To Rag On The Mag: A Reader’s Take On Surf-Spot Exploitation

Everybody is all pissed off. Every year the waves get more crowded, more people move into town, and tensions get ever higher out in the lineup. Trannies, aliens, valleys and unknowns are invading from every direction. What happened to our town - it used to be easy to find an empty line-up, but these days every spot is filled with kooks.

In Oregon, locals are trying to hold their ground against the invading Californians. In Hawaii, same story, my God they're even coming in from Michigan. Of course, California has had the same problem for 50 some years, and it's all the pissed-off Cali-whackers that are moving to other states. Will it ever stop?

Of course, all of this is the magazines' fault. Exposure. Everything was great until they did that feature article on our local spot, and now it's a zoo. The writers, editors and photographers are all money-hungry exploiters, out to expose the world's surf and send the invading hordes to a point break near you. They're all getting rich down in their offices in Orange County and robbing us of our surfing solitude.

The magazines are an easy scapegoat. Blame them for all of the crowds. Or maybe we should blame the surf schools, who are churning out new surfers every day. Do we really need more surfers on the planet? These are thoughts that have passed through all of our brains at one point or another. But I think the truth lies elsewhere, and this might just be a case where there is no one to blame.

I was surfing a very sharky, remote Northern California surf spot a few years back, which to my great pleasure was going off with just six of us out. Perfect lefts peeling down a sandbar, glassy, and everyone getting along and sharing waves. One of the guys asked me where I was from. "Santa Cruz," I replied, somewhat tentatively, because I knew I was in his territory. He paused for a little while. "You better keep quiet about this spot," he said. "Last thing we want is more people out here." I promised him I would, told him that I had surfed here a number of times and the last thing I wanted was to bring more people with me. He nodded his head, then his face turned sour. "F–king Nick Carroll," he barked, "did you ever see the magazine article a few years back where he talked about surfing this place?" I shook my head. "I'll f–king break that guy's board in three pieces if he ever tries to come back here," he said, and I was left to ponder his anger.

What I found most amusing about this guy's misplaced frustration was that, for one, I had never read the alleged article (and I'm one of the few magazine subscribers who ever actually READS the stories), and secondly, what harm had it actually done? There were no pictures included, only the name of the break. No new condos on the hill nearby, no invading hordes of kooks on softboards, no surf schools or even an extra car in the parking lot. I found it quite obvious that Nick Carroll's mention of this "secret spot" had no effect at all on its current state. The place still goes off all of the damn time with no one on it, so why complain? I couldn't figure it out.

Later that day I pulled out my tattered, old edition of Bank Wright's Surfing California, a book that was published in the 1960's and led me ever northward on my youthful quest for empty surf. Old Bank spent a few years driving Highway 1 from the Oregon border to Mexico and back, and there aren't many spots he missed. I decided to look up the secret spot I had just surfed, and lo and behold there it was, in full description. In fact, they all were in there, almost every "secret" spot in my area and beyond. Since the 1960's it has been available knowledge to any surfer in the world.

When I moved to Santa Cruz from Santa Barbara back in the early 80s, I had to deal with some of the most intense localism that existed in California. This is when guys like Vince Collier and Anthony Ruffo ruled the line-up, and if you were singled out as a transplant or a slug (UCSC student) you were in big trouble. Just turn around and paddle back to the parking lot and get the fuck out of there before things get ugly. My problem was that I simply wasn't willing to back down. I'm a fairly big guy, of Irish decent, can hold my own in a brawl, and don't much like to be pushed around. When people get in my face I get right back in theirs. Plus, I knew the only way I was ever going to be accepted by this pack of angry locals was to show no fear and hold my ground. I was always respectful, knew my place in the line-up, never ever dropped in on anyone, and paid longtime locals their due respect. But back down? Never.

Things were understandably difficult for me those first few years. I took a lot of verbal abuse, had a few run-ins with angry locals, but managed to make it through with only a bruised ego. But the funny thing is that now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself on the receiving end of mindless localism. Out at my local spot a few weeks ago, there was a guy giving me a heavy vibe, and who seemed to be going out of his way to make sure that I didn't get any waves. Finally I had had enough. "Hey man," I said to him, "what exactly is the problem? Why are you vibing me?" He looked at me like I was not even worth the energy. "I've been surfing here since I was five years old..." he yelled back, after which I just tuned out. I've heard the same thing said so many times I could recite it after a lobotomy. Apparently he grew up on the Eastside of Santa Cruz, which is about 30 miles from this particular spot, and was also about 10 years my junior, but to point it out would have been wasted breath. Finally I interjected, "look pal, we both belong out here, so how about trying to enjoy your surf instead of ruining everyone else's?"

Tensions had been running high at this spot since a local photographer had run a shot in one of the major magazines and the spot had been named. But then again, I thought to myself, this place has been crowded for years, and yes, it is also listed in Bank Wright's book. Are the magazines to be blamed?

Whenever something bad happens, the natural human reflex is to blame somebody for it. The thing is, sometimes shit just happens and there's no one to blame. We live in a crowded world that is just getting more crowded by the day. Surfing has become a popular sport and there are crowd pressures nearly everywhere. Localism won't stop it. Overcrowding is just a fact of life we have to learn to deal with. The best strategy is to paddle out with a good attitude and be stoked to get just one decent wave a session. Believing that you have more of a right to surf a spot than someone else is just plain wrong. Unless you're a Native American, you're just like everyone else - an invader.

We also have to stop blaming the magazines for all of our problems. The job of a surf mag editor is not going to get you rich. These guys work massively long hours and get paid worse than plumbers. The only reason they do it is because they love the sport, and they love being able to work while immersed in it. What hypocrites we are to read the mags every month, revel in their awesome new photos, then rag on them for exposing and plundering our local surf spots. My suggestion to all you grumpy surfers out there is to relax, stop pointing fingers, and remind yourself why you are a surfer. We do it because it enriches our lives and put smiles on our faces. If you're not still smiling, then maybe it's time to pick up golf.