There has been more blood spilled at Longbeach in the last week than in the last few years combined. The blood isn’t from thugs beating each other up in the carpark, spilled over drugs or alcohol, nor even surf rage. No, the blood is from fellow wave-riders and spilled over waves, mostly through negligence, carelessness and driven by selfish attitudes. How did this situation arise in a place that is supposed to bring us shared joy and stoke?
Surfing is meant to embody the “Aloha Spirit”. In Hawaii, this means far more than a friendly greeting or farewell. It’s about love, peace and compassion. Aloha is mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. This concept of Hawaiian Aloha is the blue print that is supposed to govern every lineup, and beyond.
You need only look at Longbeach this past week and the two incidents below to discover that things are seriously out of control. Our lineups seem to be dominated by selfish, self-conceited individuals intent only on getting what is “mine” with little or no thought of others. And leaves me questioning, like the Black Eyed Peas song, “Where is the love?”
This isn’t the first, nor probably the last time an out of control surfboard will hurt someone out at Longbeach. Speaking to Matt Bromley’s dad John, serious surf injuries out at Longbeach have been happening since the early ’70’s. “Carl von Holdt became a quadriplegic around 1970-71 when old man Pops Dawie Sauerman lost his board and it hit Carl in the neck,” reflects John. Can you imagine? The trauma for both victim and perpetrator in an accidental incident of this nature. Unfortunately no matter how sorry we are – no matter the remorse felt, our feelings of compassion can’t reverse the impacts of an accident like the above. Accidents can and do happen, but we can also do our utmost to guard against the possibility by assessing ourselves; our equipment, our ability, our surroundings to better protect oneself and those around us.
Early on Saturday morning (24 November) resident local Kerry Motherwell was connected by a longboarder while paddling out and waiting for his first wave. Kerry hadn’t even wet his hair before the unknown assailant plied into him. In his own words, “I was sitting on my board waiting for a wave when this chap who was further out than I began paddling for a wave. But instead of directing his board and himself toward the beach he appeared to be aiming directly at me. When I realised this guy wasn’t about to alter his course I immediately tried to get my board out of the way, but by that time he was starting to go down the wave, he stood up and he just rode straight over me. There is no doubt in my mind that he thought he could somehow take off and still avoid me. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Totally reckless in my opinion. His fin hit my foot, severing everything from the skin to the bone and even took off some ankle bone which they had to reattach in hospital. It was an hour and a half surgery and a plastic surgeon had to reconstruct the ankle. I have no idea how much it is going to cost me, but the guy just got back onto his board after he hit me, grunted and paddled away, leaving me to bleed out in the lineup.”
Speaking to a fellow Kommetjie surfer Linda Ash who was out for her birthday surf with her son, “I just saw people scrambling out of this guy’s way and then I heard one hell-of-a-thump. It sounded terrible. I saw him checking his board before swinging around and just paddling back out without any concern for poor Kerry. I promise you, it wasn’t ten minutes later when I saw him paddle for another wave, just as out of control as the first and went straight over a youngster. Speaking to another surfer and my son, I said this guy is a danger in the lineup and someone should speak to him. Shortly after he caught his last wave, went straight through the middle of everyone and left.”
Then late on Tuesday afternoon (27 November) young provincial ripper, Levi Kolnik was severely injured while surfing main-peak Longbeach. World-champ longboarder and mother of two talented groms Simone Robb was shooting photographs from the rocks when the incident unfolded… “Basically, the guy on the yellow surfboard took off right on the backline and he was weaving through a crowd of about 10 or 15 people and I think Levi was paddling out or paddling in when the guy hit Levi from behind and the log stopped dead – you could hear the crack from the beach.”
Usually, people just paddle away after incidents like these in the water, but that person who hit Levi actually paddled him in, walked up the beach and helped him. “I love surfing Longbeach,” says Levi, “But it’s pretty difficult when there are lots of people out and you’re trying to find waves, so I try to sit more on the inside. Just before this happened we saw a set coming so we started paddling out and that’s when I saw the guy. I shouted as he stood up, but there were people on his left and right and I tried to move out of the way. That’s when he hit my leg. He went full-stop into my leg. His board landed up on the inside as it didn’t have a leash. He grabbed it, paddled out to me and asked me if I was ok. He then pushed me in, helped me through the shorebreak and then took me to Chris (Bond) who called my parents and the ambulance.” Levi had to be rushed to the hospital, required surgery that night to repair the severe damage to his leg and will be out of the water for several weeks.
“Longbeach has always been crowded as far as I can remember,” reflects Simone. I recall coming here when I was 15 years old and it was crowded then. The water was always cold and there were always issues in the water. There has never been order in the lineup at Longbeach. There used to be order out at The Dune and Outer Kom when Adrian Gouws’s dad Peter was surfing, but since then there has been zero order in the water anywhere. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Longbeach absolutely has no rules. I just tell my kids that if you see idiots coming towards you stay away from them and bail. It doesn’t matter if your boards get dinged, your head and body mustn’t. That’s it.”
