Surfing And Traffic: One And The Same

UnknownIllustration by Noa “Men’s Sandals And Bad Tattoos” Emberson

On a recent surf at an undisclosed jetty in San Diego, one of the rare gems in the city that’s decent on a high tide with a west swell, I witnessed a very peculiar altercation between two self-proclaimed locals. It was a sunny, mid-winter day and oddly consistent. I gazed on in wide-eyed wonderment as a Kenny Powers look-alike on a kneeboard (whom I later learned is named “Buttons,” of all things) snaked a white guy with dreads on an alaia. Immediately, Oscar-worthy monologues defending each man’s entitlement ensued. The altercation was ultimately put to bed when a local surfer girl stepped in with a poignant: Get a real f–king board, you two!

Ouch.

No, this isn’t a tirade about the dangers of localism. Lately, in and out of the water, I see us succumbing to a traffic mentality. From San Francisco to San Diego, Californians and visitors alike have all been there. We’ve all taken that on-ramp to the 405, or the 5, or the 1, what have you, and immediately felt defeated. Often times irate. And being a dog-eat-dog world, we engage in this battle, weaving in and out of five lanes, snaking people without a blinker or a shaka. Even parking has its skirmishes. On the road and in the water, we are faced with overwhelming amounts of people, and little to no regulation. Speed limit signs seem like mere suggestions and there is nothing but the hazy, often cracked tablets of unwritten laws in the ocean by which we all — when it’s convenient — abide.

Instead of the ocean being one of the last bastions of freedom, unbridled by the chains of land-life, it often becomes another theater that, unfortunately, brings out the worst in folks. Often, it feels like the Golden State has forgotten the Golden Rule and that traffic-mentality on land inevitably seeps into the water.

The 1993 film Falling Down illustrates this boiling point perfectly, and in just the right place. In the film, Michael Douglas, completely fed up with societal pressures and the daily grind, bails his car while stuck in a traffic jam in downtown LA. He literally walks away in a daze and then proceeds to go on a vigilante rampage, wasting bad guys around the city with a shotgun, among other weapons, like a rocket launcher. What I’m saying is we’ve all felt like Michael Douglas before. And jumping in the ocean should’ve made Mike feel a whole lot better, but these days, would it? Or would he have just brought that anger and violence into the ocean?

Sure, major interstates pass by most breaks in California, but where does this brutish behavior and gang-mentality come from? Perhaps we attribute this treatment of one another to that clichéd idea of surfers being part of a “tribe.” Tribes which then spawn other tribes from different towns and sub-tribes from different breaks, each tribe with its individual sense of privilege and order. But c’mon. California’s about as First World as it gets. Especially coastal California. Ain’t no wigwams and teepees down Malibu Colony Road. No one’s hand-weaving their $600 wetsuit or gone on a vision quest in search of the materials to craft their $900 surfboard. And while hoots from the guy a little further down the line can sound a bit tribal in nature, it shouldn’t give anybody an excuse to let the rat race of land-life ruin the whole point of surfing (fun).

As such, I propose an armistice. Let’s put down the bows and arrows and headdresses (and while we’re at it, the alaias). Let us return to the fundamentals of surfing. Fewer tweets about the guy that ditched his board in front of you on that big day at El Porto, and more hoots for the guy taking off on the set you wish you’d been in position for. That already feels better, doesn’t it? —Dana Valdez