It's kinda like Fight Club. The first rule of surfing is you don't talk about surf spots. Ever. Surfers must follow this and other unwritten rules of surfing if they want to be accepted when they look to catch a wave.
It's kinda like Fight Club.
The first rule of surfing is you don't talk about surf spots.
You don't tell people where to go.
You don't take pictures that show the shoreline (because people can figure out where to go.)
Hard-core surfers guard their spots with their lives, because, if too many people find out about a spot, it's totally ruined.
"If I had a really sweet raspberry bush, I wouldn't tell anyone where it is, because then I'd have no raspberries for myself. It's the same thing. The waves will get too crowded to ride," said Hoyt Hottel, owner of Xtremely Board on State Road in Dartmouth.
"If you ask local surfers where to go, they'll tell you, 'Anywhere from New Hampshire to Long Island,'" he chuckled.
The best surf includes one rider, the perfect crest and miles of open ocean.
And that's why there will be no surf spots mentioned in this article.
Besides, those of you who surf already know them all, and those who don't need to start on a flat lake or pool.
Mr. Hottel acknowledged that he's "going to take some heat" from other surfers for even talking about surfing.
That's how hard-core dudes are in this niche culture.
"I've had people blame me for making surfing more popular because of the shop," he said, padding around his surf shop in bare feet.
"I'm like, 'I'm not handing out maps, bro.'"
Once, he said, a poser who couldn't surf pulled into a little-known spot with an "Xtremley Board" bumper sticker on the back of his truck. When the hard-core surfers saw it, they blamed Mr. Hottel for telling the kid where to surf.
("I did not tell that kid where to go," Mr. Hottel maintains.)
The basic underlying ideology of Surf Culture is this:
To the sport's most devoted disciples, waves are sacred. The best surfing is done alone.
Thankfully, though, for those who desperately want to learn, Mr. Hottel — like a senior captain helping a freshman on the first day of practice — has graciously offered to give us some pointers.
But before we get to the actual surfing part, you need to understand the etiquette of the Culture or you'll never make it out there.
Respect. Respect is huge in the world of surfing.
Respect the spot.
Respect the other surfers.
"Jerks and loudmouths" are spotted instantly and usually kicked out of a surf spot by other surfers. If they're being so obnoxious that they're "dangerous," they will literally be told to get out of the water.
"People get called out (of the water) all the time. Told to leave. Nobody wants to fight; they want to surf. You have to do something really dumb, two or three times, to get into a fight. Most people will just tell you: 'You're dangerous; you have no business here.' "
He added: "You can be enthusiastic, but don't be a loudmouth."
Remember that surfing is sacred.
The people out there on the ocean are in their own little worlds — don't bother them.
If you have no respect, you'll never make it into the spot's "pecking order."
"If a new kid shows up at a spot, all the locals will recognize him as new right away. You need to prove yourself to make it into the pecking order," Mr. Hottel said.
"You're not going to get any smiles or nods in the water until you prove you're not dangerous."
What makes a surfer "dangerous"?
"If they're loud and disrespectful or if they paddle out in the wrong spot, which puts them in the way when the wave comes."
There are two mortal sins in this world:
Letting go of your board and "dropping in."
"You never let go of your board. That's a big thing. You never let go.
"If someone lets go of a board, you've got a 9-foot board and a 9-foot leash — 18 feet in the way when another surfer comes."
But even worse than letting go is "dropping in."
"If a guy's already cruising and a new guy paddles right in front of him, that's dropping in. That's disrespectful. ...You gotta have etiquette."
The only way to work your way into the pecking order is to prove yourself "undangerous" over and over again at the same spot, he said.
"If you're respectful, it might take you a couple years to be accepted into the order. If you handle yourself poorly, maybe you'll never get accepted."
Once you understand that respect is key, then you can start the process of actually learning to surf.
"Learning can be very difficult or very easy depending on how you approach it. If you start with a very long board and do very small waves, it's very easy," Mr. Hottel said.
The longer the board, the easier it is to learn.
(However, as soon as you're able, get a shorter board — a long board is a major tip-off to other surfers that you're "dangerous.")
"A long board is also real hard to transport," Mr. Hottel said.
As soon as you get a good grasp on it, buy a "performance board," which are what hard-core surfers use.
Xtremely Board sells used and custom-made boards, ranging from $200 to $1,200.
If you buy used, feel the board to make sure there are no chips or hacks, although Mr. Hottel also sells repair kits with resin and wax.
Mr. Hottel said an average used board is $300, but a wicked sweet board — like the super fancy, custom-glass and polished kind — can run you upwards of $2,000.
You'll also need a wet suit.
"The water is dangerously cold until July or August. You need a wet suit almost all year round, with the exception of a few summer days. If the wind picks up or a cloud comes, it's going to get real cold real fast."
He pulled three wet suits off the rack — summer, fall and winter suits.
A summer suit will say "3/2" on the tag, meaning 3 mm thick on the body and 2mm thick on the arms. A fall suit will read "4/3" and a winter suit is "5/4" (or "6/4" for blizzard conditions) with a hood.
Next, you'll want a rash guard, which are those long-sleeved black or blue shirts you see surfers wearing in ads or movies.
"It keeps you from chafing and protects your stomach. But they'll make you colder unless you get black."
"Something about the way they wick the water."
You'll also need a bag for your board.
"Taking a board to the beach is like taking glass to the beach. They're extremely fragile," Mr. Hottel said of the fiberglass boards.
The last thing you'll need is sunscreen.
"There's no shade on the ocean," Mr. Hottel said.
Before you hit the waves, learn to paddle.
"Before you paddle out in the ocean and get in everyone's way, go to a lake or pool. Paddle until you're comfortable."
After you feel totally comfortable laying down on the board, lay it on dry land and stand on it.
Which way do you naturally put your feet?
Most people put their left foot first. Right foot forward is called "goofy foot." (There's nothing wrong with either way, just like being a righty or lefty hand-wise.)
Once you figure that out, go to the ocean and study how the waves break.
It's key to be able to tell a left-breaking wave from a right-breaking wave.
"You need to know how to identify them so you're not going right on a left or you'll just take a beating," Mr. Hottel warned.
"You just need to be able to surf front and backside."
Once you can identify waves, you can jump in and do "very, very small ankle-high, knee-high waves. Don't try to be a hero."
Lastly, don't get frustrated.
It takes years to be able to surf well.
But once you can, it's addictive, and you will want to travel the globe looking for bigger and better waves.
Mr. Hottel, who was a professional snow-boarder for 10 years, has been surfing for some 15 years. He does much of his surfing in Hawaii.
"I like the big island. I've surfed up and down the East Coast. I also like New Hampshire, it's got a very Pacific feel to it."
So what's a good spot around here?
"Anywhere from New Hampshire to Long Island," Mr. Hottel said with a sly grin.
Contact Lauren Daley at firstname.lastname@example.org.