I’ve been trying to learn how to surf now for around thirty years. I like to surf. No. Let’s take that a step further. I love to surf. Do I call myself a surfer? No. A surfer is an athlete who has acquired a specific qualifying level of competence and skill at the act of surfing. I am one person who has not achieved that requisite standard… but, despite loving the act of attempting to surf, I am still far from achieving the benchmark.
It is one of the mysteries of the world of surfing that many back packers who come to the town where I live (a well-known surfing town) describe themselves as surfers. When asked, they confidently explain that they learned to surf, when they visited Byron Bay. They took one lesson… (a few dollars paid out for a couple of hours of instruction in a group class where they are pushed into a wave by an instructor) and, in so doing, they award themselves the lofty title of surfer. How? That eludes me. It’s a mystery. One that I will never solve.
The surfing world is one of many mysteries. The answers to many perplexing questions about the ocean, waves, surfing, and the behaviour of the humans and animals that inhabit the beach and ocean are known and understood by surfers. But since I have not been admitted to that inner sanctum, there are lots of things that I don’t understand. In addition to the extraordinary athletic capabilities of tens of thousands of backpackers (who learned to surf here) here are another eight surfing and beach related mysteries that I hope to understand some day.
Why do women and men carry surfboards differently?
Ninety-nine out of a hundred men carry their surfboard in exactly the same way… i.e. at their side with one rail up in the arm pit and the other cupped in the surfer’s hand (see illustration) directly below. Whether the surfer has the nose facing forward (in the direction the surfer is walking) or the fins at the front is inconsequential. Either will do. Whether the deck of the board or the bottom of the board faces into the surfer’s side is also a non-issue.
Despite my not yet qualifying into the surfer ranks, I have always carried my board this way. It just feels right. And it seems that almost every male surfer I know agrees with me and does the same. One thing I can do is carry the board correctly, it seems.
Some women surfers employ the same strategy. A huge percentage do not. Many women surfers carry their board with one rail resting on their hip, and their arm coming out from their shoulder at a 45 degree angle, so that their cupping hand and fingers hold the other rail away from the body. In this way the board is transported parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular to it (see illustration).
What’s going on here? Are the different carrying styles a consequence of differing male/female anatomy? Is it a cultural thing? Political, perhaps? Does the alternative approach that many women choose to employ communicate something significant that I am incapable of picking up on?
Do the women who carry their boards in the “flat manner” know something about the state of the world… or how physics works… or the positive impact that the sun has on the deck of a surfboard that I have no inkling about? Is there a spiritual ritual going on, perhaps, that I am excluded from?
I cannot imagine carrying my board with the rail sticking into my hip. It looks to me like it would hurt. Does this alternate method demonstrate that women are tougher than men or don’t feel pain?
Why do surfers have the fin end of their surfboard (the back) attached to their roof racks at the front of the car?
Not everyone who surfs employs the “fins at the front” method but most do. Some will even tell you that that is how you know a real surfer from a pretend surfer… i.e. real surfers know to have their fins at the front. As a person who tries to surf and who has been attempting surfing for years I have picked up on this secret. What I have not discovered, in all those years, is why.
Is having the fins at the front safer, more effective, or more efficient than having the fins at the back? Do the fins, at the front, add some kind of aerodynamic quality that enhances the performance of the board-transporting vehicle. Does having the fins at the back create a force that puts pressure on the board that, in high winds, could cause the board to break. Does having the fins at the front provide an aesthetic quality to the vehicle that rear mounted fins does not?
Whether the “fin-at-the-front” rule is based on practical, cultural, or aesthetic considerations or whether it is a secret code to distinguish the real from the pretend is not something I know. Perhaps, if or when, I finally become a surfer, I will know the answer.
Why do some surfers wear steamer wet suits in all conditions?
The summer water temperature around here averages around 26 degrees. The air temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees. By any definition, that’s hot. In or out of the water. Personally, I struggle with the warm local conditions, when wearing as little as a pair of board shorts. But some surfers wear steamer wetsuits right throughout summer.
Steamers are wetsuits that cover the surfer from the throat, right down to the wrists and feet. They are generally three to four ml thick. Steamers (in comparison to wearing no wetsuit at all) are uncomfortable, restrictive, inflexible, and very hot! Some of the reasons I have heard suggested as to the reason why some surfers might wear such heavy rubber right through summer include… even in hot water a surfer can get cold if they spend hours in the water… or young kids don’t carry as much body fat as oldies and therefor get cold easily… or steamers protect most of the body from sunburn… or steamers look good.
