Invasion of The Session Snatchers

posted by / News / April 3, 2009

If you were a Domino’s delivery boy, and you knew the pizza was going to be free if you didn’t make it to your customer’s door in exactly 30 minutes, you might drive recklessly, impolitely – downright illegally – to get that Deep Dish there on time. Others on the road might be angry and honk their horns, but your dangerous lane-change wouldn’t be personal; you might not even be a bad driver or a mean person. Just like in The Godfather, business is business.

I’m learning that professional surfers operate with a similar code of conduct. Anyone who lives in an area of great surf and/or high exposure is susceptible to an influx of wave-hungry pros, with brightly colored and heavily-stickered boards and a crew of photo/video shutterbugs in tow. They can be rude and greedy, but even when they’re not, the presence of all that pomp and flash can ruin a session for the regular Fred’s just looking for a low-key hour in the water. Pros seem to appear from nowhere, ruthlessly mine the best possible window, and move on in search of another break to conquer. Like the White Man.

Another perspective, however, is that pros (with some exceptions, surely) are just itinerant surf frothers. Their modus operandi is the same as that of a committed local, but their job forces them out into the world of proper lighting and niche conditions. Their section needs a frontside air; their sponsor wants a barrel shot in short-arm fullsuits. At that point, they become the Domino’s delivery boy who runs red lights: just another friendly, conscientious citizen pushed to extreme behaviors by the demands of the workplace. This doesn’t excuse bad manners, but since you can’t force “undesirable” surfers out of your spot without stooping to an even lower level than they have (sweet, cathartic violence) it helps to remember the following tenets of dealing with pros:

* They’re not ignorant – they’re surfers too, with their own home breaks and a lifetime of experience paddling out all over the world. They know when they’re stepping on toes, and probably don’t feel very good about it. Be friendly, but don’t cede your place in the lineup just because they rip. They’ll appreciate and respect being treated like everyone else.

* Light is king. If they’re shooting, the angle and intensity of the light is more important than that of the swell itself. They HAVE to get shots; if it’s not going to happen at Spot A, they’re immediately off to Spot B – even if Spot A is 10x better. So seek out, or wait for, imperfect lighting when the pros are on the hunt.

* Repetition is the enemy. Video sections and photo features thrive on variety. If a pro nails a solid fin waft, and the filmer doesn’t miss it, fin wafts are probably off the to-do list. It’s either time for brekkie or to move up the beach/coast, to where it’s barreling and good for tube shots. Watch him go and chuckle about the funny faces he’s making for the camera in those closeouts, and enjoy your session pro-free.

* (Neither ethical nor recommended, but it works) Deception is a ready last resort. If the pros are traveling in your area, they probably don’t know it very well, and are sponges for information on where they can get work done. If you, in all your localish wisdom, mention that it’s absolutely firing just 30 minutes away, there’s a good chance they’ll punt on your knowledge and take their show on the road. Just yesterday the crew I’m with drove 40km on the word of a random guy who claimed, through the window of his moving vehicle, that a sandbar to the south was going off. In fact, it was bacterial and probably not surfable without a jetski, and there was nobody around but us gullible Yanks.

The most important thing to remember is that pros are people too, and that they read gossip magazines and need morning coffee and worry about their rent/mortgage payments. Regarding them as aliens or gods just throws a wrench in your session and your peaceful mindspace – especially when their presence is temporary at worst, and inspirational at best. Take some notes, make friends, and wait for it to get cloudy.

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