Wave rage

Some Aussie surfers are attacking tourist "kooks" for stealing their breaks.

Published June 9, 2000 7:02PM (EDT)

When traveling in the USA, the land of the automobile, one must be wary of road rage. Down Under, in the land of surfing, one must be careful of wave rage. According to a recent BBC report, several of Australia's most popular surfing breaks have become battlegrounds between locals and tourists. And the locals are winning.

Here's the scoop: Young travelers, usually male, show up, take one look at those long, beautiful breaks and, before you can say "Don't forget your rash guard," they're in the water, paddling to catch the wave of their dreams.

Now, here's where things turn sour. As anybody who has ever surfed knows, paddling is a lot of work. Then there's the timing -- it has to be perfect or you'll miss the wave. And then there's the wave itself; it may peter out, or it may be the wave everybody's looking for. If it's the one, it's guaranteed that a lot of people are going to want to ride it.

But the unlucky visitor who drops in on a wave and cuts off a local is headed for trouble. Grant Walton, a Sydney surfer, told the BBC what happened to a foreigner who made this very mistake. "They beat him pretty badly," he said. "It was brutal stuff. The bloke got smashed."

On Sydney's Bondi and Manly beaches, things have gotten so out of control that the Surfrider Foundation of Australia has begun distributing pamphlets and posters with surfing rules written in English, Japanese, Hebrew and German to nearby hostels and cafes.

Apparently, most Aussie surfers are placing the blame on "grommets" or "kooks" -- young or inexperienced surfers -- who don't know the rules. That, however, can't explain what happened to Nat Young, Australia's former world surfing champion. After a shouting match over a wave at Angourie Beach in New South Wales, Young was attacked, and ended up in surgery with two broken eye sockets, cracked cheekbones and sinuses that no longer work the way they used to.

And I thought the whole point of the sport was to have fun.

By J.A. Getzlaff

J.A. Getzlaff's Daily Planet appears every weekday. Do you have a tip or tale for J.A.? Send it to DailyPlanet@salon.com.

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