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Uncle_Tricky

best of cc.com Climbing, Surfing and Localism

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The recent threads about access, secret spots, and of course the never-ending clash between different forms of climbing got me thinking. Of all pursuits, in my opinion the culture of climbing and the culture of surfing are perhaps the closest.

 

Both activities predate recorded history. There’s something innately attractive about climbing to the tops of things. Likewise people are drawn to messing around in the waves that form the dynamic border between land and ocean. Not surprisingly, these two activities became central to different cultures.

 

For the Polynesians, surfing became central to the culture: entire breaks were set aside for royalty and only kings were allowed to ride boards made out of Wiliwili wood. Commoners had to ride smaller, heavier boards made from Koa. Death was the penalty if common folk were caught surfing the prime royalty-only spots.

 

Similarly, climbing was a part of many ancient cultures, and was important for safety, recreation and religious purposes. The Anasazi were crazy good sandstone climbers, ascending scary routes to cliffside caves that provided them security. The aborigines of Australia left petroglyphs high on inaccessible rocky faces, the South American Indians left monuments at the top of many of the highest peaks, and who doubts that the Hueco Tanks locals of a thousand years ago had friendly bouldering competitions?

 

In more modern times, both surfing and climbing have rich written and oral histories replete with colorful characters, famous spots and fantastic tales.

 

Climbing has Sir Edmund, Royal Robbins, and Beckey. Surfing has Duke Kahanamoku, Eddie Aikau and Greg Noll.

 

Climbing has Yosemite, the Alps and Everest. Surfing has the Pipeline, Mavericks and Uluwatu.

 

Climbing has Lynn Hill’s FFA of the Nose, Joe Simpson’s epics, and Twight’s smashing of alpine precedent. Surfing has Big Wednesday, The Eddie, and Ken Bradshaw’s riding of the biggest wave in history:

 

-

 

Both cultures are global and diverse, and also riven with internal conflicts, ethical debates, and competition for increasingly scarce resources. Climbing includes everything from bouldering to climbing 8k meter peaks and everything in between. In fact when you measure the whole never-ending sport vs. trad debate against the whole scope of the climbing "community" it's really a feud between two minority factions.

 

Surfing includes long-boarding, short-boarding, boogie boarding, body-surfing and tow-in surfing. Longboarders vs. Shortboarders is the surfing equivalent of the sporto/trad divide.

 

Ask a shortboarder about a longboarder, and they’ll probably say they are a bunch of fat old grumpy guys and beginner kooks who sit outside and hog all the waves. An old school longboarder will probably say shortboarders are a bunch of young punks with no respect who are always getting caught in the impact zone.

 

And of course both short and longboarders look down on the lowly boogie boarders (AKA boogers, sponges or speed bumps) and everyone unanimously hates kayaks in the surf zone. And yes, there's all kinds of other "ethical" debates that rage within surfing, all of which seem utterly trivial to any outside observers.

 

But perhaps the hottest issue in the surfing world is over “localism.” Dating back to the Polynesian Kings, localism has always been a big part of surfing. While there’s lots of ocean, there’s not a lot of really good surf breaks, and most of the time, those breaks don’t have good waves. So where the time comes where conditions come together and the waves are good there is intense competition and jockeying for position in the water.

 

As chaotic as it looks, there is a whole code of behavior and conduct when it comes to surfing. Violate any of these unwritten rules and the shit storm will descend upon you. “NEVER DROP IN!” is the golden rule, and yet it is broken all the time, which often results in a dangerous situation and often verbal or physical confrontations.

 

If you surf, you’ll run into localism at some point, so ingrained is it in the culture of surfing. Virtually every spot has certain locals that believe that their proximity to a place gives them special priority, and frankly they don’t want you there. Maybe you’ll get the stink-eye, maybe you'll get heckled, or maybe you’ll get dropped in on.

 

If you don’t know what you’re doing and try to surf the corner at Westport on a good day, Big Al WILL tell you to go on down the beach. If you accidently drop in on Decker, (AKA The Brick Shithouse) he may well paddle up to you, shove you underwater and breaks the fins off you board.

