Should you find yourself in circumstances where you have no choice but to get in the water and pretend that you know something about surfing, there are a few basic guidelines which you will need to observe.
If you don’t, you’ll look like a ‘grom’ or a ‘grommet’ – aka a total beginner. Worse, you might look like a ‘kook’ – someone who has tried surfing already but is still struggling to grasp the basic fundamentals of the sport. Worry no further.
Here’s what you need to know and say to survive your first time surfing.
Give me the basics
Find a quiet beach with a gentle wave out of sight of any interested observers, and get to grips with the surfboard in relative privacy. We’re not providing a lesson in how to do it here; this is a lesson in how to pretend you can do it – so don’t waste too much time trying to learn. All you need to know is that the pointy bit goes at the front, and that you go on top.
Don’t try to stand. It’s never a good idea. Instead, lie flat on your stomach and paddle about as if you’re waiting for the perfect wave. After a while paddle into shore, complaining loudly about the ‘swell direction’. This will only mean something to experts, none of whom will be within a couple of nautical miles if you’ve chosen your location carefully.
Note: it is VERY important that nobody thinks you are a ‘bodyboarder’ (the lowest form of surfer with nicknames like ‘speed bumps’, ‘boogers’ and ‘doormats’), so don’t try and catch a wave when you’re lying down (however satisfying it is).
What do I wear?
This is very important. Surf fashion has come a long way since the dreadful neon days of the 1980s. On the whole there are two types of surf fashion: the very right one and the very wrong one.
The right surf fashion excludes anything that isn’t a genuine surf brand. These keep you warm in the water, prevent genital rash, and make you look attractive to whichever sex you want to look attractive to. The big surf brands are what you need to wear if you want to be cool. Which of course you do.
Avoid own brand fashion items from large superstores, and anything that looks like it might be a counterfeit ‘designer’ brand (easily identified by the dye which will shortly run down your legs). These will make you look like a cheapskate – worse, they will make you look like a very incompetent bluffer, and you can’t afford to take that risk.
The unavoidable reality is that you’re going to have to bite the bullet and invest in the real thing – however ruinously expensive it is. And don’t imagine that you can pick up authentic surfing gear in second-hand shops.
Surfers rarely part with their clothes. The older and more tattered it is, the cooler it looks. That’s why so much surfing fashion is of the ‘ready-distressed’ variety, a look perfected by the Royal Mail. Simply put a new garment in the post to yourself and you’ll see why.
What accessories will I need?
Surfing hats used to be uncool, but when surfers started losing their noses and ears to skin cancer (not a good look), they rapidly became very definitely cool. So get some sort of head covering. Headbands and pirate-knotted ’kerchiefs are totally uncool and must never be worn.
As a general guide, anything that isn’t strictly necessary is to be avoided. The easiest way for a bluffer to determine what is vital from what is not is to evaluate accessories in terms of functionality. If the accessory has little real function then it’s probably just a deeply dodgy affectation (like a shark’s tooth necklace), and bluffers should not be seen dead wearing or using it.
So in fact all you need is: (a) a board, (b) a wetsuit (but only if you’re planning to go in the water) and (c) sunglasses. It is important that these have good UV lenses and make you look cool. Mirrored lenses are simply unacceptable – and try to avoid anything with too garish a tint. They’ll just make you look like an idiot.
Elasticated straps are advisable because sunglasses always fly off in big waves (not that you’ll be anywhere near them). Try to get something faded and threadbare which makes you look like you’ve been around a lot. (d) Sunscreen. Bluffers don’t peel. Slop on as much as you can (even when the sun isn’t out). (e) A hat.
What do I say?
It’s more a case of what you don’t say. ‘Are you going for a surf?’, for example, isn’t going to win you many friends if someone is halfway through wriggling into his or her gear. You’re most likely to get a sneering, ‘No, I’m off to milk a cow in a rubber wetsuit’ type of answer.
Similarly, if someone is walking down to the water’s edge with their surfboard and you ask the same question, don’t be surprised if you get something like: ‘No, I’m taking my board for a walk’. Either way, you’re going to sound like an idiot, which is not the vibe you want.
Rather, observe for a while and look for the right people to talk to. Questions like ‘How are the waves?’ or ‘Did you get a few?’ work fine and are innocuous enough, and don’t really leave you open to searching scrutiny.
What sort of surfer should I claim to be?
A good one, obviously. Never admit to inexperience. Hint at a past of intrepid ‘Big Wave’ surfing to anybody who enquires. If they also ask why they’ve never seen you surfing, look meaningfully into the distance saying tremulously: ‘The Wave at the End of the World.’
If they press further, simply say: ‘I was one of the first to discover Shipstern, and there aren’t many of us left. I’m sorry but I can’t say any more, out of respect to those who didn’t make it.’
Maximum bluffing value
Get on to the subject of sharks. Everybody loves to talk about sharks, but you will know about the Ampullae of Lorenzini and they probably won’t. These are the special sensing organs called electroreceptors in a shark’s snout. Sharks don’t like anything that interferes with them, like a deterrent which sends out electrical pulses and scrambles their senses.
This means that they’re likely to do one of two things: tear you limb from limb in a fury, or swim off in a hurry. The jury is still out on which option they’re most likely to choose. While you’re waiting for a verdict, you can always invest in a branded shark deterrent carry case and fill it full of beer.
DO SAY: ‘I prefer a three-fin Thruster set up for superior down-the-line speed.’
DON’T SAY: ‘I’m not kidding dude. I once rode a great white most of the way down the Pororoca.’
Adapted from The Bluffer’s Guide to Surfing, by Craig Jarvis, published by Bluffer’s. Also available as an ebook.
To test your bluffing ability, try the quiz on surfing here.
Photos: Getty, Bluffer’s, Thinkstock, Destination NSW