles down from the top. Locals and regulars should be freely dispensing kindness, smiles and, forgive me, “Yeah Guys!”

This notion of ‘give respect, get respect’ that we often hear piously dispensed by locals and regulars alike should be turned inward. Attention locals!: Visitors will do as you do. Locals/Regulars should show respect first. Smile, wave, say hello, and show us where to paddle out.

How could we not respect you?!

I don’t care how ‘local’ you are, nobody respects an asshole. Dropping “F” bombs, while it might feel good for a short while, doesn’t help. Stinkeye is the smile of the insecure.

No matter what your status; local, regular or visitor, awareness is the key. Be honest with yourself and aware of your distinction. The proper level of respect should naturally flow to and from the self-realization you’ve gained.