The rules of the waves. Plus, we hear from the board­ing icon Kelly Slater

Emirates Man - - CONTENTS -

In March this year, 11- time world sur ng cham­pion Kelly Slater pulled his rental car up be­neath the shade of a tree near Snap­per Rocks, an ul­tra- popular surf break almost on the bor­der be­tween ueens­land and New South Wales, Aus­tralia.

Slater had been com­pet­ing in the rst event of his 23rd year on the world pro sur ng tour, the $ 500,000 uik­sil­ver Pro. He hadn’t won, but to the sur ng world at large, it hardly mat­tered. No surfer has come close to Slater’s achieve­ments in the sport. He’s Michael Jor­dan, Roger Fed­erer and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo wrapped up in one salty pack­age.

Now he was about to surf for fun. Smil­ing, ac­knowl­edg­ing star- struck kids, Kelly headed for Snap­per’s en­try point at a light jog, while surfers al­ready in the wa­ter turned to check: yep, it’s Slater, he’s com­ing out, I’m gonna stay and watch.

But some­one else was watch­ing and wait­ing – some­one who’d clearly read what Kelly had told the lo­cal news­pa­per about Snap­per Rocks only a few days be­fore. “The crowds here are like noth­ing I’ve ever seen in the world when you’re sur ng,” Slater said. “It’s re­ally, re­ally tough for any one per­son to get space in the wa­ter and it’s mostly not fun.”

And when the champ came back to his car after his ses­sion, there it was, scrawled in surf- wax across his wind­screen: “F off, tourist.”

Slater’s re­sponse was quick and to the point. He showed the world Snap­per’s brand of hos­pi­tal­ity via In- sta­gram. “Such great re­spect surfers have for each other around th­ese parts,” he wrote. “Maybe he’ll brag to his friends and I can nd out who he is that I can thank him in per­son and re­turn the favour.”

Imag­ine driv­ing a car on a dou­ble- lane road to­ward an in­ter­sec­tion, a dozen other cars around you. Ev­ery­one wants to make it through the in­ter­sec­tion – rst. But then the road nar­rows, there’s other cars com­ing down the cross street and there’s no traf c lights. And as far as you can tell, there are no road rules. Ev­ery driver for him­self. That’s how it can feel for a sur ng rookie, when you pad­dle out for the rst few times into a crowded sur ng spot. What are all th­ese peo­ple do­ing? A wave comes and they’re splash­ing, pad­dling in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, faces con­torted, all seem­ingly try­ing to do the same thing – catch that all- im­por­tant wave.

It looks chaotic, but be­neath the chaos is a set of rules. And wher­ever you go – even at Dubai’s last re­main­ing nat­u­ral surf spot, Sun­set Beach, not far from the Burj Al Arab – you’ll nd some ver­sion of th­ese rules be­ing played out. Fas­ci­nat­ing, highly ex­i­ble, and most of all, un­spo­ken, surf eti­quette is all that stands be­tween the world’s 20 mil­lion surfers and com­plete wa­ter­borne an­ar­chy. Thing is, as some spots be­come too popular for their own good, an­ar­chy, and in­jury, some­times seems just an ill- con­sid­ered move away, and the sport’s stars such as Slater have felt the urge to speak out against it more and more.

“If there was any ques­tion as to whether we’ve ru­ined the Mentawais, the sober­ing re­al­ity of 16 boats 1 av­er­age break tonight con rmed it,” tweeted Slater about the waves off the Western coast of Su­ma­tra in In­done­sia, back in 2012. He was as equally blunt about Snap­per back in March of 2014. “When you get that many peo­ple, if you have even just a few peo­ple who aren’t re­ally com­pe­tent, there’s is­sues , ” he said. “But even for the good guys, there’s risk of them hurt­ing each other. It’s just that there’s so many peo­ple and there’s only so much space on a wave that you can ride. We’re all get­ting in each other’s way and it’s kind of a shame. It’s hard to be a part of.’’

Ba­sic surf eti­quette be­gan to take shape decades ago, in sur ng’s cra­zi­est, loos­est days – the late 1960s and early 1970s, after Gidget and the Beach Boys had re­ceded, when the coasts of Hawaii, Aus­tralia and the main­land USA drew ragged bands of way­ward young men ea­ger for some­thing new and wild.

