Monday, June 11, 2018

What Surfers Know updated

http://www.citylab.com; May 25, 2018


Hello Everyone:

Before we get going on this beautiful Monday afternoon, Blogger has to apologize to Canadian fans for Mr. Trump's temper tantrum at the annual G7 meeting in Canada, this past weekend.  There are Americans, like Blogger, who like our good neighbors to the north.  Most of us really have no major issue with our friends.  To fans in the six remaining member G7 nations, we like you too.  In other news, Mr. Trump and Norh Korean leader Kim Jong Un are set to meet in Singapore.  The North Koreans see it as a " get to know you" meeting, while the president sees it as something greater.  Really, high can expectations be when you are dealing with two erratic heads of state with nuclear codes?  Alright, time to hit the beach for some surfer wisdom.

Surfers tend to be very territorial about where they ride the waves.  Jack Persons writes about his experiences in his CityLab article, "What Surfers Understand About Gentrification," "When I go surfing below the Golden Gate Bridge, my worries include shark attacks, hidden underwater boulders, and strong currents that could pull into shipping lane.... There's something way uglier there that scares me more: surf localism."

Case in point, Fort Point--"Fort to locals--is a novelty wave located underneath the south end of" the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is a gorgeous setting with more surfers than waves.  However, when that happens, the Fort regulars get very territorial, very fast.

To offset overcrowding, local surfers have acquired a well earned reputation for bulling newcomers.  A short documentary, Fort Point--Locals Only! (liveleak.com; date accessed June 11, 2018) on he surf spot, Mr. Persons writes, "one local reports seeing hundreds of violent incident in the water in his 30 years of surfing there, including broken boards and fins, beatings, and attempted drownings."  Shockingly, there has only been one conviction (sfgate.com; May 15, 2003; date accessed June 11, 2018) during this reign of intimidation and violence.  "In 2003, three surfers at Fort assaulted a Berkeley resident during a spring afternoon session.  They held him underwater, broke his nose, and left a gash in his eye that required eight stitches.  None of them received jail time."

Steve Hawk, the former editor of Surfer magazine told CityLab,

I have friends who are really good surfers, very knowledgeable, surfing forever, would not go out and make idiots of themselves, and they won't go surf Fort Point,... I've never surged Fort Point, because you just know those guys are dicks...you stay away from those guys because they have this reputation of being jerks, no matter what you do.  (surfer.com; June 11, 2018; )

What makes this story particulately newsworthy is that the standoff between Bay Area surfers and newcomers, is that "there's a somewhat similar struggle ensuing on dry land nearby.  San Francisco has become a case study in the impact of gentrification, as well-compensated tech industry worker have surged into the the city,..."  The surge of newcomers has transformed the city's unique character, driven up the cost of living, and pushed longtime residents.  This has resulted in a critical affordable housing shortage: "Between 2010 and 2015, the number of jobs created in San Francisco outnumbered he number of houses built by a ratio of more than eight to one (sf.curbed.com; July 26, 2017; date accessed May 25, 2018)."  In the newly gentrified City by the Bay, the tech sector and its wealth are the way.  However, there is one place where wealth has its limits: the ocean.

Jack Persons describes Fort Point, "...breaks along a seawall that protects its namesake, a military installation built during the Gold Rush (nps.gov; date accessed June 12, 2018) to defend San Francisco Bay from foreign attacks. "  The original plans for the Golden Gate Bridge called for the demolition of the building, however, "the bridge's chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, decided instead to build an arch over it."  During  World War II, the fort acted as a last line of defense from submarine attacks.  In 1970, it became a National Historic Site and continues to be a cornerstone San Francisco's storied history.

The California Coastal Commission mandates that the majority of the state's beaches be made accessible to the public.  The earliest surfers at Fort were trespassing on military property, now anyone can paddle out and catch a wave as long as their skills and confidence holds up.  Matt Warshaw, another former editor at Surfer and current curator of the Encyclopedia of Surf (eos.surf; date accessed June 12, 2018) , told CityLab,

What's kind of amazing about surfing is also terrible about surfing: It's unregulated,... It's just people stepping out into the wild outside.  There's no out there directing things, so you work it out yourselves.

It is this sense of stepping out into the wild, where the locals are the big fish, Mr. Warshaw continues,

There's people for whom that's the most important thing to them, sort like gang turf or something.  They get to rule,... They're in charge out there in a way that they're not in charge anywhere else in their lives.

Jack Persons observes, "While this has always been true, it's especially striking now, because the water is one of the few places left where longtime residents still have a leg up on the new order of affluent San Franciscans."  Without their fierce territoriality, the Fort locals would be quickly overrun by outsiders from every part of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area.  The hierarchy is based on "knowledge, ability, ego, and a group of friends o back you up," not socio-economic status or job title.

William Finnegan's two-part New Yorker article "Playing Doc's Games (networker.com; Aug. 31, 1992; date accessed June 12, 2018)," is an in-depth look into San Francisco's surf scene during the eighties,  clearly illustrating this dynamic.  Mr. Person summarizes, " Finnegan recounts a trip he took to Fuller's Beach in Big Sur, an unincorporated stretch of wilderness just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, with the eponymous subject, Doc Renneker.  As Finnergan paddled out to the lineup, he noticed that everyone else knew each other, and they just weren't about let anybody they didn't know have an waves if the could help it.

