Last week I went for a surf and for the first time ever, got out of the water feeling absolutely worse than before I’d gone in!

It was awful.

Granted, we’d chosen to surf a particularly and notoriously popular, busy, crowded break, but I can usually cope with that. You accept your decision to surf that spot and accept that it’s going to be a bit chaotic. It’s a little like making a deal with the Devil. Fine. But this was different.

The crowd wasn’t too over-the-top as far as number go. And there were waves enough, even if they were only a kind of messy. But there was also this incredibly aggressive and macho vibe, which was both overwhelming and confronting. It wasn’t like there were any blow-ups or anything, but it was just that everyone was totally in it for themselves. And I’m not talking about some wave-sharing, ‘spirit of surfing’ crap that you hear about – I don’t expect such mythical behaviours – but there was no courtesy, no consideration, no care for each other. Like I said, a total free-for-all!

And it was just hideous.

At one point some guy I’ve never met before paddled up to me and pointed out that about 5 guys were snaking me with alarming regularity. They would just paddle straight past me and sit a couple of metres to my inside then get the next wave. Bastards.

Yeah, I noticed that too, but I can’t be bothered caring about it much.

It’s pretty bad though. It’s pretty blatant.

Yeah, I know. I know. If something comes that I want, I’ll go. It’s ok.

You need to learn to think like a man out here. You’ll get more waves.

Idiot. I almost felt sorry for him saying that to me. Almost. Until he snaked me. And claimed it.

Haha! This was your wave!

I wanted to throttle him.

And don’t think that I’m sitting here all self-righteous and looking down my nose at the self-interested behaviour of everyone else and not implicating myself. Especially not after that particular guys little stunt. I got right in there, tooth and nail. I placed myself further out and further to the inside, claiming whatever I felt like for myself, with little consideration for who was around me or what was really going on. I implicated myself heavily by through my choices and behaviours in the water that day. But I couldn’t do it for long. I started to feel tired and angry and frustrated the ways that I was allowing myself to buy into it all – to become complicit in that nasty, ill-conceived lineup. And I didn't like it.

I eventually lost all semblance of enthusiasm and stoke for the day, caught some broken wash in and dragged my board up the beach to where my friends were waiting for me.

I feel so flat after that. I’m just totally bummed out about that surf. It was horrible. I honestly wish we hadn’t gone out!

Oh, we were just saying the same thing!

Yeah, that was horrible. Everyone was being so mean. It’s shit.

We trudged back to the carpark where I bumped into another friend who’d been out there as well. She was flat too. And cranky.

God that was awful! Did you see that guy drop in on me? So shit. That crew out the back are being arseholes. What’s going on today? The surf’s not even good enough for that kind of attitude.

She’s right. When it’s good, you kind of expect a bit of a fight for waves here, but it was so average today. I don’t know what everyone was trying to prove? That they can get the most shitty, messy waves?

We drove back into town where we met up for some breakfast.

As we sat down we all just looked at each other.

Well, I proposed, at least the water was nice!


  1. Snaking has always been a problem for anyone unfortunate enough to surf with me. Why? Because I am an Anaconda. Am I proud of it? No. I grew up surfing Bondi where every crappy little wave I got was preceded by a chess game of moves and counter moves, throwing dummies, stare downs and the puffing out of my chest. Was I alone in this? No, there was a whole generation of Bondi surfers who perfected the art of The Snake and spread it far and wide as they moved up or down the coast as they sought their own wave El Dorado. At the time when I lived at Bondi I didn't even notice I was doing it. When I moved to the North Coast in my late 20s, I immediately developed a reputation for being a greedy pig in the surf. I didn't realise that you were supposed to wait on the shoulder for your turn. To me, waiting for a turn was a sign of weakness and would inevitably end in going back to catching foamies. I am more self aware of my habit now and I enjoy seeing younger surfers catch good waves. But those chess moves, perfected at Bondi, really do come in handy when a youngster tries to out manoeuvre me. I can also understand now that surfing in that type of pressure cooker, pushes surfers to excel and hence, so many good surfers who push the boundaries of the sport, emerge from these environments. Stephanie Gilmore, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson are a good example. In my time at Bondi it was Cheyne Horan, Joe Engel, Cathy Anderson and Richard Cram.
    So it all depends on the way you look at it. You can see people constantly paddling inside you as a sign that you need to call their bluff and paddle inside them. By doing this you can really push your own surfing boundaries and get the waves and exercise you had hoped. Or perhaps you can stay on the shoulder and chill out, waiting for someone to fall off. I think a mix of both is probably best.


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