Simple But Not Easy

I was surfing with some friends from Colorado who are visiting Mexico. They don’t get to surf very often, but had a good time surfing out in the sun and warm water here. As I watched them adjusting to the other surfers in the water, I was struck by something I read once, “power is never given, power is taken.”

The group of surfers waiting for a wave to show up is called the line-up. Your position in the line-up is the equivalent of your power and you can interchange “line-up position” for “power” in what I just quoted above – “a line-up position is never given, a line-up position is taken.”

It’s been many years since the Aloha spirit prevailed in surfing. At most spots there are now more surfers than waves available, so there’s a sort of athletic Darwinism at play. The weaker or less skilled surfers are always noted, and then disregarded as having any real shot at catching (m)any waves and they’re usually avoided if they’re too far out because they often make mistakes that can hurt other surfers. This isn’t done out of meanness, it’s just how things have developed and an order establishes itself as surfers come in and out of the line-up.

Even though a few surfers might paddle to catch an approaching wave, the main rule is that it belongs to the first person up and riding and the others are expected to pull off of it. On bigger waves there’s sometimes the feeling you pick up on in basketball photos of one player slamming a dunk over the player guarding him, or maybe it’s like the famous “look” Lance Armstrong gave to Jan Ullrich, taunting him to follow up a steep climb in the Tour de France. Power is taken.

Somehow weakness is sensed within the line-up, like a dog somehow sensing fear. You can feel it when you first paddle out, particularly if you’re by yourself at a new spot because “the line-up position is never given.” But soon enough the pecking order is set.

I guess this situation is a metaphor for life. Friends surfing with each other cooperate with one another, and friendships are formed in the water too. And it’s all fun. But the operating principle these days is competition more than cooperation. And everyone is subject to the same code that “power never steps back except in the face of more power” and that’s part of the fun because the only real loss is a wave; and another one will show up soon.