Surfing encounters mirror real world relationships all the time. Not too long ago, when the south facing beachy at home was working, I witnessed a funny sort of blow-up. It reminded me of those relationships in which the two parties thrive on fighting. They love to yell at one another and the very act of yelling is not particularly malicious. One guy blatantly faded another, and upon paddling back out, the fade-ee asked the fade-er what his problem was. ‘Mate, you got the wave just before that one!’ he offered. The argument went to and fro as the two guys paddled back out side-by-side. As they sat up on their boards, a third guy piped up. He was sitting about 4 metres away, and had overheard the conversation. “Dude, you’re fuckwit!’ He said. “You get in arguments every time you come out here.” A smirk appeared on the culprit’s face. “Who are you…” he replied. Then, as an afterthought, added, “knob-jockey?” The argument slowly intensified as the three men sat in triangular formation, aiming abuse across the water, their tone neither overtly severe nor playful, but somewhere in between. “Should we take this to the beach?” Suggested the third wheel. The other thought about the proposition, then shrugged. “Righto. I haven’t had a dust up in years!”

It became clear however, that the knob-jockey was only bluffing when he replied, “Aah, you’re not worth it.” The argument slowly dissipated, but it was clear who had enjoyed it and who was feeling rattled. Those strange few moments ensued – the awkward, post-barney minutes, when you’ve had a run-in with someone but it’s not like you can both go your separate ways. The surf’s on, and the take-off area is pretty tight, so you both settle into position, bobbing just a few paces away from one another.

There are those arguments – peppered with a vague sense of hilarity and a not-too-serious edge – and then there are the ones that make you squirm. At a point break just south of where I’m living at the moment, there’s a local guy whose garnered himself the title, The Enforcer. There are Enforcers all over, just like there are self-appointed surf-coaches all over (but that’s another story). During a recent swell he had his angry face on – which is also his resting face – as he dropped in on an out-of-towner for the third time that session. The out-of-towner, for the record, is also a respected pro surfer and big wave charger, and was keeping a very reasonable wave-tally. At the end of his tether, he approached the snarling Enforcer. “Are you ok?” He ventured. “Is something wrong?” “Just fuck off!” was the reply he received. Bewildered, he turned to paddle away. “I hope you’re day gets better mate.” He said as he went. The Enforcer continued to paddle around the line-up fuming, giving everyone the evil eye. And that’s just a regular session for him, I’m told.

Just like on dry land, some people thrive on conflict, others avoid it at all costs, no matter how many drop-ins they have to bear. They’ll simply put their heads down and paddle to the next peak. Others go through their surfing life in a perpetual state of rage, seeking out encounters that will set them off.