Living in the Paddle Battle Capital

ABOVE: AN EXAMPLE OF PADDLE BATTLING AT IT’S APEX (AT LEAST IT IS FOR A LICK OF WORLD CLASS WAVES).

Southern California is a tropical paradise. Ok, tropical paradise might be a little bit of a stretch. But in my short life and sheltered viewpoints as far as travel and locations, California really has it all. Nice weather most of the time, fun surf, nice beaches, cute girls. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I have longed to live in California since I was a child. Sure, I might like the beaches back home in NJ more. And the pizza is not as good out here. Back home, Summer time was crowded and congested. Where I live, it is even worse. Southern California definitely has a crowd problem, both in and out of the water. Nothing grinds my gears more than trying to navigate an uber-crowded lineup or waiting 45 minutes to get into a bar just to order 2 drinks before it’s time to go home. Fun stuff. All this bitching and moaning aside, California for now has my heart, and it’s not too hard to see why. 

But let’s hone in real quick. If I had to have ONE major qualm with the golden state, it involves surfing. California single handedly has to be the paddle battle capital of America. I’m sure you make the argument that peak season on the north shore might give it a run for its money, but California 365 days out of the year has to have the most wave hungry surfers. In some instances I get it. I know that if I am going to surf a battlefield like Lowers or pumping 56th street, it would be cute to think I wouldn’t have to get in peoples space and take waves. I think that’s maybe where it starts: having to actually take waves in order to catch them when it’s crowded. I like to think I give people a decent amount of waves. And I don’t get many given back to me. On a rare occasion someone that isn’t my friend will chest pass me a wave. I always make it a point to thank that person afterwards, much like if someone gave you a free coffee or something like that. It’s just basic etiquette. When I am not catching waves and no one is giving any waves away, this is when it gets eggy. I think this sometimes brings out the absolute worst surfer in me and others. While I always am respectful and never burn or heavy back paddle people, sometimes I give out absolutely zero handouts and sweep up every wave that comes where I am the deepest (unless a friend is on the shoulder). 

Now I can recognize this and slow it down, but for the most part if I am being respectful I don’t see too much trouble in it. No one bitches at other people when they are catching a ton of waves, but for some reason I tend to cop it on the head pretty often. Certain places require this cutthroat mindset, as much as you dislike having to throw it on. The problem arises when people resort to shit etiquette to catch waves. Getting super close to someone while paddling for a wave, telling them to fuck off, or just blatantly burning someone is when it tends to cross the line. The best part: the people who resort to this definitely are in the bottom of the talent pool when it comes to ability. They can only catch waves by doing these strange actions. Or their uber-macho localism shines through and they just feel they have the right to deliver fades left and right. Luckily, it is not like every session we have to deal with this. But if the waves are good, the chances of a lineup altercation or getting torched increase exponentially. 

Even on the smallest and most dismal of surfs, I can find myself getting paddle battled to catch a two foot closeout. In these instances, we just need to lighten up and laugh a little. Nothing is better than really wanting to catch a wave (a shit one at that), making sure the person trying to shoulder hop sees you, and then that person lets out a sarcastic statement or still decides to go because maybe you’ve been getting a bunch of waves or they haven’t gotten one in 20 minutes. Often people like to say shit just for no reason or fade you just because fuck it. There are a lot of bad eggs in the California lineups. No matter how shit of a session I am having or how crowded it may be, I can proudly say I rarely fade people. 

Lowers is in a whole different universe in itself, like we touched upon earlier. People will do anything to get a wave out there. And I have been on the receiving end of a lot of these strange exchanges. In my mind, if I can’t get a wave the right way, without back paddling anyone or doing anything that would label me as cheap, then I might as well just not catch that wave. I have caught plenty of sets there without any foul play. It’s not the hardest thing to do. Unfortunately, a lot of other people do not feel this way. There are so many tactics and ways to appear like you are in the right, but at this point I just kick out. People really can get offended if you call them on their bullshit, even if they are blatantly in the wrong. Some people really just don’t get it. Or really think their ability or some other defining factor about them makes it ok to act up in the lineup. 

However, I think this passage might be painting the wrong picture. As my years of living in California lengthen, I tend to know the nooks and crannies to enjoy a peaceful, quiet session as long as it’s under head high. And there are plenty of times everyone is smiling and sharing waves. We just came off a pretty fun run of swell, and it seems like everyone has had their fair share of waves. With a long flat swell incoming and summer crowds still looming their ugly head, I am positive the next solid swell we will have plenty of  people that are going to be going mad to subdue the wave-stricken appetite of not surfing a head high wave for a while. If you find yourself tangled up in one of these strange altercations next time you are in the water, just shrug it off and keep surfing. Like I said in my last post, surfing is so fun. Don’t make it not so fun for the others around you. 

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