Really? None of these reasons solve the mystery for me. Wearing a steamer on a 33-degree day in 26-degree water would be a torture comparable to anything an enhanced interrogation specialist could meter out so I’m not buying it. There must be a reason but the reasons that this not-quite-a-surfer has been told don’t stack up. Maybe one day I will get it.
What are wet day beach necessities?
On arriving at the beach the other morning at around seven o’clock I had to drive around a surfer who was struggling down the middle of the road with a foam surfboard and a beach umbrella under one arm and using the other arm to tow a beach trolley loaded up with beach chairs, toys, an esky, one of those beach tent things and various other beach paraphernalia. I find loading up like that for the beach pretty weird at any time but the fact that the day was overcast, and drizzling made the struggle down the hill to the beach even more difficult to understand. This was not one of those days when the bad weather was going to clear off in a few minutes leaving a beautiful sunny day. Nup. This was a nasty, rainy, bad-weather set-in kind’a day.
There is no mystery in anyone going to the beach on a rainy day. Some rainy days mean good surf conditions and smaller crowds. That completely makes sense. But trailers and tents and toys don’t make sense to me at all. I don’t get it. Why?
Why would Crocs with socks be appropriate at the beach?
How anyone would find Crocs a good idea, even under the most ideal circumstances, is baffling for me. Even more mystifying is how anyone would think that Crocs might pair well with socks. But even more puzzling than both of these enigmatic issues is why anyone would consider wearing Crocs and socks to the beach a good idea. Okay. Some people find Crocs aesthetically pleasing. Vive la difference. It takes all kinds of people to make up this wonderful world and if some choose to adopt a fad created by a U.S. celebrity who thought it would be just cool and edgy to start wearing the ugliest footwear she could find then that’s fine. Mysterious… but fine. A percentage of the fad adopters then, no doubt copying the basketball player tradition of carrying their sneakers to the
game while wearing their hoops socks with their sports slides when they enter the gym, decided that they would look peachy wearing socks with their Crocs. They were wrong of course. Crocs are ugly enough already but when matched with socks they are about as attractive as warthogs wearing lippy.
But Crocs with socks at the beach? Implausible? One would think. But it happens. Wander around the foreshores of any beach area in my town and count the number of people with a surfboard under one arm and Crocks and socks on the feet. Why? Even when trudging across the sand. Even bigger why?
Some might say comfort. Are bare feet at the beach not more comfortable? Some might say stylish. Some might also say that little piggies are handsome but that doesn’t make it true. Crocs are a bad idea at the beach. Socks are an even worse idea at the beach. The combination of the two is truly remarkable in its senselessness. I don’t get it.
When Yorkshire holiday-makers tie the corners of their handkerchiefs, thus turning them into devices that perform a semi-hattish function, while on their annual trip to Cornwall, at least they can argue that the hanky performs the role of keeping the sun off their bald patch. They may, as a result, be barred from every night club in the county, but the practical purpose of denying the sun the opportunity to fry their pate is somewhat achieved. Can the wearing of Crocs with socks on any surf beach make any similar practical claim. Not that I can think of. The act of Croc/sock wearing at the beach is an insoluble mystery.
Why is it claimed that pee and blood attract sharks to the surfing line-up?
In what may be another surfing mystery that I don’t have space to analyse in this report, every time I enter the water at the local surf break, I instantly need to pee. I have no idea why. Nothing else makes me need to pee instantly. But that is not what I want to discuss here. I want to make the point that in thirty plus years of stepping into the ocean, just prior to my paddling out to where the waves are breaking, I need to raise the leg of my board shorts, (under the cover of waist deep water) release my member and evacuate my bladder. Every time. That must be thousands of pees. Thousands of pees in the shark-infested surfing waters of Byron Bay. I have seen many sharks pottering about while I am paddling around in the line-up, while living in this town, but not once has a great white, bull shark or tiger come sniffing up to me to investigate the odd human odour I am creating when I am taking a secret piss. Not once.
And then there is the old blood myth. Sharks are supposedly fascinated by the smell of
human blood. Well, almost as regular as my peeing, on an almost daily basis, I get cuts on my feet from the submerged rocks at the place where I enter the water before my pee and paddle out. While the blood from such cuts is usually relatively minor, given that sharks have excellent senses of smell, the fact that I have never been harassed by a fish with big teeth while I am seasoning their home turf is distinctly odd.
