The very concept of localism in surfing seems barbaric and ignorant, carried out by people who have nothing better to do than enforce imperialism all over their local surf spot. After all, it was legendary Hawaiian surfer, Owl Chapman, who said, “A local is just a dirtbag who can’t get their shit together to travel.”
The image conjured up is of the low-life who lurks around their mediocre spot, enforcing “ownership” of it through various measures, from the inane to the violent. Localism has been a part of surfing for generations, and it’s not going anywhere soon. However, it’s also not ALWAYS a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it can be very useful and necessary.
Pipeline, in Hawaii, is the perfect case for necessary localism. Intense surf spot. Punishing wave. Limited resources. Every dude from Joe Pro to Joe Blow wanting a piece of the glory. Without the Pipe locals policing the lineup and enforcing proper protocol, Pipeline would likely see many more ugly injuries. A free for all at Pipe, and many other spots, would be a nightmare scenario. But spots like Pipeline are the exception, not the rule.
Localism is spreading and has been for years. And surfers from nations with the longest histories in surfing can only thank themselves. Especially American surfers, as we fanned out around the globe, acting as if we had our own version of eminent domain. Many a spot from Oaxaco to Indo has had a group of feral Americans or Aussies take up temporary residence and start enforcing “their wave”.
Today, localism is nearly ubiquitous. Go to a quiet pointbreak up in the Strait of Juan DeFuca and you could easily find your car sitting lower after you session from four slashed tires. Go surf closeout beachbreak just about anywhere in the U.S. and you may get harassed as if that crap-all spot is actually worth hassling over. It’s not.
On a personal level, I have never perpetuated any act of violence toward another surfer. That’s not to say that I haven’t taken part in non-violent enforcement of a proper pecking order, because I have. And it was with the intent of keeping the lineup orderly and safe, rather than to deter the itinerant surfer from my very average (most of the time) local spot.
On the other side of the coin, I have been the target of nasty localism, which luckily has never escalated to major violence. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the worst of these cases occurred close to home, not in some foreign land. The most grotesque display of misguided localism directed at me took place at a spot that is mediocre, an hour from my old house, and that I have surfed since I was fifteen years old. The locals found out I had one of very few keys to the gate that provides access to an actual “quality” spot adjacent to where we were surfing. They didn’t. I had more access than they did in their own home. Oh, and there was an ugly little meth problem in this town that cannot be ignored. Before I knew it, twelve local thugs had arranged themselves in a circle around me, intimidating me through sheer numbers. Most of them knew me, knew I had surfed in this town for several years with nary a problem. But that key, it was a problem. I challenged them to come at me one at a time, and waited for the first one. Groupthink. Not a single one made a move. I suppose it helps that I am not a small person, and have no problem looking more insane than you, when needed.
I paddled a ways down the beach after that episode, trying to enjoy my surf. I didn’t enjoy it much. And the waves that day? Two to three feet and pretty junky. Not worth any of it. As one of my very well-known friends (who is more local than just about all of the dozen idiots who surrounded me) from the area said to me later that day, “Sorry for the assholes around here.”
So, to the tubby, out of shape, pathetic man who paddled around the jetty and planted himself right in the takeoff zone without waiting his turn, this post is for you. The next time you come close to me I’ll make sure you know that paddling over my legs then barking at me isn’t going to get you more waves, or intimidate me. Or better yet, I’ll go surf somewhere else better that actually has power. You keep holding court over your worse-than-mediocre surf spot. There’s only one thing worse than a dirtbag local, and that is an old dirtbag local. Grow up, get over yourself and your spot. You can’t even surf your crappy little wave, kook.