Opinion: Avoid the “Us Versus Them” Mentality

Photo: Jeff Flindt
Photo: Jeff Flindt

If you standup paddle, you know the feeling. That mustachioed longboarder with eyes squinted in your direction, the scowl written on the baby-face grom, the detest smoldering in the souls of bodyboarders. Comments like, “You know that thing’s illegal under maritime law,” or, “Why don’t you take that somewhere else?” It’s easy to feel tempted to break your paddle over some poor fool’s skull. It hurts to feel unwanted, to be ostracized by those around you, those who are arguably your wave-riding peers. It’s human nature to dislike that feeling.

But returning the favor doesn’t help.

An Us vs Them mentality seems to be emerging in the sport of standup. And while a brotherhood or sisterhood formed by a community is one thing, setting up battles with other wave riders won’t make life easier for any of us.

As I talk to fellow standup paddlers, read the forums, interview them for stories, paddle with them and generally do my job, I see SUPers reflecting and embracing the same vitriol they so despise. And then put their noses to the sky like other groups do toward them.

“Why would you surf? We’ve evolved to standup.”

“Surfers are dicks. SUPers have way more fun.”

“Proners do it laying down.”

One example comes readily to mind: Back when the SUP movement first began, I’d heard stories of people standing on their boards wielding paddles in the surf but had yet to see one while out prone surfing. It was a pristine Central California Coast morning, sunny, windless with a healthy northwest swell running off a prominent rock providing a perfect roll-in to a long, rippable and slightly flat left. I was sitting amongst the crowded lineup when I saw him paddle out to the peak. From his stroke and lack of wobbles, it was obvious he was proficient. He immediately took off on an overhead set wave staying in the pocket and kicking out cleanly. Then he paddled back to the peak, around all the other surfers and did it again. And again. The grumbling began amongst the prone surfers. People started battling him for position. The rising testosterone level was palpable and the entire vibe changed for the worse. I paddled down the beach to some peaky A-frames.

Now as an avid paddler, I look back at this incident and cringe at what it represents for our culture. It’s not the beginners on their rental boards that will leave a lasting impression in the ocean world, it’s the experienced surfers—those that know the rules and take advantage of them—that will determine what is really thought of us. Every time an experienced SUPer paddles past the pack and takes off on the first set wave that rolls through, burns a boogie boarder down the line or gets in an argument with someone riding another wave tool, we’re putting ourselves further into a box of contempt.

If you think establishing your dominance is going to help solve the problem, you’re wrong. Yes, sometimes you need to stand your ground but those instances are few and far between.

We, as standup paddlers need to take the high road. And it’s a hard road to tread. I don’t often paddle out at super-crowded spots. Watching someone get more waves than you or losing priority to a sneaky little bleach-blonde grommet infuriates me as much as anyone. I’ll play the positioning game, chase sets and be a factor in the lineup but I always try to maintain a respectful and quiet demeanor. I don’t stir the pot. And you know what? It usually works. If not, rather than causing a scene or getting into it with someone whose mind you won’t change, I’ll paddle off to a less-crowded peak and still have fun.

Fighting fire with fire will get us nowhere. Let’s literally and figuratively stand above everyone else. We’ll slowly earn respect and integrate ourselves into lineups just as longboarders did before us. If that’s not your style, there’s always another peak down the beach. This evolution won’t be easy and we’ll never, ever reach that promised land of perfect equality—see shortboarders v. longboarders as an example—but it can be better. We should be accepted. We just have to earn it. —Will Taylor

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