The Degradation of Surfing

So a lazy four foot swell picks up, and I go off to the Usual Spot Called Serangan, close to home. Paid my seven thousand rupiah to get through the two gates, torque the poor car’s suspension through the usual potholes, and rock up to the warung to see a nice head high peak break left and right.

With, oh, twenty surfers on it, and more paddling out. Not a crowd by Serangan standards, but not enough waves, either. If I could roll back the time say even ten years ago, there’d probably be one or two in the water and nobody on the beach, and I’d be waxing up. But now I’m calculating the potential wave count and throwing in the frustration factor, the strategizing you have to engage in, and just the little bit of assertiveness & hassle you do have put out to get a wave off the crowd, and I’m thinking, this isn’t worth it.

The degradation of surfing. Surfing, you know? Catching and riding a wave, and paddling out for the next one to ride? That’s surfing, right? That’s how it used to be, anyhow.

Some years ago, at a spot that used to be secret but is now well and truly found with resorts and boats, I asked a group of twenty-something Southern California surfers traveling together there if they’d ever surfed alone, if they’d ever had a session at a place knowing they’d be the only ones there for awhile, could relax and just enjoy the swell…you know, surf. One guy looked at me puzzled and said, “Well, I surfed Malibu on the full moon a couple times with only a few guys out.”

An older surfer about thirty something was listening, and said to me, “Yeah, you just want all the waves for yourself like you used to have it. Times have changed, mate.”

Okay, I admit: guilty as charged. Not because I’m selfish, but because I want to, you know, go surfing.

In the comments on Naughton’s article on the lifting of the Tavarua exclusivity rights, and other similar articles, surfers are saying “About time, the ocean and the waves belong to everyone.” Nice warm brotherly fuzzies—but I suspect that what they are really saying is, “I want my share, jack.”

Now that’s perfectly understandable. What’s there to not understand? I for sure want my share, too. So we share and share and share, and pretty soon we’re not really surfing, are we? There’s only so many waves to go around. So the experience gets degraded, and with exploding demand, from more varied watercraft users, it’s getting degraded awful fast. Who’s to blame? The commercialization, the surf companies and surf schools and surf guides and surf resrots? The Internet with immediate surf spot videos, here’s point x and here’s how to get there? The global cultural zeitgeist that has made surfing the cool trendy thing? Or each one of us?

Sure, there’s some hassling and some stink-eyes and a few angry shouts, but it’s actually pretty amazing how well everybody does get along in that line up crowd. Three cheers for human nature, but I suspect it’s not so much a spirit of brotherly love, but of resignation. We humans have become pretty good at being resigned.

Even more than this, or perhaps more accurately because of this, younger surfers have a radically different mindset to surfing than even the generation who are their immediate elders. No point in saying “You should have been here twenty years ago.” They don’t care about twenty years ago. That might as well have been the Steam Age. Well, it’s not that they don’t care, it just doesn’t mean anything to them. It’s irrelevant. Great, cool, and all, but hey, this is my world now. Yeah, sure there’s hundred surfers in the water, but so what? I’m going to make it a hundred and one and if I catch a wave in three hours, hey, I’m surfing.

The rebellious, adventurous, “lets-see-what’s-around-the-corner” roots of surfing are withering away to dried out history. Cool and all, but times have changed, old man.

So today, did I paddle out? Sure. I’d paid that 7000 rupiah after all.

But you should have been here twenty years ago.

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3 Responses to The Degradation of Surfing

  1. Gary says:

    When I go searching for waves up the coast I have some mates I just travel with because they reckon if theres no-one out then it must be no good ???? They would prefer to go to the next break with 20 guys out because they reckon if theres guys out it must be good. Talk about lost the ‘surfing spirit’.
    Same mates want to go to Bali in the school holidays rather then the weeks before????
    Thank god I got Indo in the 90’s, surfing in West Java just two of us some days in places that now have resorts, Nias with 10 guys out, Sumatra with 1 boat.

  2. Gary says:

    Sorry that last comment was mean’t to read ‘mates I won’t travel with’. Big differene..

  3. Gary says:


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