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Blood on the waves as 'Surf Rage' rises
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Arms stretched above his head, Australian surfer Bobby Brown leans his longboard into a turn off the bottom of a wave at Sandon Point south of Sydney.
The move is called a "soul arch," a name which embodies for surfers the spiritualism of the surfing lifestyle.
The photograph of Brown displayed at a surfing exhibition was taken in 1964, when the pioneers of surfing were regarded as rebels and forged a camaraderie as they chased the perfect wave.
But today the soul arch is a rarely seen maneuver and the soul of surfing is being corrupted by surf rage. As more and more people go surfing, the quest for not only the perfect wave, but any wave, is exploding into violence.
A new book simply entitled "Surf Rage" and compiled by former Australian surfing champion Nat Young lists a litany of violence from downtown Los Angeles and the big waves of Hawaii to Australia's desert coast and Indian Ocean reefs.
"We're a mob of greedy, adrenalin-fueled colonials participating in an unbelievably frustrating activity that drags out our worst instincts," surfer Derek Reilly writes.
The book details one incident where a surfer even inflicted surf rage on himself. After missing a big wave at Hawaii's Sunset Beach the surfer punched himself in the head for 30 seconds until a monster wave mowed him down.
"And, as for the existence of a surfing brotherhood, that disappeared long ago in any mass sense...," says Reilly.
"Increasingly, surfers are losing it. Fists are thrown, knives are brandished, out-of-towners are ganged up on, cars are vandalized and boards are speared at heads."
Surfing's battered face
The primeval face of surfing made world headlines in March when Young had his face beaten to a pulp after a dispute with another surfer at his home break of Angourie.
After six and a half hours of reconstructive surgery, Young's face is today held together with titanium until the bones knit.
Young, who once earned the nickname "The Animal," says he has been guilty of surf rage and triggered his beating by hitting his attacker's son, who was swearing at Young as the two surfed.
"Surf rage is an ugly reality to most surfers. We've ignored it for a long time. Now it's time we took a closer look at ourselves," says Young.
The consensus from the surfers, surf journalists and sports psychologists is that surf rage is being fueled by the explosion in the surfing population.
"After you see a good bit of biffo (fighting) go down, the line-up clears itself a bit," says one Australian surfer quoted in the book. "It does it good. It really needs it some days. You need a fight to sort it out."
The resurgence of the easy-riding longboard has also allowed novices to challenge for waves, breaking down the natural pecking order.
In California, land of the Beach Boys "Surfin' USA," surf rage has entered the courts after a series of vicious attacks and surfers have done time on battery charges. The problem has become so bad police patrol the surf on jet skis during summer.
Blood on the reef
But blood has also been spilled on the isolated reefs of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Indonesia and the South Pacific, once idyllic destinations of perfect, empty waves.
In the remote Mentawai Islands in Indonesia there are now so many boats plying the surf trade that the first to reach a reef declares temporary ownership and is prepared to defend its turf.
In Fiji, the famed Cloudbreak off the surf resort of Tavarua island is patrolled by bodyguards who extract non-paying guests.
In Mauritius in the Indian Ocean a local surf gang called the White Shorts orders visitors out of the water or else. In Bali, it's the Black Shorts.
In Hawaii, the infamous Hui dictate the surf law and locals and fists rule. A Hawaiian local once offered a $25 bounty for every Brazilian surfer punched in the head while surfing.
In the Canary Islands in the Atlanta Ocean rocks are thrown at non-local surfers and their cars vandalized.
But the problem surfers face in stemming the rising tide of surf rage is that there are no hard and fast rules.
Look at a pack of surfers bobbing up and down in the water. They all have the same thought -- the next wave is mine.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Asiaweek: Surfing's only the beginning
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