On one occasion I accidently punched myself in the nose, so hard, during a wipe-out, that I bled profusely for fifteen minutes. Horrified fellow surfers hurled abuse at me for refusing to leave the water but did even one curious fin appear in our midst to investigate the possibility of making a meal of the stinky individual? No.
Why so many claim that peeing and bleeding surfers are a threat in the ocean in that they attract sharks is a mystery. In my experience sharks have little to no interest in our bodily secretions.
Interestingly enough, though, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that sharks are very interested in the odours that ooze from dying or dead fish. Every spear fisher knows how foolish it is to trail speared fish around with them while hunting in the deep. For this reason, I would suggest that it would be very unwise for any surfer to strap a dead or dying fish to any part of their body.
Why is the wearing of board shorts (when not wearing a wetsuit) considered the only acceptable attire while surfing?
I wear board shorts when I surf. I’m not sure why I do. I guess it’s just a behaviour I have picked up from other surfers because that is the only thing that surfers wear.
There are supposedly some functional advantages to wearing boardies. Apparently, in the early days of surfing, surfers wore surf shorts to prevent their more stylish swimmers from being spoiled by the rubbing of the fabric on the deck of the board. Nobody wanted their expensive Jansens covered in paraffin wax, after all. There is also the concern about leg hair being ripped out by board wax while paddling. Some might even argue that board short fabric achieves a superior contact (through friction) with the surfboard deck than slippery human skin does.
Yup. These all make sense. Kind of. But the truth is that on those not too rare occasions when I have forgotten my board shorts (every day, when I go to the beach, I forget something… whether it be my leg-rope, my towel, my wallet, my phone, or my board shorts) I refuse to call off my daily attempt to improve my surfing just because I am shortless. Board shorts or not, I still go in. That means surfing in either sluggos or undies. Given that undies are prone to falling off and tend to be see-through when wet, I generally go for the swimmers option. The times when I have attempted surfing without the apparently essential boardies, I have discovered that Speedos, Aussie-bums, Jansens, Budgie-smugglers… whatever brand you choose… perform perfectly adequately.
The negative consequences of wearing brief swimmers while surfing have nothing to do with skin rashes, chafing, lost leg hair, poor adhesion to the surfboard or ruined sluggos. Nup. What hurts are the cat calls, the whistles, the stares, the laughs, the pointing fingers, the nasty comments, and the obscene gestures. After an hour of harassment from other surfers in the line-up, (especially when you catch a wave), one wonders whether the choice to go in was justified after all. It, generally, was… but sometimes only marginally.
What is the thing about board shorts? What is it that makes them such an essential item? I don’t get it. Nothing, in my experience, tells me that board shorts are even remotely useful. They don’t even look that great. Certainly no better than a stylish pair of swimmers. They cover up more, I guess, so if you are the kind who is bothered by having a little more flesh exposed, then I suppose there is some sense in that, but how many surfers are really shy?
For me, the fact that board short wearing is compulsory in the surf line-up is an extraordinary mystery. I just don’t get it.
Perhaps, this is the biggest mystery of all. A large percentage of surfers proudly display the fact that they are wearing underpants under their boardshorts by having the waist band of the undergarment displayed inches above where their boardies commence.
It’s disgusting. Undies are cotton! Not designed to get wet. When wet they are uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. They cling. They get wedged in awkward places. Their designed purpose is to prevent nasty bodily excretions from soiling your clothing… on dry land! Cotton undies have no practical purpose whatsoever in an oceanic environment. Boardies and swimmers are waterproof and quick drying for a purpose. They get wet… and need to dry quickly. Why would you wear a garment that is not intended to get wet and does not dry quickly underneath your waterproof, quick-dry, garment. The senselessness is beyond my comprehension.
Personally, I choose to wear bugger-all under my boardies. They are just baggy swimmers, after all. Others might choose to wear swimmers underneath their boardies. I, personally, don’t see the need to layer up, but still, cossies under boardies is okay I guess. They are both designed for the ocean. But undies under your boardies? That makes about as much sense as wearing a wetsuit over the top of your tux at a formal dinner.
Any surfer out there who chooses to display the fact that they are wearing Tradies, Bonds, Calvin Kleins, Hugo Bosses or Hanes by having the waist band stuck out several inches above their boardies’ waist-band, please explain to me why. There are so many things that I don’t understand about the world of surfing and if someone could just relieve me of the burden of not comprehending this one mystery my surfing life would be enhanced. Maybe I too would then start to wear undies under my boardies and show the world that I am finally a real surfer because I have the brand band exposed for all the world to see. I can’t promise that the band won’t say Aussie Bums, though.