To them sur ng was the ul­ti­mate free­dom – a way of shak­ing off all the cares and wor­ries of the world, and liv­ing as far as pos­si­ble out­side the nor­mal rules.

But they swiftly found that the com­bi­na­tion of dan­ger­ous new surf lo­ca­tions and shorter, more dif cult surf­boards meant that rules – in the wa­ter at least – were just what they needed.

Those ba­sic rules of the game re­main largely un­changed. Yet the man­ner in which they’re ap­plied has var­ied rad­i­cally from surf spot to surf spot around the globe, for odd rea­sons that of­ten seem to have noth­ing to do with sur ng at all, and more about pos­ses­sion.

One of the most hos­tile and ag­gres­sive sur ng en­vi­ron­ments on earth, for in­stance, can be found at Lu­nada Bay at the tip of the Pa­los Verdes Penin­sula in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia.

Lu­nada Bay looks any­thing like a set­ting for vi­o­lence. A kilo­me­tre- wide slice of South­ern Cal­i­for­nian coastal par­adise, it can be ac­cessed from a cliff walk fronting some of the most el­e­gant real es­tate in Amer­ica. Go there dur­ing a good swell on a per­fect late fall af­ter­noon, as this writer did a cou­ple of years ago, and you’d think you had died and gone to some sort of ex­pen­sive TV- show heaven.

That is un­til the lo­cal surfers be­gin throw­ing rocks at


you, or slash­ing your car tyres. Lu­nada Bay surfers have been mon­ster­ing vis­i­tors to the area for gen­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to Ge­off Ha­gins, a surfer from nearby Tor­rance Beach who has spent much of the past 25 years try­ing to open up ac­cess to the waves at the spot. “It’s noth­ing but sel shness They just want the place to them­selves,” he told me.

In 1996, Ha­gins led a law­suit against lo­cal Lu­nada surfer Peter McCol­lum and a group known as the ‘ Bay Boys’ in an at­tempt to bring at­ten­tion to the hos­til­ity at the spot. McCol­lum even­tu­ally paid $ 15,000 in set­tle­ment fees to Ha­gins, but it had no ef­fect on the ac­tions of the Bay Boys. In Jan­uary this year, surf news site the In­te­ria pub­lished a call to open Lu­nada Bay by New­port, Cal­i­for­nia surfer Rory Parker; after nu­mer­ous threats, the site was forced to with­draw the piece.

If Lu­nada Bay is about surf greed, the Pipe­line is about fear. The Ban­zai Pipe­line, on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii, is the most fa­mous surf spot in the world. Terrifying and dra­matic, it pro­vides a show­down site for the world pro sur ng cham­pi­onship each year – and draws top surfers from around the world to its shore­line, ea­ger to have a crack at this Mt Ever­est of surf zones. But Pipe­line also kills – and it doesn’t care whether you’re a novice or a hero. Among its 20- plus fa­tal­i­ties over the past 30 years is Tahiti’s Ma­lik Joyeaux, who’d made his name rid­ing 15- me­tre surf off the even more terrifying break of Teahupo’o in Tahiti. Yet this didn’t save Joyeaux from strik­ing his head on the Pipe­line reef un­der an in­nocu­ous three- me­tre wave ve years ago.

The surf spot’s deadly rep­u­ta­tion has given rise to an almost equally deadly range of lo­cal guardians – the Kauai-based Wolf­pak, and the Pipe­line Posse, whose names might sound silly un­til you fall foul of their surveil­lance of the spot. Break one of the rules of surf eti­quette at Pipe­line and if you get away with be­ing slapped, think your­self lucky.

If you’re un­lucky well, just look it up on YouTube. Peo­ple have been beaten un­con­scious on the beach at Pipe­line just for pad­dling out at the wrong time. If rock throw­ing at Lu­nada Bay is about keep­ing strangers away, hit­ting peo­ple at Pipe­line is about the fear of what might hap­pen if you don’t. As Wolf­pak leader Kala Alexan­der says: “I just have a prob­lem with stupid peo­ple who en­dan­ger my friends.” Mean­while on the east coast of Bali, you can sim­ply pay to play – as groups of Ja­panese surfers have dis­cov­ered through their tourism net­works. The groups pay lo­cal en­forcers as ‘ guides’ to keep surf spots empty of oth­ers. Ac­counts abound of surfers be­ing abused, threat­ened or as­saulted in the process.

