Busy wave breaks at touristy venues can be as confusing as they are daunting. Harty offers a guide to staying happy and out of trouble.
Originally published within the March ’18 edition.
“ That woman shouted at me AGAIN!”, whimpered Dave as he met me in the shallows. “That’s three times today and this last time I was definitely upwind and it was MY wave!”
“So you’ve met shouty Sabine? Don’t feel singled out Dave,” I said, “she shouts at everybody. Off the water she’s really very nice but on it she’s like a Hill Billy with knife skills who’s just been on 10 self assertiveness courses.” On cue, Shouty Sabine sailed up to us. She knew I ran courses and so held me personally responsible for anyone who infringed her personal space whether they were in my gang or not. “Peter, you must teach your people the rules. They are ruining my waves and I’m getting very stressed.” “Aah the rules,” I went on trying to inject a little humour into the situation: “I have taught them the rules … but forgot the one that says Sabine has the right to a 100m exclusion zone wherever she is on the water.” It didn’t translate and when we went into a discussion about what the rules actually are, it was clear that the lady was not for turning and that her unshakeable belief in her own rectitude trumped all other considerations.
Some wave breaks are like a microcosm of international society. There are laws in place to prevent total anarchy. But you have the rich and powerful who bend and flout them. You have minorities that interpret them differently. You have terrorists who ignore them altogether. And finally you have the downtrodden, unskilled proletariat whose place is firmly in the wrong whatever they do.
Wave-sailing rules are based on surfing rules, which are actually quite simple – the rider nearest the peak/curl has right of way. The problem with them is that they were written for an idyllic setting. The diagrams show a perfectly peeling Hawaiian wave. Specific ‘no no’s’ include:
• ‘Dropping in’ which means coming over the back of the wave onto a wave already being ridden.
• Taking off on the other side of the peak, riding around the white water to join the wave.
• Paddling out directly through the main break rather than through the channel.
• ‘Snaking’ waves, which is paddling around someone to edge them out to nick their wave rather than waiting their turn. And that’s all very lovely but throw in waves with multiple peaks, wind, various species of craft and you have the potential for chaos.
In our sport for example, we have 2 sets of rules – the wind driven ones and the surfy ones. When you’re sailing in breaking waves (not sure how you exactly define that but carry on …) the surf rules have priority – such as the sailor going out has right of way over the sailor surfing the wave; and the sailor upwind or nearest the peak has right of way. Away from breaking waves, the traditional wind driven ones take over, such as port gives way to starboard and leeward has right of way over windward. So there I am riding a small wave in Jeri arriving in the shallows preparing one last smack when a freestyler shoots over the wave just downwind of me and launches into something unpronounceable. Already committed to my bottom turn, I took him out. When we discover there were no lasting injuries, he fires off apoplectically about him being the downwind board and because these weren’t real waves, he was in the right. Well they were real to me. He couldn’t make a hasty escape because I had my foot on his mast tip. And with nowhere to go and 20 witnesses, his final defence was “It’s a local rule – it’s what the freestylers do here.” You can’t argue with that except that being from Italy, he was even less local than me.
What is a wave?
The rule that is most confusing to ‘Windies’ is the ‘first on the wave’ rule. It’s simple with pure surfing and SUP’ing because the wave has to be ride-able before you can catch it. That’s not the case when you have a sail. This is how Shouty Sabine justified her vociferousness. She would sail miles out to sea, catch a wind chop somewhere off Mauritania and chog back in on it. The rest of us, meanwhile, were waiting on the point where the waves bend in and line up properly – but if we dared make a move for one anywhere near her she would scream that she’d been on it first. When is a wave not a wave – that is the question. So what’s to be done?
Way back in the mists of time I met up for a surf with my friend Swedish Jan in Sydney. Jan was a designer living in the Eastern suburbs and I assumed that we’d head up the coast to a calm, empty break. I haven’t much time, he said, so let’s go local. Local for him was Maroubra, the most unwelcoming spot in the southern hemisphere and home to the infamously aggressive ‘Bra Boys.’ I’ve only been punched twice in my life and both times by surfers. I wasn’t keen. It’ll be fine he said. And it was. Jan you have to understand had an angelic calm and exuded peace and love. As we paddled out, the local eyes turned to us in the most menacing way. One of the dudes caught a wave and immediately Jan started whooping – a sort of Scandinavian ‘whoop’ which sounded a lot less annoying than an American one. As the guy kicked off the wave, Jan paddled to him and told him what a great wave it was and how he wished he could surf like that with his sincere, sweet, but not sycophantic, smile. He kept it up for the whole session and within minutes the deathly silence gave way to a right old love in. It’s very hard to thump someone who’s being nice to you. I must admit to having kept a safe distance at all times. So now, whenever I hear that dreaded international ‘woooaaahey’ sound emitted by those suggesting you go elsewhere, I imagine it to mean ‘great wave man, you’re brilliant,’ and offer them a smile and a thumbs up sign in return. Windsurfers, I maintain, are universally nice people and we must not be swept into the snarling surf culture. Make friends on the beach, give each other room but embrace the concept of the party wave. I tell my people that on a long wave with multiple breaking sections, it’s rude and selfish to claim the whole thing. Offer bits of it up and before you know it, you’ll be slaloming around each other and high fiving it at the end. I wouldn’t recommend it on your first time out at big Ho’okipa but try and spread the love.
Peter Hart 24th Jan 2018
Photo Share, don’t shout! PHOTO Hart Photography