In cases like these, it's amazing how “true” both sides can be. In certain fields of journalism, we call this phenomenon the “subjective prism.” This term refers to the highly subjective, elusive, adaptive and at times inconclusive nature of truth itself. The classic example given is the story of the journalist who set out to write about a sunset. He asked a total of five witnesses what color the sky was that day, and he received five different answers. Sometimes, the truest way to tell a story is to tell all sides. If you get five different answers, you write that those who witnessed the sunset reported five different colors. Who knows, when it comes to sunsets and fights, all sides just might be equally “true.”
In “fact,” we were able to corroborate much of Ned's…er…Thomas' story with the same number of witnesses as the other version. Bottom line, when violence erupts between two surfers, who is right and who is wrong is often a shady matter difficult to discern. But what we can do is report the facts, and the statements of participants and witnesses. So, we continue our story. What follows is not the opinions or impressions of the OC Weekly, but rather a pretty rigorous interview of Thomas, a local surfer who feels strongly that his side of the sad tale needs to be told . . .
OC WEEKLY: Hi, Thomas. Tell us a bit about your side of the fight story. First, how did the altercation begin?
THOMAS BIRD: I'm usually up at 50th [Street]. Most people up there know me, that I know what I'm doing out there. . . . Usually I have respect for people on the waves. That day, one of my friends was like, “hey, it's happening at 15th today.” I was out there cruising around. So this guy does an aerial right by me. I kept it positive. I said, you know, “nice aerial, man,” or something like that. But he starts yellin' and cussin', so I moved about 50 yards away from that guy, down the beach. I got some compliments from surfers for doing that. And someone told me to be careful of those guys. But he kept heckling at me, and some other guys were heckling, too. I think it was like all his friends, so it was me against all of them.
And what about the final incident?
OK, so I get in the wave. He gets in it and comes at me again. . . . He cruises around me. He's a good surfer, you know–
You say he went around you. Does that mean you dropped in on him?
No, no. It wasn't really like that at all. We were just both on the wave. It happens. Actually, I think what happened was he changed his direction and started going right, and I was going left. So he just sort of cruised around me. Again, he's a really good surfer.
OK, cool. Go on . . .
OK. So then I kind of went over him in the whitewash after he was off the wave. Not on purpose, that's just the way it happened. He said [my board] bonked him on the head. . . . Honestly I don't know. He was pissed. He was out of control. So he comes at me with his board, screaming. I wish I never took that wave. . . . I involved myself with his anger and I got angry too. He starts attacking me with his board. And I was trying to take off my leash, reaching down.
And once the altercation had started, what ended up ensuing?
Well, I was trying to take off my board, and he was hitting me with his board. That's something that was wrong in the [previous] article. It wasn't my board he hit me with, it was his board, and he cut me. Meanwhile, another guy came over and kicked out my fin box. The board was toast. That's when I thought, OK, I'm in a bad situation, I don't want to be here.
So did you really swing your paddle like a battle axe?
No, not at all. I know better. Those things are made for long distance competition, so they're pretty light . . . definitely nothing close to a battle axe. But maybe you could hurt someone with one. I don't know, I've never tried.
You say you fled the scene for the benefit of everyone involved. So is that the point when you left?
Yeah. In Newport Beach, I knew the cops would be there in one to two minutes. . . . I don't want to be arrested for anything. When cops get a call on violence, it seems like they're there to arrest everybody and figure it out later. Plus, I didn't think there was anyone who really witnessed it except his friends. I grabbed my paddle and left my board.
So, how many people do you remember getting involved in the hostilities?
There were three immediate people, and also a lot of movement in the water coming my direction, so I'm like, I'm outta here, man! [laughing] But I went back awhile later and got my board. My wife thought I needed to get it. She said it wasn't right. So I went back to the lifeguard headquarters on the pier and grabbed it from them. They were like, “Man, that wasn't cool, I hope you're OK.” And this local lady on the beach, too, said she saw the whole thing.
Have you been in this situation before?
Yeah, actually. About a month ago six of these same guys attacked me and my business partner in an alley. . . . I don't get it. Maybe a lot of people have tried to take their spot from them before. I can respect localism sometimes. But more so, I think respect is based on ability in the water and treating others with respect out there.
As a standup paddler, can you tell us anything about the growing tension between SUPing and surfing?
It's a traditional Polynesian means of water travel. . . . They'd go island to island on paddleboards. Hawaiian kings used to do it. I mean, we respect the fact that shortboards came from longboards . . . but now that the ocean is doing its thing and calling its people into something new, people don't like it. I call little guys on little boards “horse jockeys.” They call us “janitors,” cause the paddle is like a broom. It's funny. I understand the transition is rough because a lot of guys don't know what they're doing with these big boards. But then a lot of guys are adapting and going to shorter boards, too.
Are you a surfer, too?
I was. I should tell you about my accident. Basically, I got hurt really bad going over the falls and landing right on my head. I can't lift my head anymore at all. I was lucky, but I can't lift my head the way you do when you're lying on your board. So that's how I got into standup paddling. I turned it into something positive.
What are your thoughts on violence and surfing in general?
If it's gone to the point of violence, you've taken the sport out of context. It kills the whole thing. The whole reason we're out there is to be kids in the first place . . . the spirit of aloha and all that . . . most people just don't get that. I've seen violence like that a lot, on the west side of Oahu.
Are there any solutions or recommendations you'd make to avoid stuff like this in the future, at the point or anywhere else?
Respect for ability in the water is number one. If a guy has the ability, and he's not in everyone's way. For me, I've adapted the standup board for the waves here. I cut two feet off my board and re-shaped it for the steep waves at 50th, and just to cater to the local surfers. I don't want them getting mad.
Photo courtesy of Liongamez.com
Thomas N friends “paddle skating”