Everybody has been a newbie. Everybody has been in the wrong position, wrong place, wrong time at one point or the other in the ocean. I remember when I was first starting out that all I ever did was find myself where I wasn’t supposed to be. I had so many people shouting at me, telling me to not be where I am, that I’m stupid, and basically just hate me. Cuts and bruises were quite common, most of them because I was too slow to dodge my board or another surfer’s board while they were on the wave. (Those fins are lethal btw, stay away from them!)
Surfing is not an easy sport. Besides learning the basics of how to paddle, stand up and ride the board, there’s a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo that you have to learn about.
There’s a culture. There are terms. There’s etiquette. For me, one of the hardest things to figure out was the line-up—most precisely—where to put myself in the line-up.
In the surfing world, you have a hierarchy (of sorts). You have the grom newbies, the adult beginners, the groms that are really good, intermediate beginners, intermediate surfers, the advanced surfers, pro surfers, locals, and non locals.
(I’m not going to touch much on the locals bit, but I will warn you—if it’s not your break, be respectful.)
Basically, I figured out that the best way to know where to go, is to find your skill class and place yourself in the line-up where said skill class belongs. You’ve got to be honest in assessing yourself. I remember asking a more experienced friend where I should position myself. Sure there are savants that jump skill levels, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. You don’t jump to the peak of the wave just because you want to, because if you do and you’re not prepared–you can get seriously injured or even die. Better to be safe and surf another day.
So where do you place yourself? If you’re a beginner and it’s a big day, it’s safest to stay on the inside, where the white water is breaking. If it’s not so big, and you can at least paddle out and catch a wave on your own, you can go to the actual line-up. And then you figure out where to go. The pros and the really good surfers stay near or at the peak. The further you are from the peak, the further you are from being the priority on the wave. The rule is whoever gets the wave at the peak, or stands up first gets the wave. Anyone getting the wave after that would be doing what we call a drop-in, which is very un-cool.
Starting out, I usually stayed on the shoulder (or the side of the wave). And since you’re far from the peak, I really didn’t get to ride much. I had to wait for them all to not take the wave. I would pray for crappy days so the pros wouldn’t go out and I could practice to my heart’s content. Eventually, I just realized that it was a head high kind of day and I was right there at the peak.
Surfing, like most macho sports respects skill–so get good enough, and you’ll earn your place in the line-up.
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