How Instagram Ruined Surfing: No more secrets and trying to prove oneself

(This is an old piece from my minor in writing and rhetoric at Chapman University. Since most of my writing is pretty loose on here, I figured it would be cool to post something that had more structure. I wish I could find the prompt, alas I cannot. I also could not find the grade. I do recall it being a rather large chunk of your overall grade.)

Instagram can be used as a news source in a sort of way. I am saying this because very relevant things tend to be posted rather quickly in comparison to on a website. Obviously, news outlets for global events and such is most informational in its website form. However, by way of experience, if you tailor your news feed to a certain genre, you can have very timely news feed pertaining to what is going on in that genre. One example is the amount of different hip-hop Instagram pages. Follow all these pages and you’ll know about all the rap beefs and new songs that come out daily and are posted same day. It’s all about being the first to post, so it’s a race against the competing pages.

This theory of using Instagram as a news outlet can be seen in many different genres, especially surfing. If you were to follow these essential Instagram accounts of the surf world (@stab @Surfline @surfer @theinertia) you could essentially know what is going on all over the world in terms of surf. You would see posts of who won the most recent surf contests, what countries and places are having exceptional swells, and some of the craziest surf clips that would maybe not see the light of day had they not been posted. For the most part, surf media outlets post where the waves have been firing. This is where the problem resides.

This may sound cliché, but secret spots are becoming a lot less secretive since the birth of Instagram and the geotag. Prior to surf forecasting sites and the social media boom, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of spots photographers aren’t allowed in and are held sacred to the people who have kept them secretive for this long. Secret spots would soon start dying out as soon as everyone becomes Instagram crazy.

It would give a sense of a fragmented reality, as we see all these crazy good waves but don’t really know the story behind them. Since the world is so large, multiple different places can have really good waves at once, but the only people that really know the truth are the ones posting it. I know of one friend that when the waves are only O.K. he will post a photo claiming it was from the day but really was from a far better day, stoking people out and making them feel like they might have missed out (FOMO).

As well as a fragmented reality of we never really know if the waves are pumping unless we are there or know of some one in the area, we see a breaching of the private space involved in the sport of surfing. Surfing has always been an activity that in practice is somewhat private and just involves you and the ocean. Besides the people you tend to surf with and a couple people you can recognize by their face, it’s overall what seems to be a private space. However, we see increased posts of waves here and sandbars there that more and more people begin invading the private space. Now, when I surf I expect to have to interact with a stranger, which I don’t mind but sometimes just aren’t in the mood for.

With more people’s spaces being invaded, we see more people who do mind interacting with people they aren’t familiar with. We can refer to these people as “salty loc dogs.” These are older people and even some younger guys who just can’t stand new people surfing their spot. They typically tend to be loud and vocal about their dissatisfaction, and tend to act like they own the place. Here is a comical example featuring the late great Andy Irons being heckled for surfing a spot he wasn’t native to in a skit for a surf movie. (The irony is that usually the people who claim local status aren’t that good of surfers, and telling Andy not to surf a spot would be like telling Kobe you can’t shot on my court.)

Everyone needs to brag about how good of waves they scored. As a surfer, getting a good swell to surf is the ultimate challenge, and when you achieve this it is hard not to let others know. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see someone’s Instagram story perfect empty waves, and I am guilty of this as well. At first it seemed harmless, until the effects of the app really started changing the lineup.

I have a particular experience with one of the only waves I’ve ever missed from where I grew up (New Jersey). I would surf this wave before school junior and senior year of high school, and the crowd would be minor. Either it was only for good surfers or people who were known by the locals who would surf the wave. It wasn’t uncommon to hear someone getting yelled at along with the words “I’ve never seen you out here in my life.” I always was a little more cautious surfing this spots since I wasn’t born in the area, but was from a town down the road. However, my surfing would do the talking and people would notice I was just trying to surf good waves. Minding your p’s and q’s at a localized spot coupled with respect for older people at the spot can get you in the local crowd pretty quick. It was like a well-oiled machine: only people who were supposed to be there were surfing there. It’s a little selfish, but some waves should be this way, making it a lot less crowded.

I would come back to this spot winter break of my freshmen year, after being in school in SoCal but itching to surf this spot again. I heard from a friend down the grapevine it was doing its thing and made my way up the road. I arrived on the beach to see my favorite surf spot on the east coast going off. One thing was different: it seemed a lot more crowded, and seemed to be increasing in numbers out surfing by the minute. I went to take a snap to send to my 2 friends out in CA that grew up surfing the wave and was greeted with a “HEY NO PHOTOS” by a boogie boarder on the shoreline. I wasn’t too fazed since he was a boogie boarder (I now salute draggers but in my youthful ignorance definitely did not) and went on with my day. I would suit up and by the time I was in the water it was the most crowded I had ever surfed the wave. Probably 20 surfers, 20 boogie boarders, and 10 people bobbing in the water with GoPros. This made my surf session more dodging people in the water rather than actually surfing.

However, secret spots do still exist, again as cliché as that sounds. Check this clip of a wave only 4 people have surfed, and it might just stay that way if people keep their lips shut and put their phones away.

On top of the ruining of certain spots, people can get caught up in posting lots and lots of photos on their profile, even if they are not what they seem. We see the constant “who can do this better” on Instagram, and the surf community is no different. Everyday people are posting photos whether they authentic or not to make the illusion they are always scoring waves or always landing tricks in the photos they post. It can be a separate world, or act as a public diary of someone’s surfing progression. We can see it as “that different place,” where people can show their surfing talents when not actually surfing right in front of you. Instagram is changing the way we view media of the sport in many ways.

Overall, is Instagram going to kill surfing? No. Will it make it more public and “cool?” Yes. Exactly like the Olympics coming up in 2020. We can see popularity rising, but the ocean isn’t getting any bigger so I guess I should surf as much as I can before Huntington beach starts to look like this. (I swear some days it is pretty damn close.)


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