A few days ago I spent the day in a boat at Todos Santos, nursing an injured back and watching the action from 50 feet away. In the space of 30 minutes, I watched the same guy take off in front of three different surfers on three different waves. All three times his drop-in had disastrous effects on the people behind him—one dangerous wipeout, a broken board, and a snapped leash that sent another board to the rocks.
In all three instances it was clear that this particular surfer was in the wrong—particularly in a lineup with consistent waves and only a dozen people sharing them, where it was nowhere near crowded enough to pretend that he didn’t know whose turn it was.
Worst of all, I heard him talking with a friend on his boat shortly after the third incident, asking incredulously where the guy behind him had come from and what he was doing taking off deeper than him. Not only had he burned three people in a row in consequential surf, but he didn’t even appear to understand that what he was doing was wrong.
A week earlier, I was surfing an outer reef on Oahu with 25 other people. The waves were huge and perfect—it was the biggest, best swell in over a year for Hawaii, and everyone was hungry. Rather than battling the crowd for the smaller, inside waves, I sat 20 yards outside the pack and waited for the bombs. I nabbed one wave early on with no one around, rode it by myself, then paddled back out and once again took my place outside the pack. I sat for two more hours without paddling for a wave, channeling my inner Greg Long and patiently waiting for a big one while the rest of pack scrambled for waves 20 yards inside of me.
As far as I was concerned, this was a blatant breach of etiquette
Eventually the set that I had been waiting for stacked up, and I spun and committed. But while I was doing so, a guy who had been surfing the inside for the past two hours sprinted out, whipped it 20 feet behind me, and called me off the wave. As far as I was concerned, this was a blatant breach of etiquette.
Anyone surfing waves of that size and consequence knows that there are priority rules that supersede simply being “deepest,” and it should have been clear to everyone in the lineup that I’d been waiting outside of the pack for hours. So instead of pulling back, I held my line and went.
On the paddle back out, the “deeper” surfer growled a bit about the fact that I’d “burned” him, then grudgingly acknowledged that he’d been too deep and gotten smoked by the section in front of him. I largely ignored him. As far as I was concerned, I’d waited patiently for that wave for hours while the surfer in question had been doing laps on the inside, so he had no claim on the wave and no right to call me out for going.
This was further confirmed to me five minutes later when I watched him blatantly burn someone on a small, inside wave, taking off in front of another surfer despite the fact that they were both deeper than him and had been waiting longer.
As the foam settles from the crazy run of XXL swells we’ve had in the North Pacific, I’ve spent some time considering these two related and yet very different (as far as I was concerned) events—as well as the general topic of multiple surfers per wave in XL surf.
While most people agree on a “one person per wave” policy in small surf, XL+ swells tend to see a lot of waves shared—ostensibly because of the greater width of the playing field and the fact that big wave surfers tend to commit to drops much earlier than in smaller waves, facing greater consequences if they abort at the last minute.
But these elevated consequences are also the very reason that it’s often dangerous and irresponsible for multiple surfers to ride the same oversized waves. Yet for some reason the rules don’t seem to apply (or perhaps they simply aren’t followed as closely) in big waves—particularly at spots like Waimea Bay, where you rarely see a wave without three people on it, and often see as many as 5-10 dropping in at once.
To get more clarity on the issue, I’ve spent the past couple of days chatting with some of the world’s most respected chargers about when, if ever, it’s permissible for more than one person to ride an XL wave.
There are certain waves that can be shared, for sure. Sometimes it’s even better to ride them with your friends. As long as there’s enough space and an understanding between people, it’s all good. But there are also definitely times when a wave is too good to be shared, and that has to be respected.
If I am in front of people multiple times during a big wave session, I know I’m doing something wrong. Even if the guy (or woman) who drops in doesn’t mess up the surfer who is deeper, they are still going to both the photo of what could potentially be the biggest wave of their life, and that’s pretty lame.
Waves like Waimea, Sunset Reef in Cape Town, and the shoulder of Mavs are pretty much open game for drop-ins because they don’t have much of a wall. The general angle of people dropping in is pretty straight. But then you get to Jaws, Dungeons, or the outer bowl at Mavs, and it’s totally a one-person wave. On these waves, you’re engaging the rail as early as possible and pulling up onto the face or into the barrel to make the wave. If someone were dropping in down the line, the inside surfer would be t-boning them in a very critical situation. I almost went over the falls onto Peter Mel on the outside reef at Mavs three days ago. If the wave had pulled me into it just a little more, I would have been airing onto his head and we both would have been in a dangerous position. Luckily the Condor gave a deep howl and I managed to pull back in time. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a double barrel attempt in big waves [laughs].
I don’t like sharing [laughs]...but sometimes it just happens.
If it’s a blatant drop-in and risking the inside/deeper surfer’s line, then that’s definitely not ok.
If the inside/deeper surfer is too deep to make the section, then go for it—drop in. I see lots of surfers now days that are way too deep, with the “go straight, inflate” mentality. I also see lots of surfers pushing the envelope by going deeper and sending it knowing they have a jet ski safety team to pick them up. I think that’s fine, but personally I’m trying to make the wave from start to finish. I grew up surfing big waves without the safety net that exists today. I love the safety aspect, but come on—“go straight, inflate” is lame. Your career in big surfing will definitely be short lived if you continue on that path, even with a safety net.