The Style Trap
It goes without saying the lineup can be an intimidating setting. Whether you’re braving the outside for the first time on your brand new Wave-storm or paddling out to the same old jetty close to home, there’s seemingly always a stench of judgement in the air. You’d better show everybody around you can surf. You’d better prove you belong… or else.
There are certain characters in every lineup, no matter where you surf in the world. There will come a day when you’ll be in the line up with old guy – the one on his 10 foot tanker, constantly takes waves out the back and trimming in a straight line to the inside with a look of constipated glory on his face. If he’s not there, you’ll most like see the chatterbox. You know that guy. He or she starts by asking the time, then remarks how the waves are a bit fat and slow for their liking today. The next thing you know, they’re reciting daily experiences from Indo last year. We all love surf stories, mate. But not when I’m trying to find my ocean zen.
Then of course there are the stone-faced locals. These guys get the best waves and pull that crazy air reverse on the inside. They don’t say much but let their surfing do the talking, although they’re usually repeating the same sentence over and over again.
But what about the rest of the lineup? What about the average guys like you and I? What about the guys caught in the style trap? You know the ones. They probably catch three of the five waves they go for. The other two are missed from hesitation. They get hung up in the lip, fall over the back, slap the water and mumble something about wave quality before paddling the five yards back to the takeoff zone.
If you look at most line ups, the majority of surfers are distinctly grumpy and average. Sure, the lineup is intimidating, but let’s really look at it. There might be three surfers who genuinely rip. There are typically a couple of obvious beginners out there as well, while the other 80% of surfers are your Average Joes.
There’s nothing wrong with being an Average Joe, unless you are caught in the style trap. The style trap guys are scared to look bad. They’re scared to fall. They look steely, they look like good surfers, sitting and paddling around the line up with relative confidence, even hunting peaks. On the handful of waves they get, you’ll see a few bottom to top turns. They look in control. But the problem is that it doesn’t seem all that fun for them at this stage. Self-awareness has taken over.
Remember when you started surfing? How fun was that? Remember paddling in, fumbling to your feet and falling with a flourish? Remember trying to turn your board for the first time and eating it? Remember all the wipeouts? Remember the two foot wave that felt like a double overhead bomb at Pipe? Then you started to get better. Your progression was steady. You were trying so hard, falling a lot. Then all of a sudden you could drop in, trim the line, even link a bottom and top turn that didn’t look too shabby. After kicking out, you’d paddle back out to the line up, feeling on top of the world. Maybe you snagged one or two more like that in a session. You reached a level of comfort in that lineup. You were no longer a beginner.
So why is it that a few years later you’re still surfing at that exact same level? It’s because you’re in the style trap, my friend.
When you started surfing, everyone knew you were a beginner. No matter how much you tried to hide it, we could tell. We could tell when you paddled out with your arms and legs flailing, when you fell off your board trying to sit upright and stare at the horizon like the rest us. And we could definitely tell when you dropped in on us. The difference back then was that we all accepted your role and so did you. No one cared if you fell. Even you didn’t care. It was fun, remember?
Things are different now because you can put a few turns together. You can look at those beginners and take waves from them. You can hold your own in the line up. You pass the judgement test. You belong (best not fall). But here’s a revolutionary idea: no one else reallycares how you surf. Sure, if you catch a good one, we notice. We might even tell you. But if you wipeout or fall, we might smile and giggle. That’s because wipeouts are funny, but we don’t really care otherwise. Good for you for going for it.
So stop caring what others are thinking and start trying again. Don’t do that same bottom to top trim combo. Try a cut back, try a floater. Hell, try and boost an air if you want. Let’s start trying to progress again. Let’s start falling and wiping out and enjoying the challenge again. We all started surfing because it’s fun. It’s the funnest thing in the world. Then the challenge hooked us. We wanted to get better. That’s the best part – challenging yourself to get better. Teach yourself some new moves, fall, smile, wipeout, and then get up and do it again. Stop being complacent. Complacency is boring and frustrating. No one cares.
Let’s just go surfing and have a blast again.