Remember the 1970s? How about the 80s or 90s or even the early 2000s? You know, the ‘Good Old Days’. Back when Instagram and global wave-cams were just wee, little spermies in the sac of new-age technology. Elders reminisce about these years with a glow that transcends their age-old features. “Honest to Pete, them days were neater than a pocket on a shirt,” you might hear them say. Apparently the world was a much better place before all these stinkin’ kids and their gosh-darn smartphones.

But now we live in an era where a GPS, a pizza delivery service, and a worldwide wave-cam app are compiled into one Pop-Tart-sized device. We bring this tool everywhere because… why not? Anything you could ever want is just a few swipes away. If you’re an investor, you can ingest all the pertinent stock info. If you’re a sports fan, you can live-stream the big game. And if you’re a surfer, you can scan the wave quality across five oceans, seven seas, plus a few lakes.

Today’s technological advancements have increased a surfer’s ability to predict swell and weather patterns, which has led to large-scale crowding at premier breaks. When Surfline reads “6-8 foot and Good to Epic” at a certain locale, you can rest assured that half the county will be there. These issues are amplified with the inclusion of social media sites, namely Instagram, where a pre and/or post-session photo is seemingly a requirement for any noteworthy surf. (“Did you see Rob’s pic? Seal is pumping! Get in the car!”) While the improvements in surf forecasting and social media have made life simpler for individual wave-riders, our collective group has suffered greatly.

Want proof? Look no further than California’s 2015/2016 El Niño winter. Have you ever, in your life, seen a season more hyped up by the surfing community? Pre-swell updates, live-action cams, and extensive recaps were produced for every single swell — and there were a lot of swells. Thanks to Surfline (plus its 15 sister sites), most surfers knew exactly when and where the swell was hitting. Once the size, angle and period of a swell are discovered, it’s easy to discern what spots will light up. But for those who aren’t so savvy with numbers or words or colors, there is always Instagram for real-time updates at top spots. A picture is worth a thousand forecasts, right?

While the creation of Instagram and wave-cams has led to overflowing lineups in recent times, this winter reached new depths for our social surfing community. Cordiality and respect were replaced with cold-shouldered indifference. “Sharing the stoke” became “You wanna get choked?!’”. I saw a Gudauskas frown. Crazy stuff. And if you think this season was bad, imagine what will happen if the current trend continues. Probably, we’ll all become increasingly frustrated by our inability to catch waves, leading to surf spots filled with passive-aggressive glares and grunts, until eventually someone loses it and starts throwing hand grenades out at Rincon. Yikes.

But don’t be confused – I’m not saying guys were out there trading fists in the lineup. Surfers have always been more bark than bite, and is there any better shit-talking platform than the Internet? Whether it was or or Instagram, people were quick to denounce one another on the premise of “being a kook” or “burning Dane” or “blowing up the spot” (Yeah man, I’m sure no one knew about the ‘Queen of the Coast’ before we posted that photo). One guy had the audacity to cite “karma” as the cause of my surf-related back fracture. My offence? Surfing at his local.

As much as I harp on the negatives of an El Niño through the lens of modern technology, there are some redeeming features. For one, it’s really easy to score. If you managed to consistently misplace yourself over the series of 15 major swells, you should consider trading your quiver for a stamp collection. Great hobby, hardly any guesswork. And aside from technology’s user-friendly nature, it also allows us to connect with others around the world. Guys in California get stoked on the guys charging Jaws, who in turn get stoked on the guys charging Mavs. Respect breeds respect, and in this way Instagram and Surfline help cerate a sense of community amongst surfers — so long as they’re not in direct competition for waves.

At the end of the day, overcrowding was always going to happen. With a limited amount of breaks and the number of surfers increasing exponentially, it was just a matter of time before our premier spots were packed like Pringles. What are we supposed to do – revert back to the days of pay-per-call Surfline reports? Use only film cameras, thus extending the period between snap and post? No way. Wave cams and Insta are here to stay, so maybe it’s better to just embrace it. Maybe you should try to leave pleasant comments on others’ photos. Maybe you should throw a couple shakas in the lineup, even give away a wave or two.

Or maybe none of that sounds appealing to you. Maybe you really hate crowds that much. Maybe you should pack up your things and move to the Pacific Northwest. My friend just posted a pic and it looks like they have some epic wa… Uhhh, nevermind.

Photos in order of appearance: Greg Long, Photo: Pat Stacy. Sandspit, Photo: Seth De Roulet. Pat Shaughnessy, Photo: Seth De Roulet. Pat Gudauskas, Photo: Jimmicane. Ola Eleogram, Photo: Ricky Lesser. Damien Hobgood, Photo: Jimmicane. Noah Wegrich, Photo: Taras. Kai Lenny, Photo: Bastien Bonarme

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