And if the Ja­panese surf tourists sound like the vil­lains of the piece, think again, says Junji Uchida, ed­i­tor of Ja­pan’s Sur n’ Life mag­a­zine. Uchida says it’s common for Ja­panese to pay for a ‘ guide’ on their rst trip, then not to bother the sec­ond time, gur­ing they know the lo­ca­tions. They are then punched out by the same ‘ guides’ they’d hired the year be­fore.

As New York’s Ma a-‘ pro­tected’ shop­keep­ers of 60 years ago could have told ‘ em – once you’ve paid pro­tec­tion, you’re hooked.

If all this sounds like a hang­over from wilder days, it prob­a­bly is. And if you’re plan­ning on sur ng Dubai’s Sun­set Beach, you won’t have to worry about rock- throw­ing or in­sane vi­o­lence. Ex­pa­tri­ate Aus­tralian Ja­son Of­ford says that while 50 or more surfers might surf Sun­set most morn­ings, “there’s mu­tual re­spect and common sense usu­ally sur­faces”.

Ja­son doesn’t see any­one hell- bent on claim­ing waves or pro­tect­ing the break. “The re­al­ity is that most surfers are blow- ins be­cause we’re ex­pats, and this isn't our birth­place or spir­i­tual home. It’s where we re­side for the time be­ing be­cause work has brought us here.

“Most surfers re­spect each other and the cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties of a Mus­lim coun­try. A lot of the younger surfers were born here, and learned to surf here. And it’s those kids who’ve helped de­velop the cul­ture and sense of surf com­mu­nity.”

Back at Snap­per Rocks, how­ever, the surf com­mu­nity is bat­tling another kind of pe­cu­liarly mod­ern dilemma. In the face of the crazy crowds that be­fud­dled even Kelly

Slater, it seems those un­writ­ten surf­ing rules are in dan­ger of be­ing re­placed with ac­tual real laws that Slater in par­tic­u­lar would likely wel­come-be­cause with­out them, the cham­pion can only see the sit­u­a­tion get­ting worse down un­der. "It's toughm I'm wor­ried what five years or ten years or 20 years from now brings, "Slater added back in March at Snap­per. "If it's this crowded right now, I don't know what we're go­ing to do. It's re­ally un­safe-there's just peo­ple all over the place. It's so not fun for the av­er­age per­son. For any­one that goes out there surf­ing, it's almost not worth go­ing surf­ing." Se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion is be­ing given by the lo­cal Gold Coast City to the idea of a Surf Man­age­ment Plan-com­plete with reg­u­la­tions on who should be al­lowed to surf where and when, pen­sity sys­tems, spe­cific laws to gov­ern 'sufrage', and a whole raft of other sug­ges­tions. "We think there is room for com­ings," says Brad Farmer, co-chair of a group ad­vis­ing the coun­cil on surf leg­is­la­tion. "Not lo­cals and tourists, but ac­cord­ing to lev­els of pro­fi­ciency and ac­cord­ing to the con­di­tions of the surf." Farmer says he hopes any such new laws might "be­come the blue­print for other surf ci­ties around the world to follow." Will they work any bet­ter than the un­writ­ten ver­sion? That re­mains to be seen.

FA­MOUS, BUT DEADLY The Ban­zai Pipe­line, on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii, is the most fa­mous surf spot in the world. It is also deadly, hav­ing claimed more than 20 lives in the past 30 years

OR­DER IN CHAOS Surfers at Venice Beach in Cal­i­for­nia. It looks chaotic, but be­neath the chaos is a set of rules

LIV­ING LEGEND No surfer has come close to Slater’s achieve­ments in the sport

Kala Alexan­der

RID­ING THE WAVE Slater dur­ing the fi­nale of the 14th edi­tion of the Bil­l­abong Pro Tahiti surf event in Au­gust

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