Are there Any Rules at Sunset?
At our present stage of evolution, there are very few rules that can be enforced in the water, other than the usual laws that apply in civilized societies (no maiming, raping or killing). Once you've paddled out, anarchy largely prevails. Yes, Sunset is known for its mellow crowds, and you will find a higher degree of fellowship and courtesy here than at most breaks. Nonetheless, if a surfer has sufficient skill and chooses to dominate others, he or she will be able to get away with all sorts of antics, including wave-hogging, shoulder-hopping, dropping in, pushing others off the wave, leash-grabbing, heckling, and basically intimidating other surfers into moving to another location.
I only mention this harsh reality so that people are aware of the potential downside, not because I would ever encourage such behavior. In my opinion, ego-based aggression completely negates the whole spirit and function of surfing, which is to experience and commune with the awe-inspiring perfection of nature (isn't it?). Don't get me wrong, I don't always behave as selflessly in the water as I might like. It is easy to feel greedy when you see a beautiful wave approaching. But sometimes you can extract as much of a thrill by offering up one of those waves to another fellow surfer and seeing the joy you've imparted as he or she slides down the face.
If you understand what I'm saying, then you are part of the surfing tribe. (If not, then I guess you are in a tribe of one.) As a member of the surfing tribe, you will want to do your best to subscribe to the unwritten rules of surfing, not only because they have been handed down from generation to generation and because they are based on safety and common sense, but because they promote a community-based fellowship among all surfers. The unwritten rules of surfing are as follows:
1) The person closest to the breaking part of the wave has priority and right of way. Exception: If someone is up and riding, getting onto the wave behind that person does not give you right of way. In other words, the first person on a wave has priority and right of way.
2) The person farthest out or waiting longest has priority and right of way. Exception: If someone is consistently paddling out to the farthest spot and catching wave after wave while others wait, that is called wave-hogging and the persons' priority is revoked.
3) When conditions are fairly low-key, the first person who paddles for a wave or calls for it has priority and right of way. Do not expect this to apply in crowded conditions.
4) Do not drop in. Dropping in is taking off on a wave in front of someone who is already up and riding it. (If you are a thoroughly competent surfer, you may be able to take off on a SECTIONING wave when there is someone already on it, but only if that person is a great distance behind you, you are 100% certain that the person will not be able to make the section and you will in no way interfere with the flow of that surfer's ride. When there is any doubt, DON'T DROP IN.)
5) When caught inside, if you need to get past a wave that someone is riding, always paddle behind them on the white water side. Yes, you will probably get stuffed for the sake of someone else's ride, but it is far better to tumble around in white water then to be hit by a board. (Never assume a surfer will sacrifice his ride to avoid hitting you, as some may not care and others may not see you.) Do not paddle in front of someone unless you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that you will be at least 20 feet in front of them.
6) Do not kick out, bail out, or release your board in a manner that puts other surfers at risk.
7) Give respect to gain respect.
8) Give away a sweet wave to somebody you don't even know. This will make you an automatic member of the Groundswell Society, an organization dedicated "To every surfer who gives someone else the wave when they didn't have to."
By obeying these rules, you are helping to keep Sunset an enjoyable place to surf. Thank you!