Why Giving Waves Away Will Change Your Life

Matt Rode

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Updated 14d ago

A week or so back I was having an afternoon log sesh. It doesn’t matter where—suffice to say it’s a well-known break that we have all heard of, and that gets pretty busy on a regular basis, even when it is waist-high. Halfway through the session I heard a bunch of loud, angry shouting from the channel, and after deciphering the expletives, I eventually gathered that someone had gotten in the way of someone else and tapped rails with him—and the guilty party was now being threatened with a beating.

From the looks of him, the surfer at fault was certainly a beginner, and most likely to blame for the little collision. In fact, the poor guy was enough of a newbie that he couldn’t even understand what he had done wrong.

Forecast: Fistral

The lineup became pretty tense for a few minutes. The offended party sat and sulked, cursing under his breath and examining the imaginary ding on his rail, while the chastised surfer sat with his head down, unsure what he was supposed to do next. The rest of us fidgeted uncomfortably, our previously enjoyable session marred by the outburst.

Now I’m going to interrupt this story for a moment to ask you a question. Why exactly did you start surfing? Did you do it as an outlet to vent your anger and rage? Were you looking for a platform from which to dominate others and instill fear and shame into them? If so, you have no concept of what this activity is all about, and should probably just quit. As it turns out, you got into this lifestyle for all the wrong reasons, and you’d probably be better off working on Wall Street or fighting in the UFC. Why exactly did you start surfing? Did you do it as an outlet to vent your anger and rage? Were you looking for a platform from which to dominate others and instill fear and shame into them? If so, you have no concept of what this activity is all about

The rest of us surf because we want to be happy. We paddle out to enjoy nature, forget about our worries for a few hours, and, if we are lucky, partake in the magic that comes with sliding on waves.

Of course, we occasionally become so obsessed with the whole wave sliding part that we tend to get a little selfish, and forget that the other people in the lineup are looking for a few seconds of that same magic too. Instead, we simply think of them as competition for a limited resource that we can’t ever get enough of.

Remember, surfing is just for fun.

I know I am guilty of overfrothing from time to time—of doing whatever it takes (within the confines of the unspoken rules of surf, of course) to maximise my wave count. I jockey for position, instinctively evaluate the skill levels of the other surfers in the lineup so I know who I can scavenge waves from, and paddle into sets with focused intent so that less-confident surfers with priority don’t turn and go. I get lots of waves—probably more than my share—and most of the time I don’t stop to consider the fact that any wave I ride is a wave someone else can’t.

But the little outburst in the lineup made me stop and think, and feel a bit of sympathy for the kooks in the water. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives—just wanting to ride a few waves, avoid getting yelled at by assholes, and figure this whole surfing thing out. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done when you are surrounded by a bunch of frothing, aggressive, experienced surfers who are a whole lot more competent than you, and trying like hell to catch their daily quota of waves.

While I was considering all of this, a tourist on a longboard who spoke very little English did the wrong thing in the wrong place, and ended up throwing her board in panic—not only blowing my wave, but hitting me in the knee with her oversized popout.

It hurt enough to make me wonder if my session was over, and suddenly I found myself presented with an opportunity to put everything I was thinking about into practice. This other surfer was in the wrong, and she knew it—and considering what we’d just witnessed a few minutes before, she probably expected me to give her a piece of my mind. But what would be accomplished by making her feel worse than she already did? Instead, I told her it was all good, then sat and talked with her while resting my knee. We had a constructive conversation about how the situation could have been avoided, and then chatted about her day, her session, and life in general. I called her into the best wave of her session—maybe even the best wave of her life. When she paddled back out, she had a big grin on her face, I had a new friend, and the lineup was a little bit less uncomfortable

When the next set came through, I was in position—and even if I hadn’t been, she definitely owed me one. But rather than collecting on that debt or even asserting my priority, I instead called her into the best wave of her session—maybe even the best wave of her life. When she paddled back out, she had a big grin on her face, I had a new friend, and the lineup was a little bit less uncomfortable.

Spot guide: Supertubos

Over the next week, I started implementing a new rule whenever I surfed. While I had previously paddled out each day with the goal of catching as many waves as possible—and ideally the best waves that came through—I started requiring myself to give away at least three waves per session. And these weren’t shitty waves that nobody wanted. I’m talking the best sets with the best shape—the waves that I’d patiently waited and positioned myself for. And after a few sessions of doing this, I began to notice a few things.

And you're never too old to learn some new tricks.

For one, my wave count didn’t suffer at all. I still caught way more quality waves than I needed, and at the end of my sessions I couldn’t remember the ones that I’d given away. The experience of the people I’d given the waves to had been drastically improved, while my experience wasn’t any worse than if I’d ridden those waves myself. That seemed like a win all around.

But when I considered a little bit deeper, I realised that sharing those waves had actually made my sessions a lot better. First of all, I felt good giving waves away to total strangers—especially beginners who normally wouldn’t have gotten many waves, and certainly not any sets. Second, I’ve noticed that sharing waves is a great way to break down the silent barrier that many people carry with them wherever they go—including when they paddle out to surf.

Even as adults, we tend to be a bit shy about talking to people we don’t know—probably because we assume that they don’t want to be spoken to, especially when they have serious game faces on and are battling for waves. But people do want to connect—we all crave and even need connection—and it turns out that giving away a few waves is a great way to break the ice. The next thing you know, people are telling you their life stories and inviting you to barbecues, and suddenly the people you were competing with for waves have become life-long friends. Best of all, I noticed that the people I gave waves to started giving me waves in return—and, more importantly, giving waves to other people in the lineup

Best of all, I noticed that the people I gave waves to started giving me waves in return—and, more importantly, giving waves to other people in the lineup. Now I’m not going to claim some sort of “rainbows and butterflies” miracle where everyone is bending over backwards to gift each other every wave that comes through, but I can confidently say that the lineup becomes a happier place once the wave sharing cycle is started. And because the lineup is a happier place, I end up enjoying my surf session a lot more. After all, despite the media’s narrow focus on individual rides, it’s the atmosphere surroundsing us while we surf that truly impacts our experience.

Try it, even in Kernow.

This whole thing has now gotten to the point where my friends and I have made a game of it, and I’d invite you to play along with us. Every time you paddle out, commit to giving away at least three waves. The better the wave you give away, the more points you get. The worse the surfer you give the wave to, the more points you get. Whoever gives the best wave to the worst surfer—someone who would normally never get a ride like that—is the winner.

The best part is that ultimately everyone ends up winning, because suddenly scoring the “wave of the day” isn’t a selfish, solitary experience that is done at the expense of others, but something that everyone can enjoy together. And at the end of the day, that’s probably a lot closer to why you started surfing in the first place—because it certainly wasn’t so you could scream your head off, make a fool of yourself, and threaten to bash someone because their board bumped yours.

Cover shot by TOMV PHOTO