Surf Culture

The informant went into great depth telling me about the surf culture he was surrounded by growing up.   I was unaware of this prior to speaking to him, but every surfing location has its own culture. Some of these cultures are more distinct than others, and there can be some overlap between them.  The informant is from Mission Beach, San Diego. Although he was not initially aware of it when he went out to surf for the first time, there is a distinct localism that governs the beach where he surfs. He first tried to go surfing at 8 years old. Upon entering the water, he said he was “basically chased and scared back to the beach” by the older surfers.  Over the next couple months, his next door neighbor guided him and showed him the ropes.  The neighbor served as a mentor. What the informant learned was that there was a set rotation that the surfers followed. In order to achieve a spot in this rotation, the informant had to earn the respect of the surfers who had been there for many years more than him.  There is a controlled line up for catching waves.

Here is transcribed some of what he had to say:

Informant: Take someone who has been surfing where I am surfing for 50 years.  I have only been there for 15.  Because they have been there for longer, they will rule the line up more than I would. There is a pecking order. We take turns getting waves because we have all put in our time and earned it. If someone that I do not know paddles out and paddles around me, I will personally get offended. They did not put in their time out there, so why should they get good waves. It is kinda funny actually, all of my best friends are 40 year olds because those are the guys I grew up surfing with.

Me: *Laughter*

Informant: We had an undercover cop who was supposed to infiltrate our line up. We never knew who it was. Maybe it was the guy who disappeared, who knows.

Me: Why? Because it was too aggressive?

Informant: It was too violent.

Me: No way.

Informant: The only way I know that is because I work for San Diego Life Guards, and one of the lieutenants knew that. Lifeguards in San Diego are also Peace Officers so they have to enforce the law. So I guess they were somehow involved in that. He told my parents, and they told me.

Me: Woah. Do people actually fight each other?

Informant: Yeah, look up the version of my spot in LA… Lunada Bay. Look up Lunada Bay violence or something. It is a really good wave.

– I take out my computer and search Lunada Bay Surf. What comes up is an article about localism protests –

Informant: there is a huge thing going on right now where they are protesting localism there. There is some whole… ugh {annoyed face}

Me: And that makes you mad?

Informant: Yeah, slightly. I tried to surf there, and I got chased out of the water, and I understood.

Me: Is that tricky though, because are they really good waves there that you can’t surf?

Informant: Yeah, I didn’t earn it out there, so they are not going to give me the time of day.

Me: Even though you are really good?

Informant: Yeah, and that’s how it goes. The thing is, I do know the system, so I know how to act there.

My analysis: The surf culture the informant grew up in completely shaped him as a person.  He values respect above all else, and has a tendency to snap at people when he feels disrespected. This localism that he grew up surrounded by is distinct to his area, but localism is something that does not just exist on the beach that he surfs. As demonstrated through the Lunada Bay search, localism is a characteristic of other surf cultures as well. There is no law book that surfers must abide by, yet there are certain practices common amongst them.  The logical thought would be that surfers ride waves based on their skill level, but that is entirely not the case.  Localism disregards much of the skill of the surfer and focuses on respect.  This is a great example of how folklore is passed along from generation to generation. The informant made it very clear in the interview that he would never bring friends to surf with him at home, and would get mad at anyone who tried to paddle around him. In doing this, he is continuing to spread the unspoken rules and beliefs of the surf culture he grew up in.