When surf rage overrides stoke

‘Don’t be sorry. Be better,’ said the surfer, after I apologized for my role in a collision with him.

He didn’t look back. I watched him paddle out, his head high, back arched, shoulders squared, with the tips of his toes perched on the tail of his board.

Be better?

That seemed unfair.

I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes in the water, but which surfer hasn’t?  Is there a third umpire to decide exactly who is at fault on a playground that is fluid and crowded? Does it even matter who is at fault? When is an apology not enough? Are surfers on SUPs held to a higher account than those on surfboards? Are the mistakes of women less forgivable than those of men?

It’s not the first time I’ve been told off by a surfer or scorned for riding a SUP. I used to second guess myself and feel less worthy, but it’s exhausting and I’m done.

So, I paddled after him.

‘You messed up my wave,’ he said. The ride in question was a one to two foot Muizenberg family wave, with leftover onshore lumpiness that was only borderline pleasant.

‘You paddled in front of me,’ he said.

‘I couldn’t go the other way.’ As is so often the case at Muizenberg, when paddling back out.

The surfer then unleashed the most terrible verbal attack that I have ever experienced in my life. He told me to &%*off, called me an %$ing dumb $&@* and splashed water in my face.

I assume splashing water in the face of a fellow surfer is an attempt to silence or humiliate or a show of power? TBH it’s pretty shocking. The swearing continued, to the point that other men, the real men, intervened, telling the guy to stop.

Shaken, I wanted to cry and paddle away, but I thought that would give him what he wanted.

‘*%& off,’ he’d said again ‘@#$* dumb #$%*. Go surf somewhere else.’

 (I’m not sure where else I could go, if I am the kook he implies I am, besides Muizenberg?)

His eyes glittered as they reflected the colors of the water while he glared resolutely at the horizon.

I didn’t $%* off and surf somewhere else. Instead I stood my ground and carried on, although I was so afraid of getting in anyone’s way, that somehow I would blunder into making his words true, that I could barely paddle for anything at first.  

When I spoke of it after my session, I felt shaky and tearful. But the worst part, and I suspect women who are victims of physical violence probably experience this, is that the next day I started thinking that perhaps I deserved it. You know, if I hadn’t paddled after him and called him out for being rude after I apologised, I wouldn’t have been subjected to his surf rage. 

In my readings on the subject of verbal abuse, I have observed that insults like the ones he used are a show of power, they are used to imply that the recipient is weak. I have read that gendered slurs are hurled at women who speak up, who challenge, who express opinions that don’t fit into societal norms. Surfing has a history of male dominance, which has, in the main, changed, but perhaps not everyone is ready for a woman, let alone one on a SUP, who advocates for herself in the lineup. I’ve subsequently heard that another woman on a surfboard had a similar experience within days at Muizenberg, this time from an older man. She was sworn at, insulted and had sand thrown in her face.

‘It doesn’t matter what happened,’ said one of the men who stood up for me during the incident, who too was threatened, and also had water splashed in his face. ‘He shouldn’t talk to people like that.’

I’ve read that gendered slurs are also about control and dominance and are born out of deep-seated sexist views.

In an article on Gender Based Violence, the European Institute for Gender Equality states that GBV is not only physical, but also psychological. It says:

Psychological violence can take the form of, for example, coercion, defamation, verbal insult or harassment.

 I didn’t really want to write about my experience other than to make sense of it, because it becomes so real once published. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to post this to a public platform, for fear of backlash or causing trouble. I would prefer the whole incident to go away so I can just get on with surfing.

But it seems other women are also experiencing this kind of treatment in the water. If no one speaks up, then what? The anger and frustration boiling under the surface, evidenced by verbal abuse, might eventually bubble over again, perhaps in another form. No matter what mistakes we make or don’t make, what level of skill we are at, or what board we ride, this type of treatment is uncalled for.

I’m stoked to surf among real men at Muizenberg, men who called the guy out, and who continue to call out abusive behavior. It puts the abusive men on notice, that their behaviour is seen and not acceptable.

