How To Surf Alone In America…

July 11, 2019 • East Side Stories, Photos

… And Erase Humankind In Five Easy Steps

By Matt Pruett:

“In this crowded world, the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.” -John Severson

“We’re all in this together. Except you. You’re a dick.” -Patton Oswalt

Unless you’re rich enough to pay for beachfront exclusivity, a private jet to the Bahamas, or your own personal boat captain to explore the Pacific, scoring a solo session in the USA these days isn’t as easy as it was five, ten, or 20 years ago… And even back then, our numbers were multimillion. You can only imagine how dense the lineups are now.

“Nobody really knows how many surfers there are,” journalist/author/historian Matt Warshaw explained to Surfline readers a few years back. “The Superstudy of Sports Participation Survey, conducted by American Sports Data in early 2000, estimated the American surfing population (with a surfer defined as somebody who rode waves at least once in the previous year) to be 1,736,000. In a 2002 survey, Boardtrac, a surf industry group, estimated the American surf population to be 2.4 million. Estimates for worldwide surfing population in the early ‘00s differ greatly, from 5 million (Surf Industry Manufacturer’s Association), to 17 million (Surfing Australia), to 23 million (International Surfing Association).”

Then, in 2012, the International Surfing Association presented a document to the International Olympic Committee accounting for nearly 35 million worldwide surfers, estimating 2.8 million surfers in the United States. So upon factoring in current surf culture trends — from social media and the WSL ushering in the mainstream, to surf schools and the lifestyle industry spawning more young beginners and adult learners than ever before — we’ll conveniently round up to a hard three to be safe. So, assuming there’s just 3 million surfers in this country, and more to come, we might be led to believe that personal space is becoming a rather rare, if not extinct, commodity.

It’s not.

The author alone with his thoughts and his solitary tubes. Photo: Shaun Devine

The good news is, waves are not a limited resource. There will always be waves — big ones, perfect ones, even empty ones — long after you stop obsessing over them. We implore you not to do that, not on account of a little human cholesterol.

Obviously, the easiest way to surf alone in 2019 is an exodus from iMerica. That might sound strange coming from a website, but we can’t dance around the fact that when it comes to crowd-summoning sirens, nothing tops the toppers, i.e. social media. Retreating from this synthetic netherworld is the first step in achieving solo-salvation. For one thing, you will no longer be seduced by other surfers blowing the bell curve — all their counterintuitive hashtags and geotags hijacking your surf check — making you doubt your own instincts, and look for greener grass beyond. It’ll also prevent you from posting anything incriminating that might alert the public to your whereabouts. Most importantly, you will swiftly take control of your own mystique. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” — it works both ways.

Outta sight, outta mind. Pete Mendia someplace in the Bahamas where no one but the photographer can see him. Photo: Nicola Lugo

You don’t have to go full Howard Hughes, though: deleting your social media, shunning online resources, going back to a landline… All you need to do is get crafty. Get creepy. Follow these steps, and revel in the sound of no hands clapping.

Step 1: Go off-road… or offshore.

From now on, all the named surfbreaks are out. Piers, jetties, groins, and any other structures that offer easier paddle-outs (or better photo ops) should be avoided entirely. Likewise goes for all beach accesses, notable landmarks, indicator spots and any place visible from the road. In fact, forget the road less traveled; forget roads altogether. Any of the thousands of regular visitors (and dozens of locals) will swear that four-wheel-drive is a portal to heaven on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is as famous for its elbow room as it is the green room.

If you really want to get outta sight (and have an extra ten grand lying around), invest in a jet-ski to explore the outer bomboras, mysto reefs and secret slabs peppering the indented, rocky coastlines of New England or the Pacific Northwest (provided you can gather enough local intel). On the other end of the $pectrum, there are still, in 2019, myriad hike-in-only options in California. The point is, whether it be via boot, 4×4 or PWC — the bigger a pain in the ass a place is to get to, the less likely anyone else will bother.

Escape from iAmerica – sorry, no cell phones or selfies allowed. Photo: Mez @mezapixels

Step 2: Stop ripping.

Despite all your best efforts to disappear, eventually some unimaginative interlopers will crash your private party. Now, this is a pivotal moment for your sanctity: as soon as you can make out so much as a human silhouette on the beach or cliff, stop catching waves. Or kook out on anything you do catch. If you’re a terrible actor who can’t pull off a halfhearted paddle or over-the-falls yard sale… well, you’ve already been seen, so you might as well make a spectacle of yourself. Scream obscenities. Eat some kelp. Punch yourself in the face. Lay on your board and do the Curly Shuffle… Put out enough crazy into the world, and the world may respond: Looks mental. Not the waves, the dude. We’re outta here.

Step 3: Dwell the fringe.

Hell, if Dylan Graves and Ben Gravy can do it… Nah, we’re not suggesting you start looking for freshwater freakshows or nuking novelties, but actual ocean waves in places you forgot had an ocean: Georgia on the East Coast, Alabama on the Gulf Coast, Washington on the West Coast… Sure, their surf culture may be stunted compared to their neighbors, and maybe that’s why they’re the best kept secrets in America surfing. Not buying it? Well, then, you can always go the lazy route and flip the script at home: surf the high tide spots at low, and vice versa. Froth out on hard onshores instead of light offshores. Or surf at night, provided there’s an adequate light source like a full moon. (We would suggest pier spotlights, but you don’t surf piers anymore, remember?)

Somewhere along the sandy fringes of the 321 lies the rarely breaking “Jeanies” nick-named both for a television show and the dreams you’ll have about surfing it if you’re lucky enough to ever catch it that is ( not likely ). You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to find it but it might help. Photo: Mez @ mezapixels

Step 4: Be gnarlier than everyone else.

White sharks and red tide. Runoff and debris. Sea lice and jellyfish and flesh-eating bacteria and brain-eating amoeba. Although most surfers proudly subscribe to the Jeff Spicoli school of risk assessment — “Danger is my business!” — once the lineup becomes polluted, painful, or deadly, the masses tend to congregate elsewhere. Now, we’re not suggesting you risk your health in pursuit of solitude. And we certainly don’t condone ambulance-chasing to capitalize on empty lineups following catastrophes like wildfires and hurricanes (you should be thinking about safety and recovery for you and your neighbors, not looking to score). It’s your shred, your life, do what you will — but there are simpler, safer and smarter ways to score by your lonesome. Like waiting for that once-in-a-blue-moon XL swell breaking a quarter-mile out to sea in 40-degree water with 30-knot offshores, a 10-degree windchill and blinding snowfall… At least you’ll think you’re alone.

Somewhere under that tombstoning rhino chaser is big wave hellman Will Skudin being gnarlier than most. Photo: Jason Murray

Step 5: Wait for the Rapture.

Remember all those innocent surfers you burned, paddled around, screamed at or stink-eyed — back when you were part of the crowd? Yeah, you’re gonna be here awhile.