 

These guys have been surfing these spots for decades and in their minds they own them. While there’s many cool surfers in Port Angeles, some jokers there claim all the spots on the Olympic Peninsula for themselves, including the ones out on the Rez near Neah Bay.

 

Some have bestowed a name upon themselves: the "OPC" or Olympic Peninsula Crew. Like the KTK, it's mostly a joke, but still represents a common underlying want for tribal identification.

 

In my 7 or 8 years of surfing, I've seen maybe a half-dozen physical confrontations in the water or on shore. That's more fights than I've seen in any other context. Here in Washington and Oregon, many cars have been vandalized, tires slashed and in one incident a car was torched on the Olympic Peninsula. More than a few people have gone to jail in surfing-related assaults. There are places in Hawaii where NO visitors would dare surf. All in the name of waves.

 

In surfing, threats, intimidation, property destruction and physical confrontation are fairly common methods used to scare away beginners, deter visitors, protect surf spots and gain choice position in the water. Lesser known spots, or beta about what combinations of tide, wind and waves that make certain spots fire are jealously guarded secrets. Beyond being common, such practices are generally accepted as part of the localism tradition of surfing culture. If you're a local, then you can get away with dropping in on somebody or snaking somebody's position in the lineup.

 

The flip side is when you travel to a new place, you often have to contend with a certain degree of hostility, and you have to expect to defer to the locals. If your competent and respectful, most of the time in most places most people are good folks and you'll likely have no problems.

 

Even though its not a defensible position to act as though where you live gives you a greater right to use public land or water than anyone else, that's absolutely the way it is.

 

Fortunately there’s not (yet) the same degree of competition for rock as there is for waves, and there's not such a negative culture of territorial local tribalism in climbing. Despite the internal divisions, there's a greater degree of common identification among climbers. The climbing culture is generally more open, friendly and accepting of newbies or visitors. People are generally willing to share information about new climbs and cool places with others. The kind of localism I see in climbing is generally less selfish and more benevolent.

 

Whether in relation to a crag or a break, localism can be a positive force when locals are trying to keep a place clean, or preserve access, or trying to maintain the unique character of a place. I truly appreciate those who take the time to care about a place, and I think that’s a great element of the climbing culture. Thanks to those who help work on trails, pick up garbage, replace dangerous anchors, work with land managers, and those who chop all those damn sport climbs squeezed between classic natural lines…

 

OK, OK, so I’m kidding about the bolt choppers. Well sort of. The good news is that localism in climbing is still mostly of the positive kind. Let’s keep it that way.

 

[big Drink]

 

[ 09-08-2002, 02:56 AM: Message edited by: Uncle Tricky ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Uncle Tricky:

The good news is that localism in climbing is still mostly of the positive kind. Let’s keep it that way.

Well said, and said with style -- as always.

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interesting read. Thank you. I have a few friends that surf and climb. I am fasinated by both sports and enjoyed the comparisan. I can't think of a better way to spend time than in the water or on the rock. Peace to all!

sk [big Grin]

 

[ 09-07-2002, 10:00 PM: Message edited by: sk ]

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Haven't seen it, and probably won't--but I bet it'd be good for a few laughs. The average surfing movie is as painful to watch as Sly Stallone's representation of climbing in Cliffhanger. [Roll Eyes]

 

A Washington "secret spot"

-

 

[ 09-08-2002, 12:14 AM: Message edited by: Uncle Tricky ]

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Blue Crush got really good reviews from a bunch of pro surfer chickes who watched it and a bunch of other critics. I liked it to [Roll Eyes] .

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I didn't realize it had received broad critical acclaim, but I just came across this review in Surfergrrrl Magazine:

 

"Like, it was totally rad! Fer sure, like that one way buffed out football dude was mega-mackable!! Totally! Remember that part where the surf was going off the richter and the kooks on sponges like dropped in on the brahs? Yeah, they almost ended up in the boneyard! Major bummer! But I was soooo stoked to see serious betties shredding some bitchin barrels! Major ampage! Super gnarlacious!!"

 

Plotlines aside, I heard there was some pretty amazing photography.

