After returning from my regular summer stint in Tasmania, I was looking forward to a month at home prior to heading off on my bike trip. As it turned out, the month was filled with great waves. At home, there's one place in particular that has a special place in my heart. It's kinda out of the way, and as teenagers we used to surf it regularly. You had to walk down a steep track to the beach, the adjacent gullies littered with pandanus trees clinging to the hillsides. It's a truly beautiful spot and it makes you feel a long way from anywhere, even though you aren't really.
Owing to the remarkable natural beauty of the place, it slowly started to appear in travel magazines and those annoying "Ten best beaches in the world" type lists. It's part of an inevitable process that is impossible to fight against. All the old boys have their stories of how their local spot was forty years ago. Some dwell too much in those days, and end up grumpy and bitter about special spots being overrun by weekend (or even weekday) crowds. And it's understandable. My mum pointed out, at the heart of it all, that these are feelings of grief. Feelings of loss at what we once had. Humans are good at clinging to the past like a barnacle to a rock, resisting the waves of change that flow over us.
But for every one of those grumpy old suckers, there's plenty who take the present sitatution for what it is, accept it, and go out and have fun anyway. Sure, there's plenty more people in the water, but look how happy they are. Look at the surfing community — the relationships it helps to form, the shared happiness of seeing a fellow surfer get shacked out of his or her mind when it's pumping. It ain't all bad.
Who remembers that graffiti that faced the lineup at the Pass for so many years, scrawled in white across the rock:
Until the day it was eventually changed: BK Rules and Love Only. BK was in reference to Ben King, a local surfing legend who died tragically and suddenly, and I think the change was reflective of a change in attitudes — or at least a reluctant admission to the futile nature of fighting the ever-increasing crowds.
It's safe to say I'm no stranger to localism. I've seen things happen at Lennox Point that are better not retold. I've been punched in the face (twice) in Maroubra — funnily enough on my birthday. I've seen aggro in many places, and I've heard all the stories about tyres being slashed and cars being waxed at various secret spots up and down the east coast of Australia. So when, after considering the plight of my favourite little beach and the full carpark I'd rock up to after lunch during midweek, I was hardly surprised when one day I jogged down the path and noticed a new sign scrawled across the beach sign in wax. The all too recognisable threat:
And a part of me thought, "Hell yeah! Stay the fuck away." But what right does a local have to a place? The beach and the lineup cannot be owned, although in places it is still fiercely defended. The interaction between locals and 'blow-ins' can be fraught with violence and plenty of vulgarity, especially if the relationship strays away from the basic pillars of respect and etiquette.
I'd been riding all day, faster than my knees really wanted me to, in order to get to a surf spot on the Oregon coast that I'd been told about. I arrived mid-afternoon and the waves looked good. So after suiting up (hood, gloves, booties — the works!) I paddled out. I was quickly greeted by a local.
"Keep paddling, buddy", the man in the hood said, motioning south.
He was insinuating I paddled away from the best peak, down the beach to a spot that was significantly worse. I obliged, not wishing to cause any trouble. As fate would have it, as I paddled south a wide set came through, straight to me, and my first wave was a good one. Instant karma? I wasn't sure, but it definitely felt like it.
I sat wide for the rest of the surf, picking up scraps and wide sets and still had a really enjoyable time. There were no further encounters, apart from a few stares from the group of local guys.
The following morning, as the crisp offshores blew, I headed down for another surf. The swell had doubled in size and the crowd had thinned to three people. After another fun surf, I sat on a picnic bench, trying in vain to defrost my frozen, crab-claw fingers. The same guy who'd given me a hard time the day before walked by. As he passed, I caught him doing a double-take out of the corner of my eye. He was eyeing the bike-surfboard-trailer setup. Eventually he came over.
"Hey man. Sorry about giving you shit yesterday. I didn't realise you were here by yourself."
As it turned out, earlier that same day a crew of Canadian surfers had arrived — a group of ten or so, and preceded to paddle out and heckle for waves straight on the peak without giving any thought to the locals. To make matters worse, they had a camera setup. I soon discovered the spot I'd been surfing wasn't too well known:
"This coast isn't filled to the brim with spots. This is really all we've got"
After politely asking the Canadian crew to cease filming, they refused. Then the local crew had to resort to threats in order to see any action occur. The spot has a few recognisable landmarks, and in the age of Instagram and Google Earth, a local secret can turn into a busy spot with the click of a few buttons. I knew that fact all too well.
Given the context of the whole situation, it was understandable how I'd been treated. The guys thought I was part of the crew from Canada — the crew that had blatantly disrespected the basic rules of respect and etiquette in surfing lineups. There are times when locals are at fault, but in this case I found it hard to see where they'd gone wrong. They were trying to hold onto their special place in a way that seemed fair and people had come in and trampled over all their efforts.
As fate would have it, the guy who gave me stick ended up putting me up at his place for two nights, driving me sixty miles south, giving me a ding repair kit and a t-shirt, showing me some of the local waves, and letting me use his single fin (even after I almost lost his favourite board after leaving it on the roof of the car). So cheers to Kyle for all the hospitality. He didn't have to apologise, and he certainly didn't have to invite me into his home, but he did and for that I am very grateful. If you ever need a board shaped — be it a single fin, log or performance shortboard — he's your man. Just check out Eggnog surfboards.
Oh, and there's no waves in Oregon. Don't bother coming here.