Is tow-in surfing going too far?

There is no shortage of surfing purists who believe tow-in surfing is a far cry from the true roots of wave riding. While some will go so far as to publicly disparage it, the majority of its opponents, for lack of a better term, will engage in a form of fence-sitting, politely acknowledging its existence but not going so far as to call it the evolution of the sport.

More over, does the collective reticence from modern surfing’s forefathers really suggest that tow-in is not even really surfing, but an entirely different sport?

There is no second-guessing the skill of those who can maintain control under the speed and volume of water that tow-in type waves create and by all means, these guys are great watermen. The growth of tow-in surfing, however, has taken the spirit of surfing and injected it with an adrenaline-laced cocktail of performance-enhancing machinery and made-for-TV commercialism.

(Then again, so have the folks at Quicksilver, Hollister and Volcom.)

Think about it. When is the last longboarding competition you’ve seen backed by television advertisers? No, I’m not suggesting lonboarding is the defining essence of surfing but it is without question the salt of surfing’s earth.

Tow-in wave riding has made what should not be accessible to most accessible to many. It also operates largely without the ingrained sense of etiquette that surrounds surfing. Does tow-in drown the defining concepts of the sport in a din of four-stroke recklessness? It can be argued.

The video in this post shows several surfers taking falls that could easily result in death. Yet, far too many people won’t get all that nervous when they watch hundreds of thousands of ocean current-fueled gallons of whitewater toss a rider like a kelp leaf because, idling just outside the death zone is a wave runner and life jacket, as if that’s all it takes to render flaccid the break of a 50-foot wave.

Big wave surfing, the stuff of Greg Noll and Jeff Clark, seems to me to be the better evolution of surfing. Tow-in wave riding, while admittedly intoxicating to take in, has pushed itself into its own realm. Unfortunately, it’s created an offshoot of surfing that is growing further away from its paternal influence. While that separation in direction does not make it inherently bad, it does require a great deal more supervision.

Friends don’t let friends drop in.

Read it. Know it. Live it.

By Dan Colburn. But for everyone.

The buoy’s are showing 6’ @ 14 seconds, the wind is light offshore.  The sun is shining and the water is warm.  You grab your favorite companion, (you know … the one you got barreled on once last summer so now you ride it every time it’s good in hopes it will bring you a repeat performance) and make a beeline for your favorite watering hole.

Crowd doesn’t look too bad,” you think to yourself as you strap on your leash and hit the water.

As you sit outside waiting for your first wave you notice a group of dolphins that seem to be having a good time in the green water a hundred feet or so from you.  They have it together man; no board, no baggies, no leash, they just go as is … true soul surfers.

Your attention shifts from the playful porpoises to the peak mounding up just outside of you. You stroke out a few times just to be sure you are in good position, then as it comes to you, you dig in deep, feel the push, stand and make the drop, gliding down the nearly vertical face.

But you’re not alone.

The guy you didn’t notice back paddling you is now calling you off the wave. For the sake of peace and keeping the stoke alive you back off but not without a sour taste in your mouth.

This scene plays out time and time again in lineups all around the world. It may be the back paddler, the shoulder hopper, the loudmouth or the bailer. Regardless of how, surfers (maybe) like that can ruin the stoke of a great session and a transcendental cerulean experience.

Surfing is about as pure an activity as you can find; seeking to place man in communion with nature … but when greed and sometimes ignorance takes over, the stoke turns sour.  The sad thing is that all of this is completely, 100 percent avoidable with little to no impact on one’s wave count. It simply requires a little giving. However, human nature seems to thrive more on getting; hence the problems.

Poor surfing etiquette not only ruins the stoke but it can potentially create dangerous situations yielding injuries and possibly even death. Picture sitting inside a beautiful tube, planning your exit strategy when all of a sudden someone drops in and causes the wave to section and the tube to shut down, now instead of an exit strategy you’re trying to figure out a way to not get the nose of your board or fin in the head.

In a case such as this you can elevate it to include a wave like Pipe where the result is a sound thrashing, being raked across the reef and coming up to a more than likely broken board. And maybe a couple of bones.

What it all comes down to is a few basic rules that everyone on a surfboard should follow:

  • If someone is already up and riding, back off. Give them the benefit of the doubt if you think their chances of making it are questionable. There are plenty more waves for you.
  • Don’t back paddle. This is where you paddle inside of someone to get closer to the peak and claim—falsely—priority.
  • Don’t bail your board unless absolutely necessary. Bailing your board is like launching a missile toward whomever might be within range.
  • Keep negative comments to yourself. Everyone is out there to have fun so trash talking is unacceptable.

There are other rules but these adequately encapsulate the essence of good etiquette.

The most important thing is to have fun. It doesn’t matter what you’re riding; long, short, stubby, whatever, as long as you are being courteous and having fun, we’ll all enjoy the stoke.

see editor’s note in comments

Never yell shark in a crowded lineup.

bullshark and kids

What did I do?

Professional surfer Clint Kimmins from Australia did a couple of things when we updated his Facebook status to report that a bull shark maimed a guy in the lineup of a popular surf break. The first thing he did was demonstrate the kind of strobe-light quickness of social media that makes Web 2.0 consultants sprint to their netbooks to update their PowerPoint for the next Omaha Association of Realtor’s luncheon.

The other thing he did was lie. There was no shark attack.

You see, Kimmins made it up because he thought the break was getting too crowded.  Steve Casimiro over at The Adventure Life has a bit more about Kimmins’ soulless subterfuge.

To surfers, there exists a very minimal number of distractions to their love of the water. Number one on that short list are sharks. (Followed closely by something called “flat spells.”) It’s an odd dichotomy, surfer and shark. The fear is really just an absurd level of respect. That, in case the non-surfer out there is wondering, is why surfers who have been bitten, nudged, noticed or to some degree masticated, have little problem paddling out again. It’s the animals’ ocean; they’re in charge. Most of us are thankful they grant us as much access as they do.

In places like Australia, South Africa and portions of the California coast, shark attacks happen. They are rare, sure, but only because of how infrequently they happen.

For those who have experienced or witnessed an attack, the timeframes between reports shrink to seconds, making them an every day occurrence. It takes only a headline, or a Facebook post, to incite the internal horror of a single, cave-black eye staring at you from just below a cellophane sheet of saltwater, focused on nothing but disintegrating whatever section of bone it happens to hold in its teeth.

Dramatic? Maybe. But this modern day tale of crying wolf isn’t going to make it into any storybooks. It bolsters the stigmas of localism, erodes the silent camaraderie of the lineup and shows monumental disrespect to those with clear memories of an actual encounter, which, thanks to Kimmins, is happening all over again.