When You Give A Moose A Muffin

Illustration by Noa Emberson

December IssueOver the phone while shopping to make stir-fry, this magazine’s editor tells me a story:

At Lower Trestles. Crowded. Suddenly, a right! No one deeper. He paddles. Gaze is met by that of little kid on shoulder. Wide, cartoon-squirrel eyes stare back with callow hope that editor may let wave go by. Villainous laugh! Editor takes wave. Sprays kid in face. Kid’s heart hardens, can never trust again. Grows up like Good Will Hunting character, only bad at math.

Liberties were taken with this story but its upshot, says our editor as he walks the condiment aisle with conscience divided, is this: Should he have given that wave away? Should we give other people waves, in general? Is it a good thing to do? We discuss. Notes below.

First theory: No.

Second theory: Sometimes, but let’s go back to the first. No. This is not a Soviet bicycle factory. Each of us earns the wave he gets and gets the wave he earns. Break this rule with a gift and you contribute to someone’s dependence on the fickle grace of strangers. You turn that person into a helpless piglet oinking for scraps. What sort of gift is that? Teach a man to fish, not how to need welfare. We term this the Romney theory. Our editor is now searching for cornstarch.

Of course, we continue, soon wave pools will commodify your basic water bump and give it a price per linear foot ridden, or per second standing, or maybe some sort of height-shape algorithm with barrels as a luxury upgrade. This is all speculation; we’re not engineers, and cornstarch is in the baking aisle. Either way soon we won’t be giving or taking waves at all in the natural sea (too polluted or possibly privatized to fix state deficits); instead we’ll buy and sell and save up for pool waves like PBRs or movie tickets. Someday. But until then we each compete for our own rides and it’s no use wishing otherwise.

This is one theory.

Another: Giving waves can have a wide range of benefits for everyone involved. Any kind or cunning surfer should make it a habit for the following reasons:

1) It feels good to share. Sharing can feel better than shredding. If you’re like our editor (case above notwithstanding) and were raised well and care for others, you might get more joy from giving a wave than from tearing its face up. Though in that sense, aren’t you just liking the idea of yourself as the sort of nice person who gives waves away? So isn’t it still selfish? Does it matter? We’re not sure. We realize we’re also not sure what scallions are.

2) Altruism avoids social unrest. This is true across society but especially in surfing. Just because you can catch every wave doesn’t mean you should, lest you rouse mob resentment from the 99% and they start living and defecating in your public parks, or, in surfers’ case, back-paddling you. They might even slash your tires; the lineup can get vindictive. Giving a wave now and then keeps the rabble off your doorstep.

3) To clear space. When you give a wave you’re left with one or two fewer competitors for the next one, and if you know the next one to be better — well, you start to feel real generous. I summarize that throwing bones on the floor keeps the dogs off the table. The editor suggests we leave that line out because it’s callous and condescending.

4) For allies. That kid on the shoulder could be the son of a Beatle, for example, like in the Bones Brigade movie. Or he could be an EMT in training who happens to see your board knock you unconscious and leave you floating face-down five minutes later. Either way you always want friends in the water, because—aside from the defensible human reasons—you never know when you’ll need some or why.

At this point on the call our editor is audibly distracted by the store’s self-checkout machine. Its computer voice tells him to scan items and weigh produce. I scold him for helping eliminate an American job, but I’m joking; between government checks and selling drugs that would-be clerk is doing much better on unemployment. He probably surfs all the time. He, I suggest, definitely does not deserve to be given any waves. Our editor tells me he has to go. —Clark Franklin