Back to School
Its safe to say that this summers’ warm weather and consistent swell has made it one for the books.
Unfortunately the favorable surfing conditions have led to a noticeable increase in the number of incidents related to a lack of respect (and general surfing etiquette) in the line-up.
We love seeing new surfers experience joy of riding a wave for the first time. Which is why its hard to see a rise in potentially dangerous encounters that are almost always avoidable.
As a surf shop and a surf school we have an obligation to pass the knowledge we have gained through our multiple decades of surf and travel experience so that we contribute something of value to our surf community.
With more swell on the horizon we have decided to write a guide in an attempt to mitigate future conflict, and offer some helpful tips for those just getting in to surfing.
What you are about to read is a compilation of insight and experience into some of the complex social issues involved in surfing from Kannon Beach team riders, and local surfers - with combined surfing knowledge totalling over 150 years.
We hope it helps those learning to ride waves around Nova Scotia and beyond and makes for a safer, happier line-up that everyone can enjoy.
Know your limit (surf within it):
If your level of surfing is still in the earlier stages, then you should be finding less crowded, more mellow areas to surf. If you are working on surfing fundamentals like:
- Catching waves consistently
- Getting to your feet consistently
- Being in control of your equipment
- Standing up and going straight
Then spots like Lawrencetown or Martinique Beach would offer plenty of space for you to practice these skills.
If conditions are beyond your skill level there is no shame in not going out at all. Even intermediate and advanced surfers know their limits and will sit out sessions when the conditions are beyond their skill level.
If the waves are too big for you to be in control, grab a coffee sit on the beach and watch. Surfing more advanced spots like point breaks before you are ready will only lead to conflict, or someone getting hurt.
Two cents: The problem is this; being able get to your feet and go down the line does not make you an intermediate or advanced surfer. Taking a wave at one of our point breaks and just going down the line in a “poo man stance**” is seen by an experienced surfer as a waste of a wave. There are surfers here who have been surfing here for 10+ years but are most definitely still in this beginner phase of surfing.
More advanced surfers are able to see sections on waves that beginner surfers are still completely oblivious to. Local surfers wait all year for hurricane swells and bigger waves. If you are just going straight down the line, you can easily do this at one of our mellower, less technical spots. Also, when the set waves do come, the experienced surfers are going to be in the right position and then the less experienced surfers are going to be in the way (like pylons).
** this is an example of the poo man stance **
Respect the locals:
Local surfers are hugely protective of their respective stretch of coastline, it is part of who they are.
Sometimes in surfing the term “local” almost has less to do with where a person lives, and more to do with a person’s history with a place.
If you moved to the area recently (or started surfing in the area recently) you may now be a part of the local surf community; but you have joined a hierarchical social structure which values respect, commitment, and skill over time; and you are at the bottom of the pyramid.
If you are lucky enough to find a spot with only one or two local guys out, this does not mean that you should tell all of your friends. Odds are those local guys do not want to share with your five friends, even if you do.
Respect the locals and let them set the pace of the session. It doesn’t matter how far you have traveled or how long it’s been since you surfed; take a deep breath, take a back seat and enjoy seeing (and learning) from the local surfers catching a wave at their home break.
Two Cents: This is a difficult concept to convey. I grew up in Nova Scotia. I have been surfing here for ten years, and working at this surf shop (on and off) for 9 years and I would not consider myself to be a local. There are some guys that have been surfing here since the 1960’s that don’t feel welcome at their home break anymore because it is too hectic, and that is a crying shame. These guys paved the way for all of us, and they surfed year round in things that would barely pass for wetsuits today.
Know the etiquette:
Surfing has some unwritten rules which were designed to keep people safe. Not knowing or ignoring these guidelines will not only make you unpopular pretty quickly, it will mean that you are putting other people at risk.
The graphic below titled “the surfer’s code” offers a visualization on how to approach surfing at most places in the world.
Here are some of the most common offences:
- Paddling to the peak
- Dropping in on a surfer who is already riding a wave
- 'Snaking' someone who has been patiently waiting for a wave
- Bringing beginners into a line-up where the conditions are beyond their ability
- Ditching your board
Two cents: There are always local variations so it is a good idea to watch for a while before paddling out. In general, respect the locals and surf the waves that make it through to the inside and you will be fine. If you are going surfing with a bunch of friends it is usually common courtesy to go find a more quiet spot.
Longboard’s & Shortboard’s:
You may notice when studying the line-up that longboard riders are going to sit in different places than the shortboard riders.
Shortboards are more difficult to ride, and typically require that you take off in a more critical part of the wave.
Whereas longboarders will use the extra volume in their boards and catch waves earlier. Experienced longboarders will catch the wave and be already up and riding before the wave breaks. With experienced longboarders and shortboarders in the lineup there will be order to this yin-yang.
Two cents: Problems tend to arise if a beginner surfer (typically on a longer board), or a visiting surfer starts paddling around more experienced shortboard riders to the peak... Not only is this a source of potential conflict, this is also an instance where even though a person might have paddled for the wave first (or gotten to their feet first), they still do not have the right of way. This would be an example of 'snaking' the person on the short board who has been waiting their turn.
We were all beginners once.
We graduated (over time) from standing up in the white water, to making it out the back of beach breaks, to surfing the reef at Lawrencetown beach, to our point breaks and bigger wave spots.
The beginning phases of surfing are some of the most fun. When just getting to your feet is a huge accomplishment you are able progress really quickly.
If you stick with the sport then you will understand why the local surfers are upset with the disrespect shown to them over the last couple swells by both travelling surfers, and by beginner surfers who were trying to surf waves beyond their skill level.
Experienced local surfers already paid their dues, they paved the way for all of us surfing here today. They should be able to paddle for waves without being hassled, they are in fact able to surf the better quality waves in a way that a beginner surfer cannot yet comprehend.
These guidelines are applicable at almost any surf spot you anywhere in the world, and sticking to them goes a long way with the local surfers.
If you are still in the earlier stages of surfing, or are visiting from somewhere else, please... Surf within your ability, respect the locals, and stick to the rules that keep everyone safe.
We are always around to chat, so feel free to pop by - we're open every day- and are always willing to help new surfers understand the often-complex dynamics that take place at every surf spot. If you'd like a more in depth run through of the mechanics of a line-up, sign up for a lesson. We will pair you with a local surf instructor who will help you level-up your skills and knowledge.
Prepared for Kannon Beach by: Nathan
(With the contribution of nearly a dozen local surfers.)
here is a sampling of the KB team riders - many of whom helped contribute to this article - enjoying some September Sessions