 

[ 09-08-2002, 12:47 AM: Message edited by: Uncle Tricky ]

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Excellent analysis, and I particularly enjoyed being reminded of the differences in the localism between the two. I grew up blonde near the beach in San Diego, and made a conscious decision to climb instead of surf. As you've pointed out, the surf scene can be pretty damn nasty, and that was just as true almost 30 years ago. Climbing, which was then made up of a pretty small group of misfits, was much more attractive. Does anyone remember from years ago when Ron Kauk and Mark Chapman came to blows over sport climbing in Yosemite? It made the news in the climbing rags, and the remarkable bit is that it WAS remarkable. Such dustups are common in surfing, as the good Uncle noted. I also think climbing still provides a common bond for strangers (hence the success of this site) and Agent Orange aside, most folks appreciate the enthusiasm and passion of others in the sport regardless of technical ability. Thanks for the read and reflection Uncle Tricky.

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UT, I must encourage you once again to get paid as a writer. Very well-written and incisive. I get paid to do it from time to time, and you're a damn sight better than I am!

 

[rockband]

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The Doctor is impressed and pleased to have read such a fine essay!

 

DFA is inclined to think that the slightly more open and cooperative attitude in climbing might stem from or be somehow linked to the fact that climbing is, for the most part, not a single-person pursuit. Perhaps, given the partner-based nature of climbing, and the constant back-and-forth reliance of one person on another, that the attitude of mutual supportiveness present between partners shows up in the climbing community at large. As contrasted with surfing, where there seems to be more of an emphasis on the person doing it, and the experience isn't shared with someone who has your life in their hands every step of the way.

 

Maybe. [Confused]

 

Anyway, good read.

[rockband]

 

[ 09-08-2002, 02:31 PM: Message edited by: Dr Flash Amazing ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Off White:

Excellent analysis, and I particularly enjoyed being reminded of the differences in the localism between the two. I grew up blonde near the beach in San Diego, and made a conscious decision to climb instead of surf. As you've pointed out, the surf scene can be pretty damn nasty, and that was just as true almost 30 years ago. Climbing, which was then made up of a pretty small group of misfits, was much more attractive. Does anyone remember from years ago when Ron Kauk and Mark Chapman came to blows over sport climbing in Yosemite? It made the news in the climbing rags, and the remarkable bit is that it WAS remarkable. Such dustups are common in surfing, as the good Uncle noted. I also think climbing still provides a common bond for strangers (hence the success of this site) and Agent Orange aside, most folks appreciate the enthusiasm and passion of others in the sport regardless of technical ability. Thanks for the read and reflection Uncle Tricky.

Wasn't that actually Kauk and the indomitable Bachar? That's what I recall, but I wasn't there firsthand. Remember when Kurt Smith was an adamant traditionalist, putting up scary lines like Out of Africa (which has since been retro-bolted, with Kurt's permission)? Remember the whole City Park/Todd Skinner thing? Ok, now I'm dating myself. . .

 

Hey, I remember when sticky rubber was still a bit controvertial. Hangdogging was cheating. Yo-yo ascents were still considered by some to be "free." Friends weren't flexible, Camalots didn't exist. Etc.

 

In BASE jumping, we are working hard to build a new form of "localism" culture. We have local crews who protect object access, but in return for outside folks respecting the locals' concerns over site access, locals have an obligation to work with visitors to show them around and set out the ground rules.

 

Lately, this has been evolving into a full-blown "host" ethic where local groups try to outdo themselves to show visiting (respectful) jumpers a really great time. It comes around in spades, as most jumpers eventually travel and when they do, they find access to sites in remote cities is as easy as an email or phone call to a local jumper ready to roll out the red carpet.

 

I like this ethic much better than the old, tired localism of surfing and even climbing. The only challenge really is for folks like us in Portland. Our crew is blessed with lots of good objects, and we have lots of visiting jumpers (I'd estimate at least 10 visits this year so far). Being a good host can be exhausting! It is also really rewarding, and a chance to meet interesting folks from all over the world while jumping.

 

Then again, there's probably less than 1,000 really active BASE folks in the world right now - so numbers are in our favor. Still, I think that this new form of "friendly localism" both has much to offer climbing, and takes much from the old days of climbing being a big, motley group of friends.

