The Dazzling Blue #35: A Superstitious Tribe

Magic boards are a rare thing in the surf world. When they come around they take us to new heights in performance, they show us a deeper connection with the wave.

            There’s a chicken-egg element at work. Like the notion of a soul mate, is it specifically the board that elevates us, or is it a confluence of us being in a higher groove and that board just happens to be there at that time? (“We get the partners we deserve,” a marriage counselor once told me.)

            So the magic board enters our lives, it gives us a glimpse of our own surfing divinity, and in turn it raises the bar. We’ll be forever chasing that appendage-like connectedness, we’ll dream at night of dancing across water with that oneness.

            And in our chase we’ll get weird. We’ll wonder what exactly it was that made it all come together. There was the magic board, but there was also the wax, the leash (or no leash), the fins, the boardshorts and/or wetsuit, the towel you used to change into boardshorts and/or wetsuit, the sunscreen, the pre-surf breakfast, the music you listened to before paddling out, et al. We’ll trace all that preceded an excellent surf—or an excellent period of surfing—and we’ll obsess over it, and we’ll repeat it in an effort to get that thrill back.

            Any ambitious surfer knows this, but no one knows it like the pros. One of my surfing heroes growing up was Cheyne Horan, who I’d been told had a thing about clean teeth. He’d brush and floss before every heat. Four-time world champ Mark Richards never shaved during contests. In my pro surfing days, the general rule was that if you won your first heat, you repeated those pre-heat steps/rituals from round two onward. That means if you drank a bottle of Gatorade and peed in a particular toilet stall an hour before your heat, you followed suit before your next heat, and if someone was using that toilet stall, you waited for them to finish, you didn’t use the stall next door. It was an interesting way to find your groove. It was as if all those little steps were ways to summon your inner Superman.

            I googled “surfers and their weird-ass superstitions” and found nothing terribly new. “Don’t eat shark and shark won’t eat you” is a maxim that surfers who live in sharky areas live by. The Indonesians have a thing about never bringing anything green into the sea. There’s an Aussie surfer who never takes a leak before paddling out (a dehydration thing, I think). There’s the surf sacrifice, i.e., best way to end a flat spell is to burn a board on the beach. Then there’s the amended, more environmentally-friendly surf sacrifice, which is to go out and get really drunk, and the next morning, when you’re brutally hungover, the wave gods will no doubt deliver something tasty.

            I have a friend who believes that it’s the “one more wave” that gets us. It’s getting late, you get a decent ride, nearly get out, then some voice in your head goes, ‘One more.’

            “That’s the one that gets you,” he told me.

            “How do you mean ‘gets you’?”

            “That’s the wave where you eat shit and get the nose of your board in the head, or where the shark suddenly appears, or where you bust a fin out in the shorebreak.”

            “What if you verbally announce that you’re getting one last wave to your buddy, does that nullify it?

            “What do you mean?”

            “Well, sometimes a superstition loses its power if you speak about it.”

            “Oh, that’s not true at all. In fact if you speak about it I’d say that you multiply its power. ‘One last wave!’ and the next thing you know you’ve got a board in the head and a shark circling you and a couple of missing fins.”


- Jamie Brisick
The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.