Surf stories: Right of way? Wrong.

I surfed my go-to spot last Sunday in Capitola knowing there was a nice incoming SW swell on tap. It was the average Sunday morning crowd but not too busy, and the waves were waist to chest high with some head high sets pouring through. The bigger ones were breaking way outside on the reef, even during the high tide at 8:30am. There were some long lulls but the good rides were connecting all the way through to the inside, no problem. I had gone over with my neighbor for the second time — after talking about surfing together, we’re finally starting to do it, and we’ve had two fun sessions together. There were other familiar faces in the water and everyone was having a good morning, getting lots of waves.

capitola - google mapsMidway through the session, a set came through and I caught a wave from the outside peak and rode it all the way in. The inside section can be pretty fun — the outside breaks bigger but is crumbly, and then it backs off in a deep spot, but then gets steep and faster as the wave breaks over an increasingly shallow, rocky bottom. All told it’s probably a 100-yard ride and, typical to the eastside, a really a nice right handed pointbreak. The two points on the Google image here show the takeoff spot and the inside section.

As I was paddling back out me and a couple of other guys saw a longboarder riding along on a similarly nice wave, with style. All of a sudden this big heavy guy pops up behind him in the whitewash, speeds toward him and literally pushes the longboarder off his board on the inside section, and keeps going. This is way out of line. First of all the big guy had no right to the wave. A clear violation of the first rule of surf etiquette. Secondly, he flat-out pushed the guy off his board. We all kind of looked at each other: what the hell was that? Did he just really do that? I’ve been surfing the area for about 10 years and I’ve never seen such a thing.

According to the Surfing Handbook (not to mention common sense):

“If someone is up riding a wave, don’t attempt a late takeoff between the curl/whitewater and the surfer. If the surfer who’s riding the wave wants to make a cutback she’ll run right into you.”

I talked to the surfer that got pushed a little later when we were sitting on the outside waiting for a set, and he couldn’t believe what had happened. He wondered: Did I do something? Was it my fault? I’m pretty sure I didn’t burn him, right? I told him: No way, the wave was yours and the big guy had no right to do what he did.

Over the next hour, I got a couple more rides and was ready to head in when another big set came — just what I wanted to finish the day, a nice sized wave and something to take me all the way home. Me and my neighbor were all alone on the outside peak, set up perfectly. He gets the first one and rides it all the way to the beach. I nabbed the second one, navigated the crowd and was just getting some speed on the inside when I see the big dude get up on the wave behind me, again taking off in the whitewash (I had been riding it for 50 yards already). I’m thinking: Oh great, here we go. I looked back at him and started chuckling as he was doing his best to pass me.

Just like what happened to the other guy, the big man is pumping his hybrid to catch me (I was out ahead on the open face), and I’m thinking: no way am I backing off for this bastard. A million thoughts are running through my head and I’m thinking about the ensuing confrontation which will probably end in a fight. Should I jump on his back? Should I kick out and hit him in the teeth with the nose of my 9-2? Should I deliberately wipe out in front of him? Should I just let it go and call it a day?surfing-etiquette

Before I could decide, he grabs my leash and shouts: “Watch out!” and he yanks me backwards off my board! I did my best to launch my board out forward at him, hoping I’d take him out, but it caught me by surprise and I couldn’t make it happen. The wave had been walling up in front of me so my ride was done anyway, and I knew I was done for the day, but still. I’ve been stand-up surfing for over 15 years and I’ve never had such a thing happen to me, especially in Capitola which is usually one of the most mellow spots possible. Hell, there were grandparents surfing out there that day, like they do every day.

So I go under and he rides on. As I came up, he was already paddling back out, about 25 yards away and around the smaller jetty inside. He had earplugs but I shouted at him, “Thanks, dick!” He didn’t hear me or care. Didn’t even look back. He soon began paddling in but kind of delayed as he had to have seen me getting out of the water and walking back toward the breakwall. I wasn’t about to chase him and get in a fight, but just stood on the beach in amazement.

Not only did he violate the first rule of surf etiquette, he took me off my board. Goes without saying — not cool.

In the end, I let it go. The big dude paddled in after me with his son (!!) who was about 10 or so. I had seen the kid in the water earlier and he clearly didn’t want to be out there or be near his dad. It’s no wonder. Father of the year.

surfing airFunny enough, this wasn’t the only incident of the day. I got snaked earlier by a short boarder on the inside, who instead dropped in on me and tried to pull an air as the wave closed out. He fell, which was actually kind of dangerous had his board hit me. He went in right away and I never saw him again.

The only thing I can think of that would remotely justify all this bad behavior is resentment over a longboarder riding a wave from peak to beach. It’s a long ride. But it’s also traditionally a longboarder’s spot. Logs and old guys have always dominated the place. Capitola is not Trestles. There are plenty of other waves to surf nearby if launching slob grabs is your thing. Also, I think I caught five or six waves all session — it’s not like I was ruling the place. I’m too out of shape to nab every wave that comes my way — other guys were out doing that. Besides, I’ve been the hog before and now, older and wiser, know that sucks nearly as bad as being dropped in on or pushed off a board by some dickhead.

After I got changed I desperately wanted to go talk to the guy, who I saw getting into his truck. But I figured I’d just get in a fight (and probably lose) on a busy beach by a guy who was twice my size. I haven’t fought anyone since I was 12. But I envisioned myself calmly approaching and reasoning with him, letting him know that he was not operating within standard operating procedures, that I was dismayed and disappointed by what he had done, that he’s setting a poor example for his son by surfing the way he does, etc etc etc. Then I’d shake his hand and tell him to have a nice day. Maybe I’d buy him a cup of coffee. Maybe he just needed a hug.

See you next time, big guy. Hope you have a better day. If not, then apologies in advance if my board accidentally hits you in the teeth.


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