by Drew Kampion
A good surf spot working on a good swell is a site to behold. Not only is the level of athletic performance frequently inspiring, but the aesthetic dimension is often equally exciting.
Watch from the beach or the bluff as swells echo in from some storm hundreds or thousands of miles away. The lines steepen as they approach. At a particular focal point, where the waves peak first and larger, a cluster of surfers waits. Just before each good wave breaks, one or more surfer drops in, slides down the face of the wave, and rides its steep wall laterally, left or right, keeping just ahead of the folding curl.
One or two or three at a time they ride, and when they’ve ridden the wave, they paddle back toward the take-off point. On the rare chance that no one catches a wave, one of the paddlers closer to shore often leaves off his outbound paddling, swings the nose of his board towards shore, and drops into the empty wave. Or sometimes not an empty wave — sometimes a surfer drops into a wave, dropping in ahead of one or more surfers who are already riding.
All this looks different at sea level. On the water, paddling towards that pack of surfers waiting out at the peak, everything is amplified. Often the surfers paddle in silence, enter the lineup and join a group waiting in silence. Maybe there’s a brief conversation, and sometimes there’s a loud and animated discussion between a few of the surfers. Others sit or lie on their boards, ignoring everything except the horizon, but you know they’re listening.
“So Pete gets to the restaurant an hour late and his hair’s still wet, but he’s got his story all worked out — but before he can even say two words, Doug points at the schedule and, like, his whole week is crossed out in BIG RED MARKER …” And just about then, suddenly but smoothly, the whole group is in motion, paddling around, adjusting position. They’ve spotted a set.
There are maybe twenty-five guys in the main take-off zone, and the set is likely to have four to six decent waves. Every surfer wants one, and everyone wants one to themselves.
To be continued: “The Sportsmanship Of Surfing And Life, Part I – IX”
Painting by Ken Auster of the McKibben Studios. Click Here to see more.
DREW KAMPION is the author of ”The Book of Waves” ”The Art of Christian Riese Lassen”, and ”Stoked: A History of Surf Culture”, the number-one selling book on the history of surf. He is a regular contributor to The Surfer’s Journal, Adrenalin, Longboard, and many other magazines. His website features some of his abundant and thoughtful work.