Stab Magazine | On the right to drop in:
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On the right to drop in:

Words by Jed Smith Mick Fanning has found himself squarely in the sights of Australia’s mainstream media on the eve of the Quiksilver Pro for, of all things, dropping-in on surfers at the Superbank. Amidst the thousands of surf-etiquette infringements during Cyclones Victor and Winston, the three time world champ and Coolangatta Kingpin was singled […]

news // Mar 10, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Words by Jed Smith

Mick Fanning has found himself squarely in the sights of Australia’s mainstream media on the eve of the Quiksilver Pro for, of all things, dropping-in on surfers at the Superbank.

Amidst the thousands of surf-etiquette infringements during Cyclones Victor and Winston, the three time world champ and Coolangatta Kingpin was singled out for special attention in two separate articles. The first, by local rag the Gold Coast Bulletin, called him out for dropping in on a young bodyboarder.

“Mick Fanning was surfing at his home break, Snapper Rocks, yesterday afternoon when he stole a young surfer’s wave. An unapologetic Fanning later told the Gold Coast Bulletin: ‘Whatever happens in the water, happens in the water.’ And while such an incident would usually spark surf rage, Fanning’s drop-in just drew admiration from his young ‘victim’. “It’s Mick Fanning — what can you do?” said the surfer, who quickly rejoined the line-up.”

But it was the second article, by the far more widely-read Daily Mail, which really tore strips off Fanning. Over the course of a long-running article, titled “Did you get any waves where you didn’t burn someone? Greedy pig”, the piece built its case on angry social media comments left by supposed “Snapper locals” (no proof was provided that the commenters were locals). The catalyst for the anger was Fanning’s drop-in on a “local surfer” whom they claimed was “deep in the tube” when Fanning dropped in on him. The article raises a poignant question: Does the mainstream media even get surfing, let alone have the right to report on it?

Let’s be real for a second. When the mainstream media is cornering on surfing, you know it’s a slow news day. Not a whole lot happens in Australia, thus a local pro surfer weaving his way through hoards of learners and tourists as he prepares for the biggest event of his year is elevated to national news. But if the mainstream media wants to talk about surfing, then they need to understand surfing.

The second question that needs clarifying is, when do you have to right to drop in?

The idealists among us will tell you the right time to drop in is both never and always. For of course, the ocean and its waves belong to everyone and the surfer’s only job is to chill, share the stoke, and *insert other such talk*. But idealists aren’t realists.

Anyone who’s travelled a bit, surfed a while, or has a basic understanding of the history and culture of the sport knows the ocean, like the world at large, is not a perfectly fair and equal place. Certain privileges are afforded to certain people, sometimes by birth, sometimes via a long journey of learning and improvement, and sometimes by mistake, with people often believing they’re entitled to privileges when they’re not. Experience and travel will teach you to accept that drop-ins are carried out deliberately to prove a point and that this is part of our culture. Mainstream media doesn’t understand this.

There are three precursors to a drop-in scenario. The first involves whether or not you are local. If you are not, then you must expect those who are local are going to get the pick of the waves on the best days. This nuanced rule is in place at most world class waves on the planet, the Superbank included. But if you want to paddle out at Pipe, or Padang, or Anchor Point, or Mundaka, and preach your ‘ocean is for everyone’ line, please do. And comment below telling us how it went. Locals get the bombs. Deal with it.

The second precursor to dropping-in relates to a surfer’s skill level. Guys and gals who rip get a bit more leeway in terms of the amount of waves they can catch. Their discipline and the sacrifice they’ve made to surfing means they’re trusted to surf good waves well and to know when a lesser surfer is not up to the task of making a barrel. Everyone who grew up surfing has been on the receiving end of this at least once in their life. It might be harsh, but this is the world we live in, and the Daily Mail sure as fuck aren’t the yardstick of morality they colour themselves as in this article.

If the ripper is also a local, and a senior local at that, as Mick Fanning is, you can safely assume that the pecking order begins somewhere around them. Which brings us to another thing mainstream media has to wrap its head around: The Pecking Order. It exists in every established lineup in the world. Get to know it and accept it. Existing at the top of the pecking order, as Mick Fanning does, entitles him to pretty much any wave he wants on the Superbank, and most people accept that fact. It’s part of the culture. Just as we accept Makua Rothman runs the show at Pipe. Marti Paradisis at Shipsterns, Mark Mathews and Koby Abberton at Ours, and so on. You don’t like them apples? Give The Daily Mail a call, ’cause this isn’t the place.

The right to burn does not extend to travelling pro surfers, however. You owe them nothing. They get the same rights as every other blow-in. They are paid to travel the world scoring perfect waves and are meant to be ambassadors for the sport. You, on the other hand, are probably surfing in the rare time you’ve been given off work. So if you surf okay and one of these guys or girls fades you, tell ’em what’s up. That’s reasonable.

The third principle of surfing privilege is afforded to the bloodthirsty maniac. Australia is full of ’em, particularly the Gold Coast (we began as a giant prison colony, remember). The bloodthirsty maniac throws a curveball through our cultural order (just ask Nat Young), because he is able to ascend the pecking order, not through being a local or a ripper, but because of his bloodlust and imposing physical presence. Most locals who’ve exercised their right to drop in will have encountered one such individual on their rail over the years. And they will know that to burn him is to be forced to answer to his demand for a pound of your flesh in return. It goes without saying that the local or ripper who exercises his/her right to burn, tends to choose weak targets to avoid having to answer to this. Again, point and case, Mick Fanning. You either choose a soft target or get yourself a good pair of knuckles. They are your options. We don’t make the rules, we just explain them.

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