Of particular concern in crowded lineups like Longbeach, these days is the choice by traditional loggers not to surf with a leash. Wanting to pick the brain of a renowned and accomplished longboarder I asked Simone about this too while she snapped some more photographs of the groms out at Longbeach. “If you want to surf without a leash fine, find yourself a private break with your own wave where your board is not going to roll in sideways and decapitate someone. Even if you’re bloody good, I’ve seen the worlds best lose their boards. You make mistakes. People make mistakes. It’s not the predictable things, it’s when someone does something stupid and you have to bail or something. It can cost a life. If a longboard or SUP or log hits you with the force of a wave like Longbeach it can kill you.”
Well known Kommetjie local, Matt Bromley had this to say: “Growing up at Longbeach was really awesome. It is one of the most fun, most high-performance waves around; lefts and rights, and especially with Crons right alongside it, we could learn to barrel ride from a young age. I never had problems with the crowd myself. When I was younger there was a pack of really good surfers slightly older than us – one generation up. I respected them and when a couple of my friends didn’t show due respect they were dealt with proper, old-school grom abuse. I remember James Woods getting his head stuck in the toilet at Longbeach ablutions. If you didn’t show respect you were dealt with. It was fair I think. This respect went both ways. Nowadays there are a lot of young guys shouting in the lineup, using bad language, trying to take all the waves – just being greedy, and I think there are a lot of young guys being cocky in the water and disrespectful towards outsiders, older people from the community… there has been no foundation established for order and respect. The groms today swarm the inside peak and this makes it very difficult for anyone else to get waves.”
“With regards to the longboarders; there seems to be a sense of ownership to the outside waves, and also a lot of them don’t wait their turn for a wave. A lot of them are quite busy in the water… and greedy. It’s all good if everyone is waiting their turn but a lot of the time they don’t. So between the longboarders on the outside and the grommets on the inside, there aren’t a lot of waves left for outsiders or visitors coming in from other areas who also want to enjoy a good surf. This creates bad vibes and things can and usually do get intense in the water. There is a strange dynamic to Longbeach, especially when it’s peak time. If you can surf outside of the peak times there are great waves and times to be had. Moms, dad, brothers and sisters all enjoying themselves.”
Longbeach local and Kommetjie Surf Club mentor Ant Tulleken agrees and broke down the issue out at Longbeach into five key components:
“Overcrowding – There has been an influx of foreigners arriving by the bus-load who don’t know the rules or how to conduct themselves.
Surf ability – Beginners are unable to control themselves or steer their too-big surfboards or SUP’s in the bowlier high-performance waves, especially at Crons.
Surf knowledge – A lot of people have not been taught how to behave appropriately in the surf. Like paddling straight up the face towards a surfer, throwing their boards out when approaching a foamy, paddling for a wave without looking to check if anyone else is already on the wave etc. This is experience one learns as a grom. Most new surfers these days don’t go through that foundation of learning respect at a young age from the older crew. Many surfers have missed out on that “nursery” phase where they are taught surf protocol and etiquette.
Weekend Warriors – These surfers are there to get as many waves as they can regardless of others. They only have an hour to surf away from their spouse, their kids, their work. They arrive to get their quota as quickly as they can on the biggest boards they can ride. A lot of arguments and bad vibes unfold out in the lineup when these surfers who have just caught a wave paddle back out and immediately turn to catch the very next wave. They just don’t give a stuff.
I’m Going – Like drunk driving or jaywalking, these surfers just go without a thought for anyone else. They are out of control, taking off on waves and literally riding over people who are trying to get out of their way. They just don’t have a flipping clue how to control their craft or don’t care. They will also just paddle right in front of you with no awareness of how dangerous a surfboard is – fins, the weight of a log or the nose of a shortboard.”
“A lot of locals have the attitude that if we don’t know you we don’t see you. At the Kommetjie Surf Club, we believe in the mentor down, respect up attitude. This isn’t an age thing, it includes ability. So if someone surfs better than me I will respect them. If I surf better than someone else I will assist and teach them. So many surfers out in the lineup unravel into shouting, screaming, swearing, kicking etc. which I don’t believe is the solution, but I can understand their frustration because it is seriously out of control now. Surfing is growing and the masses are coming, so we need to coexist and surf together in harmony. We’re trying to erect a nice big mural down at the Longbeach ablution block on surf protocol and etiquette. Experienced groms and ballies alike need to educate and teach the beginner groms and ballies – mentor down, respect up. With the right attitude, we can go a long way,” adds Ant.
Sitting on the boulder-strewn rise overlooking the peak of Longbeach I ponder the above conversations; the opinions, the complexity, the stupidity and the overall lack of respect and love we show our fellow surfers. The thought barely has time to gain answerable traction when I catch a glimpse of a foil-riding, Silver Surfer take flight, ride to the beach, kick out, pump his way back to the peak and cut through the crowded lineup for his second consecutive wave. Or was it his third?
In a message to Levi’s dad, Jake Kolnick, I put it this way: “That’s what a village is for. We’re all family. If one member is hurting, we’re all hurting, and we have to support and encourage each other. And likewise, if someone steps out of line and harms another, it’s our duty to stand up and call them out and set them straight.” If you’re in any doubt about what to do in a similar situation, let me break it down for you. The surfer who is riding the wave is in control and has the most agency in a situation like this, and it is their responsibility to navigate through a crowded line up respectfully and safely. It’s far harder for someone to paddle out of danger than it is for a surfer, who is already up and riding to avoid the danger in the first place. However, there is also an onus for those sitting on the inside to watch for the surfers coming through on the sets and make sure they’re not negligent or parking in dangerous positions.