This kind of me-first-NIMBY-ism "creates a selfishness that permeates popular breaks everywhere...."  At times, this behavior is necessary.  "Visiting surfers rarely have a good grasp of the dymanics of a wave, and Fort breaks very close to the boulder-strewn seawall.  A mistake by an outsider can lead to a local getting washed into the rocks."  Safety is a paramount issue at any surf spot, and sometimes the only way to make that point crystal clear is to engage in threatening behavior.

Mostly, its first-come-first-served.  For every wave taken by a newcomer means one less ride for a Fort local.  Matt Warshaw said,

Just about every bad thing in surf comes from people feeling that they're not getting their fair share of waves,... If people were getting enough waves, none of that would matter.

Typical with booming cities, popularity breeds the fear of displacement.  A study by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Associatiin, " the number of surfers in the United States increase 1.8 million in 2004 to 2.6 million in 2016 (newsweek.com; July 23, 2016; date accessed June 12, 2018)."  The number of new surfers continues to grow, technology continues to improve the equipment and forecasting has eliminated barriers to surf access.  Crowds are noticeably heavier on days with good conditions at spot around San Francisco due to website sites like Surfline (surfline.com date accessed June 12, 2018) and Magicseaweed (magicseaweed.com; date accessed June 12, 2018).  Forecasting has gotten precise enough that it can predict swells more than weeks ahead of time, giving visitors plenty of time to plan ahead.

Longtime surf journalist (surfline.com; Jan. 4, 2016; date accessed June 12, 2018) and author (amazon.com; date accessed June 12, 2018) Ben Marcus told CityLab,

You forget how distant and removed people were in the '70s and '80s.  Not everybody knew everything everything.  Everybody knows everything now,... We didn't know when swells were coming back then, we want by sound and by smell.  You lie in your bed and you hear it and you figure it out.

Prior to the Internet, the best way to find out if conditions were optimal in San Francisco was to ring Wise Surfboards, a shop near the beach.  This was not rocket science; "a recording told the caller what the waves looked like earlier that day.  This advantaged locals living near the beach, who had to drive a few minutes to check the conditions, over East Bay or Marin residents."  Now all you need is a smartphone with the right apps can check the forecast days in advance and guarntee a good session.

We live in an age of instant gratification that has crept onto the water by way of luxury surf clubs and high-end board rental programs have begun to build a market in the Bay Area.  Andy Olive, a former employee of Wise during the nineties told CityLab,

[Newer surfers] want to go down and have a quick surf, and get a couple of waves, and go back to their normal life,.... Which is fine, but if you think about Fort Point, no one takes the time to understand who's actually putting in the hard work there, who's been surfing there for 40 years.

Jack Persons reports, "Other efforts by locals to head off the effects of gentrification have been spectacular and polarizing, but ultimately ineffective."  To wit, "In the Bay Area, protesters famously tried to impntimidate and scare tech companies away (blog.sfgate.com; Apr. 2, 2014; date accessed June 12, 2018) to avail."  This efforts did make headlines, but did very little to slow neighborhood change.  Defending the territory--i.e. the neighborhood or city--may be harder than defending the beach.  Be that as it may, there are lessons for Fort Point locals and newcomers.

First lesson, make connections to the established community, or show respect for the culture and history.  Get to know the locals is great way to gain credibility in the lineup, be open to learning and watching at the Fort.  Beats getting bounced off the beach or your gear trashed.

This could mean going a whole session without catching a wave.  However, patience and deference to the locals are virtues leading to reward.

Civic officials could learn from the battles between surfers and newcomers, if they want to offset the impact of gentrification.  As less-affluent residents are displaced by rising housing costs, they vanish along with their businesses and culture which makes the city so vibrant and attractive.  Mr. Persons suggests, "Rather than imposing their own cultures and influences, every inhabitant of San Francisco, old and new, should embrace the established histories and character of their respective neighborhoods."  Sound advice that elected officials would do well to follow instead of continuing to ignore the economic engine of gentrification, otherwise, San Franciscans could take matters into their own hands.

Fort Point surfers can learn to be a more inclusive and welcoming community, even when staring down the barrel of displacement.  Mr. Persons offers this suggestion, "To see what that might look like, drive an hour south down the coast and you'll reach Half Moon Bay,..., best known for its Christmas tree farms and surf spot, Mavericks, home to some of the biggest waves in the works.... Steve Hawks says 'that there's no tension between the various surfer communities in Half Moon Bay.... the older generation has become more peaceful... and introduced their children to surfing."  Mr. Hawk said,

You teach by example,... so if a kid sees his father being polite to a stranger, then they're more likely to follow suit.

Half Moon Bay has a robust surf culture that students, beginning in middle school, take part in.  The sport is passed down from parent to child, children learn to compete and "a culture of respect grows out of the partnership."  This, along with an indifference to outsiders ("the town's isolated location along the coast attracts less visitors than San Francisco and Santa Cruz") creates a more inclusive atmosphere.  Steve Hawk puts it this way, There's no vibing around here.

If San Francisco wants to follow this example, the absolute critical changes for Fort Point will have to come from the top.  Mr. Persons suggests a surfing historical society, curated by legends, as a great platform "to impart proper etiquette and established norms.  It could make the surf community more accessible for everyone,..."  At the macro-scale, all San Franciscans can benefit from more cuktura, awareness about their city and the myriad of communities that make it such a great city to explore.  Even better, this could help ease the stressors of gentrification.

It is possible that San Francisco has become too gentrified and too polarized, for now, for everyone to find common cause.  The generations might never get along.  If this is the situation, then we should all just heed Steve Hawk's golden rule in and out of the water.

My whole thing is: Just don't be a dick.  Don't be a dick and everything will be fine.

Sage advice