I arrive at the cocktail party knowing that at some point or another, I'll have to do the ugly deed. I'll have to take a deep breath, swallow hard, and tell the person I've just met that yes, I am a surfer.
We've all had those hesitant moments. It's certainly not out of embarrassment that I rarely disclose to strangers that I surf. It has more to do with the fact that things instantly change the moment I reveal my lifestyle to a non-surfer.
Here are a few of the responses I've gotten after informing people that I surf:
"Oh! Can you give me/my kid lessons?" This is great in certain situations, e.g. you're on a first date with someone and looking for a reason for a second. But typically, life doesn't work this way. More likely, this reaction comes from someone that you want absolutely nothing to do with, e.g. the business contact that can't swim, or the soccer mom with four kids.
"Do you know Kelly Slater?" Yes, of course. The most popular surfer and I are best friends. In fact, next week we'll be sharing a hut on Tavarua together. You could make yourself seem pretty important by going along with this one in particular, but at some point you're going to have to produce the bald-headed one, and he usually doesn't show up at random cocktail parties. Good luck making this one work for you.
"Duuuude! Cowabunga, bro!" Maybe they don't say this exact phrase, but certainly some variation of it. They immediately size you up, look you up and down for a hemp necklace/bracelet, puka shells, and a tribal tattoo. It's usually best to walk away from this type of person--or prepare your ears for an endless stream of Jeff Spicoli quotes. Even if you are sporting the above-mentioned accessories, it's best not to feed the bears, so to speak. You won't change their perception, so let's not dig this hole any deeper.
The only place where we are safe from this line of questioning is among other surfers. We can discuss our latest exploits in the water without being patronized, and we know that we sound much more normal than the stereotypes would have people believe.
If you do end up speaking to a non-surfer who asks what you do, perhaps keeping our little secret society under wraps is best. After all, if the phrase "Only a surfer knows the feeling" holds true, there's no way we could ever explain it to an outsider without coming off as a little crazy anyway.