Harry Bryant doesn't subscribe to any particular ideology, which is probably why he's so damn happy all the time. Photo: Luke Barker
What's a Surf Break Say about Your Political Preferences?
Maybe a lot.
Do you believe in the merits of democracy? Or... maybe no?
Perhaps you feel that, for one reason or another, certain individuals are unworthy of a voice, and unworthy of potential social/political/economical ascension. Or maybe you find the entire concept of government leadership laughable.
And that’s ok. Surfing, as you will soon find out, is rife with divergent political ideologies. I’m not talking just conservative or liberal, I’m talking oligarchies, autocracies, and pure anarchy
So, how does one know if he prefers equality or overlords? Meritocracy or nepotism? It’s all about his favorite surf spots!
Lowers – Capitalistic Democracy
Unless Chris Ward is around, Lowers hasn’t much in the way of genuine localism, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. The lineup is tiered, with groms on the inside, adolescents to young-adults in the middle, and older dudes out the back. However, much like a savvy politician, one may transcend his natural position with a combination of surfing prowess and social capital.
For the less talented surfer, there remains ample opportunity to prove himself through hard work and tactical maneuvering. If a person can get himself deepest or furthest out on a wave at Lowers, it’s within his right to take it. And ultimately, big risks lead to big reward... or equal punishment. A first-section finner will receive instant respect, while multiple failed attempts will lead a man to sneers and snakery.
Padang Padang – Oligarchy
On a pumping afternoon at Padang Padang, one can expect to find 100 people occupying the incandescent lineup. Within an hour period, there will be maybe twelve incredible waves (four sets of three), all of which will be ridden by someone brown and scrawny. On the Bukit peninsula, native Balinese are the ruling elite. Despite the white man's effort to colonize, natives have retained control over the majority of businesses, land parcels, and most importantly the surf.
At Padang, a handful of local elites control the enchanted lineup, often monopolizing Indo’s best roll-in with no regard for overzealous New Zealanders. The Balinese rule by intimidation, not so much with direct threat of violence, but with fear of banishment from the magical isle.
Pipeline – Poly-monarchy
The hierarchy at Pipeline is covered in blood. Not literally, but to be considered an authoritative force in the lineup, it helps to derive from a strong bloodline. Some are wholly native (Aikau), others have multiple generations on the islands (Ho), and one stems from a New York man’s hard-won legacy (Rothman). Point is, if a person hails from outside Hawaii’s chosen families, a Pipe session will include more stink eyes than a Chipotle-adjacent brothel.
Of course there are other ways to garner respect, like being the best surfer (John, Jamie, and Kelly), or being physically daunting (Kaiborg, Tai Van Dyke), but when that lump starts to swing and a Ho, Rothman, or Aikau is paddling, it's best to look the other way. Otherwise, much like a barren queen, it's off with your head.
Malibu – Anarchy
The person who enjoys surfing Malibu is an actual psychopath. He holds a complete disregard for human decency, let alone the sanctity of a watertight surfboard. He finds the concept of order laughable; of leadership as a direct affront to fun. Anarchy, in the most chaotic sense of the word, is his happy place. He desires the freedom to take any wave he wants, regardless of who may be riding it or which obstacles lay in his path. The only people he won't burn are Laird Hamilton and Alan Sarlo, but that comes from a place of self-preservation rather than respect. He has engaged in unprotected sex beneath the pier, no less than three times.
Kelly Slater’s Wave Pool – Autocracy
Recently a professional surfer opined, within my earshot, that Kelly Slater should be sued over his wavepool technology. The surfer claimed Kelly's pool was so similar to the first version of Wavegrden, there's no way baldy wasn't breaking some sort of patent laws. When the conversation concluded, the surfer implored me not to quote him on that, for the simple reason that he "wanted to go back and surf it again." This is what an autocracy looks like.
Kelly Slater (and I guess technically the WSL) has limitless control over the thoughts and actions of tube-obsessed surfers. He retains this power by deciding who, when, and how his wave will be ridden. For instance, if for some reason I was ever invited there, Kelly could tell me that if I wanted to surf his wave, I'd have to ride a SUP. And by God, I would seize that paddle faster and wield it with more gusto than a fraternity leader on pledge night.