The Sportsmanship of Surfing And Life, Part II of IX

There are maybe 25 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. The surfers farthest out, the ones positioned right under the dark cobra hood of the first big peak, paddle right up under the shadow of the wave, then snap their boards around in the last couple of seconds before it breaks. Three or four may paddle for it, but as soon as one of them has the wave and starts to drop, the others usually pull back from the cornice, whipping around and heading back into position for the next one.

The first surfer drops down the wave, warily eyeing the steepening wall, scrambling paddlers, and a gauntlet of guys who are riveted on his every move, looking for any hesitation or weakness that will tempt them to slide in ahead of him.  The rider, in turn, tries to control the situation by projecting a kind of physical and psychic ownership over the full length of the wave as he begins to execute big maneuvers that take up a lot of room and throw a heap of spray.

The second and third waves of the set are taken by a half dozen other surfers in the outside pack.  As they surf in, leaving the area open, other surfers paddle into the zone, hoping for more waves in the set.  If there are, they drop in according to the general rule that the surfer closest to the peak (the most critical part of the curl) has the right of way.

If there are no more waves to the set, things get a little dicey.  Any surfer who didn’t catch a wave will have to wait for the next set.  By then, all the guys who rode waves on the last set — usually the most aggressive of the pack — will be back out to claim their waves again.  Most good surfers feel entitled to one wave every set or so.  The math is simple.   Too many surfers, not enough waves.  It’s just like everything else in life — some gorge while others starve; most survive on the leftovers.

The surfer who sits out there and hasn’t caught a wave in the last ten sets dreams wishfully that he’d been around back when there were plenty of waves and not very many surfers.

To be continued: “The Sportsmanship Of Surfing And Life, Part I – IX”

Painting by Rick Rietveld 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.

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  1. The boards are similar to long surf boards but have been modified slightly for increased buoyancy and stability.