 

Peace,

 

D-d0g

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Great thread! Man, you brought back some memories! Before I ever climbed rock, I was a surfer-- I grew up by the beach in San Diego, started surfing at age 9, could walk (a long way) to the beach, and started getting indoctrinated into the culture of localism the moment I arrived. I dreamed about being a climber, but couldn't walk or skateboard to any bouldering spots, and had to remain content taking my life in my hands on the crumbling shale bluffs above Blacks beach (I remember some really terrifying cliff-climbing incidents, including watching a friend who I had enticed up a "shortcut" slip at the crux and bounce fifty feet to the wave-washed rocks, fortunately without serious injury.)

Although I agree with the parallels you draw between the two pursuits, I am relieved that climbers usually have a more benevolent attitude. It may not be that climbers are better human beings-- imagine if the best routes were only "in" for ten or twenty days a year, and if all climbers had only a ten-second window to get on the rock every hour. Climbers might not remain so civil to one another.

I have pages more to say, but I'm at work and gotta go. You should write an article!

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"increasingly scarce resources"

Waves and climbs? No way. The vast majority of ridable waves go unridden; Most climbable days on ice and rock routes pass without climbers.

It's my opinion that most ice-climbs haven't even been discovered. And I know of some phat waves that break on Navy-guarded property that are ridden once a year, at most.

Get into the backcountry. Drive a little further. Travel abroad.

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Great topic, I was just talking about the same thing to my wife earlier this week. I have just taken up surfing in the last year and went to Hawaii about 2 weeks ago, and the differences and the similarities of the two sports are pretty outstanding, at least from a beginners standpoint.

 

When my wife asked me why some surfers were so pissy about others even being on the same break, compared to the typically cool attitude of climbers, it made me think. I think it's alot about where paths cross and life/death safety is involved.

What I mean is, climbers don't get into each others faces more often because a)the paths of the new and bumbly don't often cross with the experienced/egotistical. If the two are in each others way, it usually doesn't mean one or the other misses out like it does in surfing. b)in surfing, a guy will drop in on you, confront you in the water or steal your shoes (happened in Hawaii [Mad] ) with relatively minor consequences, maybe a fight. In climbing to do the equivalent, esp. to a beginner this could be a matter of life and death.

 

When it comes to just general localism attitudes, I think the two measure up somewhat the same, although climbers are generally more tolerant of others because we are rarely directly in each others way. I've seen stink-eye both climbing and surfing.

 

I've got to say that some of the things I love about climbing are just as great when surfing. Where else can you be thinking that you are in the best place on earth one minute, and scared for your life the next.

Surfing and Climbing [rockband]

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quote:

Originally posted by freeclimb9:

[QBWaves and climbs? No way. The vast majority of ridable waves go unridden; Most climbable days on ice and rock routes pass without climbers. Get into the backcountry. Drive a little further. Travel abroad.[/QB]

The vast majority of ridable waves may indeed go unridden - but when you paddle out at 3am and there are already people in the water.........

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Surf in alaska. There are great breaks that you have to realy work to get too. keeps the crowds at bay... if you think about it, alaska combines what is best in both climbing and surfing... tooo bad it is soo cold [Wink]

 

[ 09-09-2002, 10:11 AM: Message edited by: sk ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Greg W:

Trask is a butt surfer, is that the same?

you outta know retard, since you gargle that butt gravy

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The good news is that localism in climbing is still mostly of the positive kind. Let’s keep it that way.

 

For the most part yes however do not forgot about the Frenchmans Coulee debacle. Only time will tell if the passing of Bill Robbins (RIP) will change the face of tactics there and make it a great place to climb again.

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I'm no surfer (yet) but I would be willing to bet there are more breaks in Alaska

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Who is cuter, surfer girls or climber girls??

 

Surfer girls wear better outfits (wet Tshirts!!!) and don't have hand and leg scabs. however they put on more fat to keep warm, like a seal, in the cold water.

 

Surfer girls VW vans are better bivis than climber girls ratty Subarus. [laf]

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