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Surfers on How They Deal With a Blue Wave That’s More Like a Ripple

‘If the waves aren’t the ones you expected, pack it up early and go get yourself a breakfast burrito’

Last month the New York Times asked, “What Could Ruin a Big Blue Wave?” Yesterday, the L.A. Times suggested that the “blue wave” has already arrived in California, while Mic wondered if the big blue wave might actually be more of a blue ripple. Finally, the New Mexico NPR affiliate recently pondered whether the blue wave will reach the southern portion of the Land of Enchantment. (I’ll quickly remind you that literally speaking, if a “blue wave” did in fact reach completely landlocked southern New Mexico, we’d all be well on our way to the literal apocalypse.)

My point is, for months we’ve listened to everyone from political candidates, to campaign managers and political pundits, to insufferable Tinder dates and family members insist that a blue wave is coming during the mid-terms. And depending on which party you support, a blue wave is sure to sweep away your existential dread or extinguish your hope that America Can Be Made Great Again.

But here’s the thing, I’m not a political pundit — and I’m definitely not in the business of forecasting political swells. I do, however, surf. Which means I know a thing or two about the disappointment of packing your car and driving to the beach expecting five- to six-foot barrels and ending up looking out onto a sea of barely surfable whitewash. Put another way, I know all too well what it feels like to expect one type of wave only to get a completely different one — or none at all.

Surf reports like this one, similar to election forecasts, are even designed to appear incredibly scientific. They use phrases like “modest scale mix of NW/WNW swell and new, steep-angled SSW Southern Hemi moving in,” to appear well-researched. But unless you have a deep understanding of how wind speeds and angles affect various tides at various surf spots at various times, all you want to know is how big the waves are and at what time they’re going to have the best shape.

No matter the forecast’s packaging, though, most surfers know that swells never quite meet their predicted expectations. “The joke term I hear a lot is: ‘Surf-lies,’” says Jeff Wainwright, a surfer in L.A. “It’s a joke made about the popular Surfline app — when the app says there’s gonna be swell, there usually isn’t.”

To that end, Rustin, an 18-year-old surfer also in L.A., tells me that there’s nothing worse than having your hopes dashed by a swell that isn’t nearly as great as promised — especially when you’ve been waiting weeks for it to make landfall. It is, in fact, part of the reason why he doesn’t surf as much anymore. “To drive all the way to the beach, which, for me, takes about an hour and to find out that the five-foot waves you were expecting are either choppy or blown out, is a killer,” he says. Taylor Lake, a surfer in Santa Barbara, adds, “I definitely drive home dry and sulk in sadness,” he explains. “Nothing angers me more than when expectations don’t match reality.”

Still, not everyone gives up because of it. “My friends and I definitely make the best out of it,” says Wainwright. “That said, the subject of conversation in the water is definitely ‘surf-lies.’” Kyle, another surfer I know, agrees. “You still make the best of it,” he says. I mean you made the effort to suit up and paddle out there, which is the hardest part. So you might as well make it count someway or somehow. Even if it means you boogie board.”

Sometimes, in fact, defeat can actually be sort of delicious. At least per Mike, a surfer of more than 50 years who offers the kind of perspective that is sure to turn around any shitty outcome — whether it’s a day of lousy surf or an election result that will make it hard to sleep at night. “If the waves aren’t the ones you expected, pack it up early and go get yourself a breakfast burrito,” he says. “Easy on the eggs, extra crispy bacon and extra hot sauce. Disappointment doesn’t have to taste so shitty.”