It is disturbing to me that the surfer who swore at me was a young man. I have, on occasion, been scorned by boys when I’m surfing my SUP. Where do they learn these attitudes? Who is teaching them that it’s okay to mock women in the surf, especially if they ride a different board? Is it at home, or in popular culture? Can mocking grow up to be abuse?

I’ve seen the surfer in question since, living his best life, toes on the nose, soul arching, doing his longboard thing. Isn’t it funny though, that when you have resentment, and you see the person who is the source of it, they’re having the best time and it’s you who’s torn up inside?

So, I know I have to let go of the negative energy, and let it fly. I need to counter it with kindness. I don’t believe in violence and revenge. I will let it ebb out with the tide. But we all know that one day the tide will turn. The universe brings justice in her own way.

  One thought on “When surf rage overrides stoke

  1. Dave Maxwell
    June 22, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Well written Missy. There are far to many people bringing bad attitudes into the water especially at Muizenberg where it should be more chilled than most places!

  2. Sue Bailey
    June 22, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    That was a.very good article Missy you certainly covered all the bases proud of you well done!!

  3. Keith Huskisson
    June 22, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    These bullies dont only verbally abuse women
    They pick on anyone who they think is on their wave. They think they own the ocean. It is a culture of domination and it spoils surfing. Thanks for highlighting this culture. Dont be quiet out there on the waves, speak up against any bullying, support the surfer who is getting abused.

    • June 22, 2020 at 6:37 pm

      That is true. Thank you.

    • Jason C.
      July 20, 2021 at 1:16 pm

      Well said Keith!

      Bullies don’t target just female surfers, they go after anyone. See my comment below. Jason C. (response to Kay Holt’s comments).

  4. Len Bradford
    June 22, 2020 at 7:50 pm

    Not cool , I get it often as a bodyboarder . Had a kneeboarder telling me I, as a bodyboarder, am not welcome at Black Rock Would love to have a friendly match with these guys on a judo mat.

    • June 23, 2020 at 7:51 am

      You did right in confronting him, such behavior shows the true character of the perpetrator and I feel sorry for those close to him. I am sure his tone would have been different if Rick was to have a chat with him 🙂

      • June 24, 2020 at 5:14 am

        Thanks! Fortunately downwinds in 40 knot South Easters with overhead swell make us brave!

  5. Robyn Taylor
    June 23, 2020 at 5:55 am

    Thank you for writing this, it feels like I could have written this myself! I have encountered a few bullies in the waves at Muizenberg and Big Bay who have no problem hurling abuse! Relieved I am not alone in this – thank you for sharing!

    • June 24, 2020 at 5:11 am

      Sorry you have also experienced this Robyn. Hopefully by having these conversations we can put the bullies on notice. Stay stoked.

  6. Rob
    June 23, 2020 at 7:28 am

    So sorry to hear of what happened to you in the surf at MZB, Missy. It is not acceptable. I had a similar experience at MZB yesterday when I surfed too close to a bloke paddling out. And later, I watched him ripping, so good a surfer he is. But there must have been times when he wasn’t as good as he is now; when he too made mistakes, but to sound off as he did and as if he ‘owns’ the break, shows what an arrogant, self-important person he is. I’ve surfed at many surfing spots in SA in my 50 plus years of surfing and MZB consistently has (for me) always given me the warmest feeling wrt to other surfers in the water. But what I experienced yesterday was a first fir me at MZB and it saddened rather than angered me. But what happened to you was totally unacceptable and angered me. Somewhere, sometime, he will get his ‘comeuppance. In the meantime, enjoy your surfing experiences and know, as you find out, that there are many out there who also don’t like how you were treated by this excuse for a man. Stay well and true.

    • June 24, 2020 at 5:17 am

      Thank you. Sorry that happened to you. Appreciate the support. Stay stoked!

  7. Chris scott
    June 23, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Hi Missy
    As bad as it was, you have found out you were not the only one who has suffered this kind of abuse because probably, its easier to swear and bully a lady than another man. Saying that, all it proves is that there are assholes wherever you go, trying to prove they are better than you and belittle you. The real “little”men will mouth off and make you feel like it’s your fault from bullying. As I guy, I am ashamed. But you know what, you stood your ground, you stood to a useless pathetic bully. His time will come. Dknt move away, it is just as your right to surf there as anybody else. Plenty of waves. Enjoy, keep SUP’ng, and share the stoke. Maybe he needs his poke stoked..

