“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Whether or not Yogi Berra actually said it, this quote is attributed to him and like most of Yogi-isms, it’s a paradox that makes you think and then smile. Lately I’ve taken the same philosophy with surf spots. Part of the frustration stems from age, meaning an accumulation of a job, family and obligations have prevented me and many others from getting into the water as frequently as we used to. When I do get out, it’s usually to a spot that’s typically really crowded. As a result, I catch fewer waves and I take less chances on the waves I do catch. I also start to hate people, surfers in particular, as I’m forced to hear all of their stupid conversations. Everyone’s a bad ass, everyone rips, everyone scores with the ladies and everyone’s smarter than someone else. With all this brilliance in the water, you’d think I’d be inspired to be totally cool just like them. Um, no. In fact, when I get out of the water, I want to throw my board in a trash can and find another way to spend my time and energy.
You see, although we’d never admit it, surfers have a pack mentality. Most of them ride similar boards, wear similar wetsuits, listen to similar music, wear similar clothes and, unfortunately, surf the same few spots that everyone else does. I’ve been guilty of this pack mentality for years, paddling out to a crowded spot with the logic that, “if it’s crowded, it must be good.” We have the same attitude when we commute to work. Even though the highway has bumper-to-bumper traffic, we travel the same route because it will eventually get us there and that’s how everyone else gets to where they’re going. There are however alternate routes. Finding and using them may take some trial and error and it may not be the most direct route but at least you’re driving and that beats sitting and getting frustrated every day of the week in my book. Less traffic, different (and probably better) scenery, and some new discoveries and perspective are all to be gained.
Should it be any different with surfing? No it shouldn’t. So I’ve started looking for an alternate route. A road less traveled. Greener pastures. A spot less surfed. With this new philosophy, my last two surfs have been so special because they’ve been so personal. Last weekend I had a peak all to myself even though the water was clogged with surfers. I paddled out to the spot farthest from the parking lot, requiring the longest walk. The peak didn’t break as consistently and the wave face wasn’t as smooth as the other peaks but the drops were bigger and the rides were more challenging, thus more fun in my opinion. This morning was different but no less fulfilling. A mix of meager swells created small, unimpressive conditions. In the past, I wouldn't have even bothered to paddle out. I would’ve opted for a crowded spot, assuming it was the only spot working or I would’ve gone home and pissed and moaned all day about there not being any surf. Well, with my new outlook, there’s always surf and even the small days are fun. I surfed a spot today for example that I hadn’t surfed in years; the old me always reasoned that if there was surf there, it was probably better (and more crowded) somewhere else. It wasn’t the best day ever but I had lots of waves to myself. In fact I took off on waves I’d normally pass on. I thought about fundamentals like duck diving and proper stroke technique. I studied the waves a little more closely, like where they were breaking and how many waves were to a set. And I took more chances. I took off later and deeper. I made turns in spots on the wave I’d normally draw a line and trim. I also fell a lot more but like anything in life you won’t improve if you don’t take chances.
I can’t do these things nearly as easily when it’s crowded. When it’s crowded, every wave counts more because there are fewer of them. Also, I typically surf more conservatively, not wanting to fall unnecessarily. I’m more likely to hurt someone and I don’t need other surfers to write me off as a kook and never give me another wave. So I’d rather have small, junky waves all to myself than larger, well-shaped waves with 30-50 people all over a single peak. From the car, this spot didn’t look like much. Again, in the past, I would've driven right past it. From the water, It was 3-4 feet and fun. I noticed and enjoyed how clear the water was, how amazing the rocks looked up close, and how beautiful of a day it turned out to be. Hallelujah.
Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy. Or at least less crowded than somewhere else.