I’ve got a South African mate that moved to the UK for work, fell in love with the weather and decided to stay for good. He tells a funny story about his first experiences of surfing in North Devon. He grew up in Durban, surfing the heavily localized city beaches where there was a rigid pecking order enforced by a crew of fairly scary guys, including a drug crazed bouncer and a steroid freak longboarder who should have been in prison. Fisticuffs in the water was not uncommon, and if you happened to get in the way of one of these guys, it was best to head straight to the beach and surf somewhere else for a couple of weeks.
So he paddles out at Croyde for the first time on a good autumn day. He is a bit on edge as he tries to figure out the lineup and who the local heavies are. The first thing that strikes him as weird is how noisy and good natured the lineup is – happy banter, everyone getting on and getting waves. It’s all very alien to my nervous friend. He then notices a bald guy getting a solid barrel; the guy paddles out and gets another set wave straight away. He’s a bit older, a bit more wizened, and seems to get more than his share of waves. Bingo, he fit the Alpha Enforcer profile. My mate sees him around over the winter and the trend continues; no signs of violence, but no-one calls him when he snakes them, and he seems to own the lineup whenever he paddles out. It bothers my mate a bit that he keeps doing chop jump 360s, but to be on the safe side he keeps well out of his way.
Then a couple of months later my mate is shmoozing around the surf shops in Braunton and runs into Scary Bald Guy working in one of them. He is about to run screaming from the village, never to return, when the tattooed fellow starts chatting to him. Turns out his he is gentler than a box of kittens and about as scary as a fresh baked doughnut. ‘Lloydy’ I think his name was.
You can’t blame my mate though – it can be quite intimidating paddling out at a break where everyone seems to know each other. When you’re a weekend warrior you are not local anywhere – you spend your life on the fringe, trying to get a few waves and not piss anyone off. You automatically assume the worst – that if you put one foot wrong they are all going to turn on you and go Sunny Garcia on your ass. Fear of the unknown is in our natures, but as my mate found out, more often than not our fear is based on flimsy misconception.
This doesn’t apply globally of course – we are remarkably lucky in this country that heavy localism isn’t more common. Maybe the English as a nation are just too polite for it. You may get dirty looks at some breaks, especially if they are a bit heavy for your level of skill, but you would be very unlucky to be verbally abused, ordered from the water, or punched in the head – all things that happen fairly regularly at surf breaks all over the world.
In all my years surfing around the UK I have only had two experiences of localism – a little blonde kid at St Agnes once yelled ‘Locals Only’ in my general direction and then ran down the road giggling, and then at a semi-secret spot near Bude famed for its terrible parking I once said “Hello” to another surfer as he walked past and he ignored me. I still have nightmares.
There was another time when someone swore at me in the water at Croyde, but then I realized that he was generally swearing in a Tourette’s stylee, and I just happened to be in front of him.
So chill out weekend warriors. Respect the locals, but don’t live in fear. They will still snake you and drop in on you occasionally, as is their right, but they will usually do it with a smile. If you do run one over, I’ve found that gifts of baked goods go a long way in placating them…