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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  • Tony J Freitas

    funny to read this, we (my son MO and myself) are in a very long trip around the world. We were in the west coast of the US, California,from San Diego through Oregon all the way to Seattle Wa. We went to northern France for the Waterman League final event of the year, drove through France, SUP surfed many breaks, many very localized. Mo had an awesome session at Hossegor with some of the local SUPer girls. We were in the Basque Country, scored ALL spots from San Sebastian to Mundaka and we are now in Southern Brazil. Not once single time somebody approached us with a bad attitude and to be honest, much to my surprise, all the comments, in and out of the water were positive, inquisitive and friendly, very friendly, specially in Spain, where guys would tell us better waves to find and according to Mo, even called other guys out so Mo could have the better set ones at Mundaka… Go figure… It boils down to ATTITUDE, give respect and you will get respect. I remember the opening ceremonies of an event on the Big Island of Hawaii where an old Kupuna told all the competitors how important it was for them to be ambassadors of the sport, from sharing waves to sitting down on the lineup and cruising with everyone instead of standing up all the time and paddling for all the waves. Thats the spirit, thats the attitude and it is refreshing and inspiring to see many of these guys, including and especially my son doing just that, good for them, good for the sport. A good attitude could possibly change the bad and ugly into something positive. On a sadder note, our condolences to the family of our friend Kirk for their untimely loss, you are in our prayers.

  • AJ

    An all too familiar sight Will. I’m there with ya!

  • Chris Hammond

    Very well-written and I couldn’t agree more! My friends and I who paddle surf always try to make sure that we don’t take every wave that comes in and also let the prone surfers around us get their waves. I very rarely have any trouble even in a crowded line up just by being mellow. A few pissed off looks when I paddle out generally turn to interest and questions about how long I’ve been riding a SUP, how long is my board, that sure looks fun, etc over the course of a session. We also need to call out the hogs when we see them. Just because you can catch every wave doesn’t mean you should.

  • Chris Barkley

    Great article. Wave hogs and jerks are that way no matter what they are riding. I find the surfers that have bitched at me are the wave hogs on there long boards and are threatened by me being there on something biger, so they can’t hog as many waves.

    Im all about balance and respect out there and sharing the waves together. Im not going to put up with bullies though. I dealt with enough of that in the 70s when things were so local and territorial.

    I just laugh inside when a longboarder get in a huff about how it is ….. for me to be out there. It was the same thing when longboarders came on the scene in the 80s. It will work itself out especially if we take the higher road. In fact a lot of those selfish longboarders need to be taken down a notch anyway. What I am afraid of is when they decide to SUP to be the selfish jerk in the water. To many of them at one time is what the problem is no matter what board they are riding.

  • Jason Pereira

    “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.” nope I don’t know that feeling at all!!

  • g shontah b

    He who smiles at the surf as a set comes through, high 5′s someone else’s ride whom he never even knew, only takes what he knows is an acceptable share, knows the difference between “Bo-guard and being fair,” signals someone else to go for the wave, realizes that sitting out a set can be considered brave, yet rides when he does for all he’s worth, has lived that way since the day of his birth, whether stand-up or lay-down, long board or short, he knows the difference between an ass-hole & being a good sport, tries like hell for the ride of the day, whether at Nelscott Reef or Honalua Bay, respects the brothers and sisters of this incredible sport, whether their years on the water have been long or short, gives back to the ocean by protecting the beach, respects elders in the water and the lessons they teach, understands that the ocean belongs to us all, those who surf righteous and those who still fall, Good vibes can be an offer worth its weight in gold, if you don’t know that yet, maybe you will when you’re old. gary bertram

  • The Mirror

    Will Taylor your suggestions don’t work. Haters hate. Bullies Bully. For a couple years now I have made it a point to “go after” haters. I am not trying to convince them. I am not trying to gain their acceptance. I am not trying to earn anything. I am not trying to dominate or win an argument.

