An Emily Post for Surfing

The learning curve is steep, the ocean is unforgiving, and so are many of the experienced surfers you will share the water with
Peter Spacek, man of many artistic and surfing talents Durell Godfrey

Peter Spacek
Ditch Ink, $8.95

    You have purchased a brand-new surfboard. It’s set you back about $1,000, but for years you’ve wanted to learn how to surf. “It’s on my bucket list,” you’ve told your friends.

    So, here goes. You’ve successfully taken the board, enshrouded in its protective bag, down off the car rack. You begin taking the board out of the bag in the parking lot, but notice the look of annoyance on the face of the surfer waiting to pull into the spot next to you. The surf is good. He’s hot to get in the water.

    Okay, the board’s out of the bag. You’ve got it under your arm. You swing around toward the beach and almost take a kid’s head off. “Hey, watch it ya jerk,” instructs the father. You make it to the beach. The sand is hot.

    At home that morning you spent at least a half-hour applying the wax that will keep you from slipping off the board. At least you knew that much. You lay the board down on the sand, deck-down. Two 14-year-old girl surfers point and giggle. When you turn your board over, the waxed deck is embedded with sand. Your first paddle out will be on an emery board guaranteed to shred you and your wetsuit. You’ve been humiliated three times and haven’t gotten to the water yet.

    As Peter Spacek points out on the first page of “Wetiquette: How to Hang Ten Without Stepping on Anyone’s Toes,” “Surfing is an exhilarating and difficult sport. Learning the fundamentals is accomplished only through repetition — it takes hundreds of waves to turn a beginner into a skilled wave rider.”

    The learning curve is steep, the ocean is unforgiving, and so are many of the experienced surfers you will share the water with. In golf etiquette, one does not talk when another member of the foursome is teeing off. The golfer whose ball is farthest from the cup putts first. A faux pas may draw an angry look, but will not likely result in a club bent over your head.

    Breaking one of surfing’s many rules, on the other hand — some of them subtle and/or tied to a specific surf spot — can result in being thrashed (verbally or worse) by a fellow surfer, the waves, or both. For decades, beginning surfers have thought, “If only there were an Emily Post of surfing.” Now, there is.

    Mr. Spacek, a lifelong surfer and The Star’s gifted cartoonist, has created a 10-chapter handbook that clearly and concisely lays out the basics, from the various types of waves a beginning surfer will confront to what mariners call “the rules of the road,” the dos and don’ts to be followed for a safe and enjoyable “go-out.” Each chapter comes with drawings that clearly illustrate the rules in question.

    Chapters include: “New to the Sport,” “Situations,” “Paddling Out,” “Picking Your Spot,” “Wave Choice,” “Basic Right of Way,” “Your Wave,” “Unexpected Company,” as well as “Random Info and Suggestions.”

    From the “Picking Your Spot” chapter: “This can be tricky. You want to be in the best spot to catch a wave and so does everyone else. There’s a loosely established order in place, which your arrival has disturbed. This is the time to be on your best behavior. Sit off to the side of the main pack and assess the situation. Do not sit too close — or in front of anyone. It’s considered an affront, and can be hazardous because it doesn’t give the necessary elbow room to spring clear of an unexpected outside wave, or from hard-to-predict incoming surfers.”

    And, from the “Your Wave” chapter: “You’re stroking for a wave that you believe should be yours. You feel it picking you up and you’re about to hop to your feet. Now, look over your shoulder, away from the direction you are about to go. Is there anyone already on the wave? If so, abort. Pull back sharply so you don’t go ‘over the falls’ onto the rider. If you choose to drop in anyway, you will have committed surfing’s worst crime. You’ve cut someone off. Before there were leashes, boards were routinely ‘shot’ at perpetrators.”

    A surfer who makes a practice of cutting someone off, or “dropping in,” becomes a pariah in the lineup. There are a few in Montauk who will remain nameless, although locals know one of them by his style, which involves throwing both arms up in the air every time he drops down the face of a wave. And, he has a house in Hawaii where I guarantee he doesn’t cut anyone off. In Hawaii, the rules and manners that Mr. Spacek lays out in his pocket bible are strictly enforced. Ouch!

    “Wetiquette” will be in Lee’s (oops, I slipped) stocking next Christmas. All kidding aside, this little book is a must-read for all beginning surfers, and it wouldn’t hurt veteran wave riders to take a refresher course through its pages in the interest of awesome fun, safety, and good vibes to the max.

    Peter Spacek, who lives in Springs, is the author of “Surf and Mirth.” “Wetiquette” is now out in a second edition.

An illustration from Mr. Spacek’s how-to guide for surfers, “Wetiquette.”