Spontaneous Order + Social Dynamic Theories in a Crowded Lineup | “People tend to steer clear of an asshole.”
The surf line-up is one strange place of social activity. A place where the best surfer rises to the top to get the best waves of the day no matter the crowds. Well actually it doesn’t work that way exactly. TSJ dove into the social dynamic theories that make our line-ups tick.
Surf lineups everywhere are organized, even in their more chaotic moments, first and foremost by the rule of right-of-way. The rule itself is more or less the same the world over, but readily adapted to changing conditions. Surfers rely on it in the governance of our common affairs and we are constantly re-interpreting its meaning depending on wave scarcity or abundance, and adjusting our expectations accordingly.
Under conditions of relative abundance, who is in position is easily discerned and usually plain for all to see. As the crowd thickens, or the waves go inconsistent from a long lull or a tide change, the zone for position tightens and it becomes less clear to anyone when right-of-way is held. As abundance turns to scarcity, the move to gain position can become aggressively competitive. Perhaps you block the other surfer’s paddle momentum, forcing him to pull back. He’ll be mad about this. If you blocked as a tactic, this would be an affront to courtesy, which forbids flagrant interference. On the other hand, if your interference was inadvertent—just caught up in the hustle—then, you know, so goes a scrum.
Even in a crowd, you can still find the peak position in which you know, and everyone can see, and you know that everyone can see, that this wave is definitely your wave. A sense of satisfaction wells up in these moments. There’s nothing like assurances that one’s rights are, for the moment, secure. And now, if some guy drops in, violating your right to have him yield, you’ll have strong and confident grounds for grievance. Except achieving this position is often more luck than skill, if only because who is in any position is often not obvious in the thick of fast action.
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“Although surf culture certainly has some stupefying effect, for its mindless repetition of clichés and tolerance of dopey or schmucky manners, the especially grating types don’t seem to come in numbers out of proportion with the larger human miscreant population. So if you have a low view of humanity, you could count surfers as a relatively wonderful sub-group.” ⠀ ⠀ Follow the link in bio to read more from Aaron James’ essay, “Unity With Our Fellow Creatures,” on how spontaneous order and social dynamic theories play out in the water.⠀ ⠀ Illustration by Neal Fox (@nealfoxx).⠀
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This is a rare one.