While I don't condone tire-slashing or graffitiing cautionary cues like "go home kooks" in an attempt to intimidate fellow surfers, I do understand the mindset behind wanting to preserve a break you've surfed your whole life. Essentially, localism is an effort to establish a sense of social order in the water and protect others from the potential dangers of inexperienced surfers, or "kooks." Although I've had my fair share of negative experiences with localism, with time, I've gained a better understanding of some of the unspoken rules of surfing, and with it, respect from locals.
Localism first emerged as surfing grew from a recreational activity to a global sport.
With the creation of surf-forecasting apps came access to swell and wind conditions for the entire week and even the ability to watch waves as they broke. Smaller, lighter surfboard designs enabled surfers to navigate waves effortlessly, promising safer and smoother rides. Waterproof devices like mountable cameras could capture surfers' footage in action, and surf films like "The Endless Summer" inspired adventure in landlocked teens. This shift brought an influx of surfers to the coasts, crowding spots that had previously belonged solely to locals. Understandably, these changes were not welcome by many locals who now had to share their waves with unfamiliar faces and watch as travel blogs published their secrets.
I grew up surfing in Los Angeles around the age of eleven, and it is here where I stood up on my first wave and later fell in love with surfing.
Since I hardly ever explored nearby beaches, localism was merely a legend I read about. I never even considered the possibility that my beloved hometown breaks might be a setting for the unfriendly culture. As far as I was concerned, surfing was a pastime for a bunch of friendly hippies, and yelling "party wave" while simultaneously dropping in on someone was embraced. Once I drove up north, however, a new reality began to set in. I paddled into a wave and as I was coming down the line, I was cut off by another surfer, forcing me to veer out of the way and plunge into the water. I soon realized that an older woman had stolen my wave. She told me, in blunt terms, to "go home" and that "locals get priority," dismantling my preconceived ideas about localism with one sweep. How could a woman, who surely had felt, at some point, the discomfort of being outnumbered by men in the water, tell me to "go home"?
In an article titled "The Trouble with Newcomers: Women, Localism and the Politics of Surfing," author Rebecca Olive seeks to explain this idea that women, too, can be "complicit in and resistant to the same exclusionary practices that have impacted them." Although rarely the focus in conversations about localism, women are just as likely to undertake and perpetuate systems of power on a localized level.
I am very fortunate to have a supportive group of women out in the water with me. I used to avoid certain surf spots out of fear of the locals' response, but having a group of girls to uplift you and cheer your every wave has helped me overcome that fear.
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