    I let haters and everyone else in the water know that poor behavior comes with consequences. The haters quickly learn that not only am I not going to take it I am going to dish it out worse than they have ever imagined. I yell and scream at haters. I shadow them and take off deeper on every wave they paddle for. I follow them to the beach and continue yelling. I make their lives in and out of the the water miserable. And you know what? They want nothing to do with me. My method works. I have less conflict and issues since I have declared war on the haters.

  • Matt Hudgens

    Hah! I bet I know who that SUP surfer was you saw hogging waves….if it’s the same rock anyways!

  • Chris Thomas

    Really?? Your method works? And just how do you make their whole lives miserable out of the water you troll?

  • Ed Babcock

    There is a hard stand, concerning us against them, at two
    surfing beaches in San Clemente CA, San Onofre and Doheny State Beach. SUP’s are only allowed in certain areas of
    these breaks, and if you SUP out of these allocated areas or venture close to
    the no-SUP areas you may be yelled at or given the stink eye by a no-SUP surfer. The areas opened to SUP’s at these two locations
    are poor to mediocre compared to the remaining no-SUP areas opened to surfing
    at these two beach areas. At times, the
    SUP allocated areas don’t break, but waves are breaking at the remaining no-SUP
    breaks where SUP’s are not allowed. The State Rangers also enforce these areas
    by a verbal warning from their vehicle P.A. system or issuing a written violation
    to SUP’s venturing out of the allocated SUP area. I’m currently investigating how these rules
    are in play and legally enforced, but may need to get an attorney involved, if
    I can find one, any volunteer’s out there?

  • Roberto

    One of the best comments I’ve seen in a long time

  • greg

    I was cited for riding a wave ski in a no paddle zone at San Onofre. I checked the boundaries on Google Earth and was in compliance. So I hired an attorney and went to court with my attorney and 8×10 glossies from Google Earth. The citing officer didn’t even show up. My case was dismissed. I would have wanted to face the officer and post a victory, albeit one based on the officers mistake and not the underlying argument we all profess. Greg

  • Todd

    Greg
    I know this story, you told it to me. Enjoy your waves my friend

  • Todd

    I know the rules in South County Orange CA are pretty unreasonable. But what about the HB area. Is SUP surfing allowed? And if yes, where?

  • Todd

    You need to quiet the beast inside of you. Waves are for everyone to enjoy. I have been surfing for about 42 years now. No need to be a jerk.. Just saying

  • Ed Babcock

    Hi Greg, would you mind providing instruction on building, or a way to gain a copy of your Google Earth 8×10 boundary map?

  • GangTackle

    Not at the HB pier – SUP’s head up the road just a few miles to Bolsa Chica.

  • Fossil

    Duplicate entry.

  • Fossil

    First I would like to say great
    article. I am new to surfing and SUP but have live and worked around
    the ocean for most of my 47 years. With regards to point made about when longboards came on the scene and the short board riders had a thing or two to say, I would like to point out that “longboards” as far as I know, were the first boards ridden and the
    short board pushed them out of the game, now we have come full circle
    (and then some with the SUP surfing style). It would seem (to me) that the local
    surfing community has lost it’s history and were it all started. I
    have had mixed encounters, some great and some not so great. The
    thing that gets me is the attitude of “we were here first” it’s
    not a competition, it’s a life style, so be happy and always assume
    goodwill.

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  • D Finch

    Funny to see so many strong opinions about how people should or shouldn’t play in the ocean.

  • daryl dorion

    just have one thing to say as a ‘surfer’, i love sup and anything else that helkps you harness the power of nature. PLEASE! let us get the better waves, we sit around for hours sometimes waiting when SUP can catch almost anything. let us have some fun and please stay outta the way once we finally have to chance to catch some. now, if who9ever your with is catching lots, then definitely have some fun on the bigger ones with us! not against :)

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