Has Surf Forecasting Ruined Surfing?

Recently a new community news website editor asked me to write a daily surf report.

I live a short walk away from several bluff-top overlooks. I rarely go online and check the surf report. I can just take a two-minute walk and see what the waves are doing. I have a handy Tidelog that functions better than a normal tide chart. You can see not only what time the tides are high and low, but when they’ll start really pushing and draining, almost down to the half hour.

Surf cams have been around for over a decade now and many salty dogs lament them for ruining surfing. The surf cams, they argue, make it easy for inlanders to assess if it’s worth paddling out. If the webcam shows the best local spot running head high, swarms of inlanders will hop in their SUVs and invade the coast and the lineup.

Some surfers argue that webcams are much more egregious than text surf reports because often times the text reports get it completely wrong. But pictures don’t lie. If someone who lives far from the coast sees with his/her own eyes that a good swell’s pumping some fun waves, what more evidence do they need than it’s worth it to paddle out?

So have surf cams and surf reports ruined surfing? It depends on your perspective. If you’ve been surfing for decades, long before the Internet, you probably hate online surf forecasting. But even back in the day, there were phone numbers you could call to get a surf report, like the local hotline for the National Weather Service. You could even call your local lifeguard station. For a really detailed report you could even call a pay-for-service.

Things change and evolve. It’s okay to be nostalgic about the past and savor the memories of much-less crowded days. But if you’re really upset at how the lineups have gotten crowded, you are merely denying evolution. Things change. Either adapt or just accept you’re going to be a miserable curmudgeon. Do you really want to spend the latter half of your life a totally cynical buzz kill?

If it’s good waves and solitude you want, then move from crowded coastal areas. Or band together with other fellow surfers and become activists and legally try to get the surf cams removed.

But just because surf cams and online reports exist doesn’t mean that surf forecasting alone is to blame for crowded surf.

Even if those technologies did not yet exist, the waves would still be crowded. There are simply just more people in the lineup and the inlanders would find out one way or another if it would be worth driving to the coast from their mansions on the hill.

If you want to blame any entity for the massive amount of surfers in the lineup, look down at your chest. Chances are you’re wearing apparel featuring the logo of a popular surfing company. It’s these companies that have gotten so bloated, enjoying being traded on stockmarkets, that are the root cause of surfing’s mega popularity. Somehow these companies were able to thrust surfing into the global consciousness when just a few decades ago, it was an activity associated with societal drop outs.

If these massive surfwear companies never tried to be like Starbucks, then perhaps you wouldn’t see so many surfers in the water.

Before you go blaming surf cams and online reports for the influx of surfers in your lineup, look in the mirror and face the facts. Your consumption of global brands has contributed to your favorite spot getting crowded.

Am I compromising my own principles by writing a surf report? Do I really need the extra cash it’ll bring me to continue living my surf lifestyle?

Whatever I decide, ultimately, it’s not surf reports and webcams that have made surf breaks crowded. If I do write the report, I promise not to mention your favorite spot by name. I’ll even understate the conditions when they’re good. I promise….

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