How To Break A Friend’s Surfboard

illustration_1Illustration by Dewey Emberson

The assignment for this column was “how to break a friend’s board,” which at face value seems simple enough. This is how:

Take it on a late-season trip to Oahu, determined for posterity’s sake to surf the Pipeline. Settle upon arrival for Rocky Point instead, with the intention of forgetting this detail later on. Then, sometime in your session’s second hour, snag an unspoken-for closeout that does your pal’s board clean in two.

There. How to break a friend’s board. For instance.

But this is not what our editor had in mind. He was after the etiquette of the thing. The aftermath. How do you make good on a busted loaner? How do you repair a relationship when you can’t repair the surfboard that’s come between it? This, at face value, would seem trickier.

In fact it is not much trickier. In principle it’s clear: Breaking, to shapers’ great pleasure, is just what modern surfboards do when used properly. (Take a minute for that to sink in.) In waves and maneuvers of consequence snapping a board is practically positive feedback.

To break a board, then, is only to do what nature, or maybe the forces of planned obsolescence, intended. To express Platonic surfboardness. This is why snapping a board provides that odd sense of pride and accomplishment that, say, totaling your car does not.

A broken board is no crime, not even a tragedy, whether borrowed or bought. Your friend should get this and just accept the passing of his late 5’9”.

In principle.

Will he, though? You can’t always count on it. So let’s get out of principle and into practice.

First, understand that this stuff we just said about a board being, in some sense, made to break — almost happy to break because of the fulfillment of purpose breaking implies — that’s only valid if it happens while you’re riding it. If, on the other hand, you fail to strap the board securely to a roof rack, or back over it in the lot, or even pack it poorly for air travel only to have the baggage handlers Ray Rice it to pieces in transit, that’s a different story. That’s just negligence. You now owe someone a surfboard. (A break that happens in the water, but not on a wave — i.e. from bailing at right angles to a thick lip while you’re caught inside — is a gray area. But no one needs to know you weren’t actually in that tube.)

Second, principles aside, there’s the matter of your integrity. The “boards break” defense (while sound) isn’t tactful, especially when you’re both standing there, staring at the halves of what used to be his favorite Mayhem. Even if it was martyred on the wave of the winter, the way every surfboard wants to go out, breaking this news with a cold shit-happens shrug is not a good look.

Be contrite. Over-offer in your quest to make things right. How this friend reacts says something about him, and in any case, the high road is worth more than a used Scorcher. Maybe even a brand new one, though consider un-friending the petty man who makes you take that route.

Speaking of him, the lender plays a role in this as well. He ought to understand the risks and be cool about the consequences. If you’re the lender of a broken board that was not broken when you lent it, you signed up for this. Don’t go demanding reparations. Boards break; shit happens. See above. Here’s your chance to be the graceful type who puts his friend over a shortboard, which, again, is a quality more precious than the board itself.

The trick to a happy ending here is to expect the worst, and be ready to accept the worst, from the other party. Then just quietly hope for a show of character.

Of course this nastiness could all be avoided with a policy of never-borrower-nor-lender-being, but that’s a bit extreme. Sampling friendly quivers is the best, if not the only, free way to expand your surfboard horizons. It’s a way to try before you buy. And in a pinch borrowing can be your only option. Then of course there’s the flip side of the transaction: Who wants to be the Scrooge that won’t share?

The safe rule of thumb is to only lend and borrow least-favorite boards. This way there’s no worry about their health and safety and you dodge the psycho-financial pitfalls altogether. Besides, one man’s lemon could be another’s peach, and the board might end up with a new and happier home.

In the end, how to break a friend’s board is…awesomely. Memorably, deep in a cave or out in the flats on the tail end of an aggressive rotation. The way you’d want to break your own. All boards die; do they all truly live? A flaming Winehouse send-off beats a slow Lohanian decline from disuse and leaky dings. Your friend, if he’s a good one, will understand. —Clark Franklin