  8. mikeymike530
    June 23, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    Brilliant article, thanks, they must have abusive role models, just don’t let it keep you out if the water. I love seeing people enjoying the waves. Must have been uncomfortable, wish I was thete to help

  9. colin fitch
    June 23, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    Dear Missy, If you have a name and he is a local look me up on facebook. ColinRaymondFitch. I promise you that if I know him or any of my longboard friends know him I will sort him out. That is not the way we do things in our sport. We have progressed form that a long time ago. Any gender, racial or other abuse from one ocean lover to another is simply not acceptable and never tolerated in the sea or out the sea. So on behalf of myself and the World Surf League in Africa I as a man stand up and appoligise for this persons behaviour. We all drop in at some stage, we say sorry and we both paddle back out. End of story, have the next wave on me. This is what seperates the greats of our sports from the kooks. Keep on surfing.

    • June 23, 2020 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Colin, thank you so much for reaching out. I really appreciate your words and the support of the WSL on these matters. I admire the work the WSL has done to make surfing accessible to everyone. Thank you

    • Kay Holt
      June 23, 2020 at 5:38 pm

      Well said Colin… Am sure you know more than many others, that it is very hard for the fairer sex in the water!!! We are smaller, lighter , have less muscles and get paid less.. except on WCT!!!

      The only proven fitness element that woman could possibly equate to men is balance!!! But when being ‘klapped ‘ around by water, it makes it DEFINITELY harder for woman to perform as well as men.
      So why men or actually anyone can’t be considerate to especially female beginners on any water vehicle, is total discrimination, sexism and abuse like that is totally unacceptable….. Thanks for showing that you will not tolerate it Colin! You are always a gentleman.

      • Jason C.
        July 20, 2021 at 2:22 am

        Hey Kay Holt, it’s not about male surfers trying to dominate female surfers. Rude, aggressive locals come in both genders. I’ve seen angry female locals verbally dish out abuse, not just to other female surfers, but to guys as well! Although female, (aggressive) locals are not common (mainly males). Most thugs are out to attack any outside surfer, regardless if they are male or female. They will use anything against you to make you feel intimated, whether it’s your gender, race, build, beginner or just being a non local. Heck, some pro surfers have been assaulted by local surf gangs. For the rest of the regulars, most of them are friendly and welcoming.

  10. Paul O’Connell
    June 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Dear Missy,
    I am so sorry to hear of your experience from another of our clan, this person deserves the wrath of all who surf. As the Vice Chairman of SA Longboarding, I will do everything I can to expose whoever this person maybe.
    Can I please offer apologies on behalf of all SA Longboarders for your experience. Do not let this unpleasant situation detract from the wonderful experience of surfing the Berg.

    Regards, keep surfing!

    • June 24, 2020 at 5:29 am

      Thank you Paul, for your message of support and your kind words. I know this behaviour is not part of the culture and values of SA Longboarding or the WSL, and I appreciate you reaching out and getting in touch. There was a guy in a red/burgundy wetsuit who came to my assistance that day, and knowing that there are more men who will stand up to the bullies than not, is very heartening. Looking forward to my next surf, as always. Stay stoked.

  11. Geraldine
    June 24, 2020 at 4:41 am

    Muizenberg is such a big canvas for everyone to learn, enjoy and master their artwork. No need for bad attitude and largely unacceptable. I wonder if said surfer speaks to his wife like that?

  12. Dominic Young
    June 24, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    Anyone loosing their cool at Muizenberg is simply an indictment on them self on so many levels. The reality is that we have to share this world and all its blessings with all types. My advise would be, put the incident in a paper bag and throw it in the bin, he does not deserve another moment of your precious time. I have no doubt you are usually surrounded by beautiful people, unlike he understandably would not be. Karma will work it’s magic, if it has not already.

  13. August 3, 2020 at 5:34 am

    Wow. Beautifully written

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