This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the anonymous and the downright idiotic.
You don't see many surfing-related fights in Orange County. Surf spots in San Diego, L.A., and especially Ventura Counties have much more violent reputations. But when the waves are good, tempers can flare. Also, it's only a matter of time before we start seeing conflict erupt between surfers and the growing population of standup paddlers. Shortboarders have long become frustrated with their longboarding ancestors for their ability to catch waves much earlier. By the time a shortboarder can even have a chance at paddling into a wave, there can be an infinite number of longboarders already weaving turns on it. But standup paddlers, with their carbon fiber paddles and huge, canoe-sized boards, can beat a longboarder to the punch. One Costa Mesa Native (let's call him Jimmy) put it bluntly: "Man, you think a longboarder will ruin your day? These guys are ruining the longboarder's day."
All last week, Newport saw some of the best small-to-mid-sized waves of the year--classically shaped peaks barrelling in oily perfection at all the great spots. Newport Point, which breaks at its best only a couple of times a year, was no exception, and a small band of locals took full advantage of the exquisite conditions at the spot on Friday.
Enter a standup paddler (let's call him Ned). He's been seen around Newport by many, riding a skateboard and pushing himself around with a stick (standup skate-sticking?! Really?!). He paddled in circles around the surfers at the point, agitating the small gathering of friends and locals. It wasn't taken well on that competitive day. People were getting frustrated. "Who is this guy?" "What the hell is he doing?" Finally, a local surfer, wiry and small with lots of tattoos (let's call him Skip), began heckling the guy he viewed as a buzz-killing intruder.
"What's with the local attitude out here, man?" Ned retorted, still paddling around.
"It's not like that, bro," someone said. "People just don't like you coming out here and paddling circles around us," someone said. "We all know each other. Take that thing somewhere else."
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The atmosphere grew tenser as the moments passed. People still caught waves, including Ned. But he was tweaking the vibe out there and tempers were coming to a boil. FInally, Skip, the wiry kid, paddled into a good one. Ned, coming from way outside, dropped in on him, seemingly without a second thought.
For those who don't know, dropping in on someone is one of the ultimate no-nos of the sport of surfing. Not only is it considered disrespectful; it can be straight-up dangerous under certain conditions. As a general rule, the surfer who takes off deepest, closest to the peak, has the wave. Period. If the waves are good or conditions are dangerous, to drop in on someone is to pick a fight.
As Skip approached, gaining speed on his shortboard, Ned finally pulled out. Skip hit the lip, spraying Ned as a gesture of frustration. Ned didn't like that. When Skip finished the wave, they both stood in waist-deep water at the shallow beach break. Ned came at the much tinier Skip in a rage, wildly swinging his heavy paddle like a carbon fiber battle axe. Desperate, Skip ducked and maneuvered. He picked up his surfboard and fended off some of the blows with his skags. Then, just at the right moment, Skip dropped his board and caught the paddle with his hands, ripped it from Ned's grip and began beating him with the handle. He threw the paddle away and picked up Ned's giant paddlebaord. With astounding accuracy, the skinny, tattooed local heaved the board toward the raging paddler. It struck him in the eyebrow. Blood gushed.
By this time, most of the surfers at the point had paddled into shallow water or stood on the shore watching the fight. Ned, face drenched in blood, got out of the water and ran away. Yes, ran away, leaving board and paddle behind. People cheered. It was a local victory for the Point, and it was a tiny, unarmed kid beating up a huge guy who attacked him with a battle axe. Irresistible.