Dear Lily, how can I navigate the crowds?

Dear Lily,

I’m at a level now where I feel ready to go surfing on my own, but now it’s coming into summer I’m worried about how busy the lineup will be at my local spot. I’ve heard people complaining about how crowded it is already, and I find it really demotivating when the line up is full of frustrated people battling for waves. How can I navigate the crowds and keep a positive mindset when it’s so busy?

Oh, I feel you on this one! People being negative about a busy lineup is something that can really affect your mood in the water. But let’s face it – there are more people surfing now than ever before, so the crowds are here to stay (unless you live in some remote corner of Iceland, ha). Here’s what you can work on to increase your wave count between the crowds…

First you want to nail your positioning. I know, it’s scary to throw yourself into the crowd, but you’ll really struggle to catch a wave if you stay too far out on the shoulder. If you can’t seem to get into the right spot, look at where other surfers are sitting in the lineup, then when they go for a wave you can paddle over to where they were sitting and wait your turn. If it’s really too busy at the peak and you don’t feel comfortable there, then look for a quieter section to start in.

Next up, practise your wave-reading skills! Train your eyes to look for the little waves that come in between the sets that nobody else notices. A friend of mine calls these the ‘invisible waves’ – and often these are the ones that end up walling up super nicely (and even more satisfying when you do catch them)!

It can be super intimidating when the lineup is mostly guys, or when you feel like everyone is at a higher level than you (been there, done that!). But assuming you’re clued up on your surf etiquette (we did a blog post on this here if anyone needs a refresher), know that you have a right to be there and you deserve to take up space in the line up. When you see a wave coming that you like the look of, get into position and start paddling for it no matter where you’re sitting in the ‘queue’. The worst that can happen is you have to pull out if there’s someone further on the inside, but often if people see that you’re committed to the wave they won’t bother getting involved.

That said, if someone does try to paddle for the same wave, speak up! I’ll never forget this fiesty young girl I saw at a spot in Morocco. She can’t have been more than 10 years old, but she would literally scream at the top of her lungs if anyone dared to drop her! I remember hearing her and thinking, ‘Wow, good on ya girl!’ I’m not saying you need to lose your voice over it, but don’t be afraid to make yourself known and hold your space on a wave. When you know you’ve got priority and someone tries to drop you, a friendly ‘hey!’ should hopefully put them off.

Surfing is a pretty individualistic sport, so it’s easy to get stuck in that competitive ‘me vs. them’ mindset of ‘that was my wave and you took it’. What helps me to overcome frustration in a busy lineup is shifting my perspective of the crowd and looking at surfing as a collective experience instead of just my own individual experience.

I think it can only make the whole experience more joyful and fulfilling if we recognise that we’re all there in the water for the same reason. We’re all hoping for a chance to feel those few fleeting moments of joy that riding a wave gives us. So try to see the surfers around you as your community of joy seekers, instead of your competition. Easier said than done maybe, but make it your practice to spread good vibes in the water. Say hello to people, tell someone if they got a sick wave and throw a smile in the direction of any negative comments about the crowds. Give the impression of having fun regardless, and hopefully, that will rub off on others! 

In the end, it always comes back to the joy of surfing (for me at least). It’s actually ridiculous that we get to have this experience in the first place – waves are a meteorological miracle! It’s easy to forget this magic when there are so many people around, but don’t let the frustration of others steal your joy. That’s what we’re all there for in the end. So protect your positive energy, keep a smile on your face and keep sharing the stoke.

Wishing you endless joy waves,

Love, Lily x

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