Yeah… yeah… yeah! I know. A snake is a critter that bites people and makes ‘em sick or dead! A snake is a critter that condemned us all to “original sin” courtesy of its conning Adam and Eve into taking a nibble of an apple back in the Garden of Eden. A snake transported the despondent Cleopatra to the afterlife when the said Egyptian ruler held the animal to her breast. A snake killed my next door neighbour’s dog. Snakes may be beautiful and elegant and sexy but they get bad press. If someone calls you a snake you had better believe that they are not letting you know that you are slinky and sexy. It’s more than likely that they are powerfully pissed off with you and you better watch yourself because your behaviour might just be provoking them to bite back.
Okay. Clearly this column is not about these slimy beautiful creatures. Snake is also a surfing term. You wouldn’t have to be Einstein to figure out that it is not a surfing term of endearment or a complement for outstanding surfing skill. “Snaking bastard”, is a serious surfing insult. Possibly worse than “kook”. To be known as a snake will not win you any friends at all down at the beach, and in extreme cases, might even cause threats of damage to your nose or personal property (surfboard or car) to be made. Don’t be a snake. It’s hard enough at most popular surfing spots to maintain harmony and good vibes these days but when snakes are in the water temperatures run extra high.
So what is a snake? According to many that is not any easy question to answer. At different places in the world or at different beaches people will give you a different answer to the question of what a snake is. Despite the list of surfing situations that might cause you to be dubbed “snake” Nick Carroll, Sydney Northern Beaches surfing guru and journalist argues that it is not that hard to figure it all out. Nick explains that while there may be a number of scenarios that could be described as snaking when it comes down to it a “snake” is someone who takes advantage of a particular surf situation to jump the queue and pinch a wave from a fellow surfer. Generally, this involves the dubious twisting of the “never drop-in” rule (don’t cut in on someone who has already claimed the wave by being closest to the curl) to the snaker’s advantage.
A few situations that, under certain circumstances, might be considered to be snaking are the following.
Bob catches a wave and Bill, acknowledging that Bob was closer to the curl, allows Bob to surf past without trying to interfere with his wave. Bob, after his wave, now with a big grin on his face, paddles back out to the line-up where Bill is now paddling for another wave that is coming onto the bank. By some unfortunate twist of fate the new wave is not quite peaking where it was a moment before and gives Bob the opportunity to easily paddle to the ideal spot and claim his second wave in a row. Bill is pissed! He could easily have caught the wave but Bob reckons that he was in best position to be on the inside closer to the curl so, technically, he has right of way. Hmm. Bill knows Bob was being a dick. Bob knows Bob was being a dick. We all know that Bob was being a dick. Here we have the black art of snaking. Twisting the circumstances to make the “rules” appear to be in your favour.
Mary-Beth has been patiently waiting in the line-up and a number of other surfers closer to the curl have claimed waves before her. Soon, they have caught their waves and Mary-Beth is now in the best position to get the next set wave that comes along. Agnes just arrives at the beach, paddles out into the line-up, says “good morning, nice day” to Mary-Beth and plonks herself just on the inside of Mary-Beth. Along comes a set wave and Agnes exclaims “oh, my goodness… how lucky… I only just arrived and here comes a perfect wave just for me.” No Agnes. You might have been on the inside closer to the curl but you are a snake. That was Mary-Beth’s wave. You too, are a dick. You know it. Mary-Beth knows it. We all know it!
Then there is Barry the snake who buzzes around in the line-up like a little water-bug. Barry waits for a surfer who is closest to the curl to start paddling for a wave then he or she paddles like blazes just behind them closer to the curl and shoulders the surfer already paddling away from the curl. Barry. You are a dick!
My favourite snake is Emily who stands up in the shallow water (Emily normally rides a body board and sometimes a finless board) and rather than paddling for a wave like the hapless jerk waiting in the line-up simply throws herself into the wave cutting off any surfer who might be paddling further from the curl. Emily… you are a snake… and a dick!