Archive for March, 2021

The issue of over crowding in the line up is not just frustrating but can be quite perilous as well. All photos by Adela Lisanti unless other wise noted.

On Saturday March 6th 2021 surfer Gerald Gilhool Jr died at Rincon. I wasn’t there when it happened. Rincon is one of the last places you will find me surfing on a Saturday due to the usually annoying, large and somewhat kooky crowds. If you read the surflog I was scoring fun El Capitan.

Perfect long clean lines is what makes the allure of Rincon a surf magnet for the masses

I found out about the incident while surfing Rincon in the days that followed . From what I gather Gerry ran over another surfer who was paddling back out and as a result of the collision wiped out. Ironically the guy who got ran over took some minor head injuries while Gerry’s was fatal!?!

There isn’t much I can say about Gerry. I didn’t know the dude. I probably saw him out there a handful of times though I didn’t recognize any of his pictures in the papers. It’s always a shame when someone dies surfing, especially on a day that wasn’t considered life threatening by any standards. He was a local, hailing from Ojai.

Everyone wants to ride that perfect wave, but we also want to live to tell the tale

I would like to use this tragic incident as a forum to speak out on an issue that has been growing painfully bad and really came to a head in the wake of Covid19. Surfing has been overrun with an influx of participants from all walks of life and all different levels of both surfing and ocean competency. The diaspora across this new somewhat unmanageable Surf population has caused quite the conundrum. The recent incident at Rincon is a perfect example of things becoming out of hand.

Ever since I became a surfer thirty years ago the rules of the sport were engrained into me early on. Back then I don’t even know if one could even call surfing a sport. It definitely had a very different timbre about its participants then it does now. In general we were a counter culture of bums and burn outs, considered the dregs/outcasts of society. As a result surfers of the time formed their own set of rules, ethics and morals within the sport. Though some what backward thinking many of the laws were, they governed the line up and kept order and safety as opposed to the chaotic free for all that takes place at just about every surf spot today.

Large waves used to separate the novice from the elite. These days it’s a free for all.

Not even conditions seem to control what goes on. I can’t believe how crowded a spot like Mavericks or the Hawaiian outer reefs are when it’s scary big. Is nothing sacred anymore. It is because of this over crowding that many new comers to the sport in the last ten years or so may have misunderstood the perilous nature of wave riding. Sure entertainment and surf companies sell it as a fun happy go lucky life style. Ben Gravy is out there charging everything on a glorified wave storm showing that anyone can just go to the nearest Costco, fork across eighty bucks and is instantly a surfer. Whooo hoooo!

Even Pipeline Legend Gerry Lopez has his own signature soft top available at Costco.

Surfing is inherently dangerous, as is the ocean. There are so many factors that can be life threatening out there; waves, rocks, rip tides, sea life, bottom contours are just a few and lets not forget the dangers of other surfers. A list of ocean hazards could go on for pages. After thirty years I’m still finding new dangers. Like I said surfing is fun but dangerous.

We may not be able to control the natural perils but we certainly can control our own safety and that of other surfers. First off, know your ability level and comfort zone and choose where and when you surf accordingly. Even I have my limits and know when a line up is too gnarly for me. By making the call not to paddle out I’m not just protecting my own life but the lives of the other surfers out in the ocean and the lives of water rescue services who would have to come save me if I got into trouble.

Not being at an elite level of surfing ability can put you in harms way by not being able to anticipate what a surfer on a wave coming at you may pull.

Also let’s take a moment and talk about the level of surfing at certain surf spots. There are plenty of waves to surf up and down the coast all with different levels of expertise needed to enjoy them. If you pull up to a line up and everyone out there is surfing at an expert level and your surfing isn’t up to that competency then maybe it’s a good idea to surf elsewhere that day. Also ask yourself if at your current ability levels if you are even going to have fun at such a spot, especially if a mile up or down the coast there is a perfectly fun wave for you. Your lack of ability in this crew would for sure at some point during the session put you and possibly another surfer in danger.

The surfer paddling back out anticipates what the surfer on the wave is doing and reacts accordingly to stay out of the way.

This goes for advanced surfers as well pertaining to paddling out into a crowded line up of beginners. This too would make for a potentially dangerous situation. Try and surf with in the confines of your ability level. Obviously there are always going to be line ups that are mixed bags in this case be alert of your surroundings.

Don’t be that frustrated ripper caught in a kook orgy.

Finally something I have been guilty of more then once, a good wave or section is not worth hurting someone or yourself over. There are plenty of instances where I had a great wave, barrel or air section ruined cause there was another surfer who got in my way. Sometimes it’s not the guy in the ways fault. We have all gotten caught inside or just come up from a wipe out and found ourselves in a potentially dangerous situation where we could be struck by a surfer on the next wave. When in doubt pull out. If you’re already in the wave try and avoid hitting the surfer floundering on the inside. Worst case scenario ditch your board out of the way and try and soften the blow that is about to be taken.

If you collide with another surfer and get hurt your session is over. If the other party gets hurt you are most likely going to have to help that surfer into the beach. If you’re equipment gets damaged that’s the end of your session and a costly ding repair. All for the the self gratification of fitting in one more turn. There will always be another wave to surf.

It’s hard to give up a perfect tube because of a kook on the inside. Photo: Christopher Dunlea

Take poor Gerry as a lesson. Because of his collision at Rincon he tragically won’t be able to surf another wave. Like I said I wasn’t there when the accident happened. At the post office (my personal hell at the moment) the motto is that 99% of all accidents are avoidable if the right care is taken. Next time you’re out there think of more then just yourself and pay attention to your surroundings and other fellow surfers. I know as surfers we are inherently selfish but if that’s the case use that selfishness to want to continue surfing by not accidentally hitting another surfer.

Post script: I was almost ran over by a friend of mine at Silver Strand. I had failed to make a barrel and came up right in the impact zone as my friend was about to drop into a heavy one. He saw me last minute and bailed, but got sucked over the falls. I managed to duck dive him and his board. This is was an unavoidable incident that both of us used our skills to prevent going badly. Of course if I hadn’t kooked my wave it wouldn’t have even been an issue.

With a little bit of caution we can all get out in the ocean and get that perfect wave. Photo: Adela Lisanti

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