Sunday, 24 March 2013

How to be a kook

This is a joint blog post from me, Vanessa Janss, and Brett Menke, inspired by our recent surf trip to Sri Lanka (oh my goodness, so amazing!), and our combined years of teaching surfing at La Jolla Shores.

A kook is a special term used for irritating surfers; usually it is reserved for people who can’t surf very well (but often think they can), but it is totally possible to be a beginning surfer and not a kook, and to be a good surfer, yet still a kook. If you’ve been trying to improve your kook-skills, these tips are for you!

One of the most important aspects of being a kook is looking the part. It really doesn’t do to just blend in with the everyday crowd.
In the water
  •  Wear your leash (legrope) on your front foot
  •  Even better, wear your leash on your wrist (especially if you surf at La Jolla Shores)
  • Wear boardshorts over the top of your wetsuit
  • Wear too much rubber: full suit in summer is the sign of someone who aims to be out there all day long, shredding the gnar
  • Conversely, wear cold-water booties with your boardshorts to stay warm in winter
  • Wear lots of bright, attention-getting colors. All the better for the photogs to catch your sick moves on film
  • The 80s are totally back: rock that neon zinc pasted all over your face
  • The more stickers on your board, the more sponsors people will think you have. Also best to mix and match rival brands, like Quiksilver and Billabong, to cover your basses
  • The smaller and newer the board, the more awesome a surfer you are: so go out a buy a 5’10” Channel Islands pin-tail immediately after you learn how to ride white-water on a soft-top
  • Attach your fins backwards to show that you aren’t constrained by tradition
  • You must attach a Go-Pro camera to the front of your board. Just in case all of the swarming photogs miss your sweet air, you’ll have a back-up copy to show your friends
  • Two words: surf leggings 

Out of the water
  • All articles of clothing must have a large surf-brand logo displayed prominently
  • You must wear flip-flops (thongs) at all times of the year, unless you live somewhere with cold water; then Uggs are Ok (except if you live in Australia)
  • If you have dark hair, you should peroxide the ends to get that sun-bleached look without all the effort of being out in the sun all the time
  • Carry around some sort of surfing paraphernalia at all times: Surfer magazine, the most recent surf videos, your board
  • One must never remove ones sunnies. Ever
  • Strap your board to your brand-new roof racks…wax side up
  • To give the impression that you just got out of the water and didn’t have time to shower, use some of the awesome “surf hair” products now available
  •  Give yourself an authentic surf nickname, like “shredder”

You can’t really pass for a kook unless you sound like one, too.
  • In general, it’s best to aim for a totally awesome California accent. Second best is Hawaiian and third is Australian. Study up by renting classic videos like North Shore
  • Talk up your surfing skills to anyone who will listen. It’s best to mention the length of your sessions as well (longer is obviously better)
“Dude, I'm super tired from my 4-hour surf sesh. I was totally throwing so much spray, it was sick!”

This is probably my worst nightmare
  • Use awesome surfer terminology so that other surfers can tell you are one of the insiders, and people who don’t surf can’t understand you, and feel lame. 
“I totally… 
    shredded the gnar” 
    did a filthy lip smack” 
     got shacked” 
    was in the green room” 
     did a sick floater, bro” 
     ripped it up out there” 
     pulled into a super sucking pit, man”
  • Don’t talk about anything but surfing. Other topics are super lame
  • Blame all bad surfing on either the wave conditions, the wind, the tide, or your equipment (“I’m so not used to this brand of wax, dude”)
Behavior in the water
Once you look like a kook and talk like a kook, it’s time to act like a kook.
  • Paddle for every single wave 
  • When paddling out, be sure at least half of the board is out of the water in front of you, blocking your forward view
  • When paddling to catch a wave, scoot forward so that the nose of the board is fully submerged
  • Call people off your waves (“I got it!”), and then miss them, or fall instantly
  • Try to fall or miss catching a wave far enough inside (close enough to the beach) that no one else can catch that one
  • When wiping out, aim and shoot your board towards the closest person. This shows them that you mean business, and they should give you a wide berth*
  • When paddling out to the lineup, forget duck-diving or turtle-rolling; that shit is hard. Instead, just ditch your board and swim with it trailing behind you by your legrope. No need to check whether other people are behind you that will be killed by your flailing board**
  • Paddle around (“snake”) people who are patiently waiting for a wave to come to the location they have chosen to sit. When you see one coming to them, quickly get between them and the peak of the wave so that you have priority. See above for what to do next
  • Even when you are not closest to the peak, go on any wave you catch, anyways. This provides more excitement for the surfer you have dropped in on, because they now have an obstacle to avoid
  • If the 5’10” you bought just sinks most of the time, instead ride the largest board possible. This will allow you to sit farthest from the beach and catch the waves earliest, before anyone else gets a chance
  • Some options for stylish pop-ups:
          -    The Jessica-esque Extreme Butt-Bob – jump up with both feet on board and butt touching the deck before slowly standing up
          -     The Proposal – get your back knee and your front foot on the deck, then helicopter your arms as you try to get up onto your back foot
          -     The Wrap-Around – instead of bringing your legs up between your hands, wrap the front leg around the outside of your arm
          -     The No-Hands – use your forehead instead of your hands. There is no actual way to stand up from here but it looks impressively awkward
  •  No sense in learning to surf at a safe, sandy beach with long lines of white-water on which to practice. Those places are full of other beginners. It’s best to go directly to the best waves: preferably those breaking over a shallow, sharp reef, where you can jostle for priority with people who know what they are doing (the better not to get yourself run over)
  • No smiling or joviality allowed. Surfing is serious business!

We hope you've enjoyed today’s tips, and look forward to being maimed by you during our next surf session! Stay tuned for a future blog post about how to be a good surf instructee…

*In case you are taking this literally, please, please, please do not do this.
**Please, please, please do not do this, unless you are me and you are really scared because you concussed yourself duck-diving under a wave that broke on your head, smashing it into your board, at Blacks and so you are forever terrified of waves breaking on your head. In this case, you should probably just go get a coffee instead of surfing, if you are tempted to ditch your board.


  1. AMAZING. Hahahahaha. I just experienced most of these this weekend surfing Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. Hello spring break!

  2. Question: If you want to learn to surf, and you are terrified of being a Kook, how do you avoid it?

    Take a lesson, have a friend take you out?

    Let's also say you live in Hawaii, you feel really lame for never surfing during the entire 6 years you've lived here, and the last time you surfed was with an ex who hit you in the face with a surfboard and almost took your right eye out (nine stitches were involved) and so you're terrified of being anywhere near another surfer. Also, easy Hawaii surf spots are often crowded with people who you are afraid will call you a kook or attempt to pop out your eyeballs with their fins.

    This question is obviously for a friend, and not for me.

    1. An excellent question!

      The short answer - (1) take a lesson at a place that uses soft-top boards and preferably keeps you in the whitewater and thus out of fin-to-eyeball danger until you know what you are doing and can avoid collisions (or use your board to protect yourself). (2) it's Ok to be a complete uncoordinated mess as a beginning surfer (or, in my case, as someone who has surfed almost half my life)--it's freaking hard! You're not a kook unless you put on an "I'm super awesome" front. :)

      The long answer - stay tuned for another blog post on being an awesome (and non-kook) surf student! :)

  3. I feel a completly kook after read this, but i saw the world surf league athletes doing one or more of this "kook" things, and they are the top of world surfing. But i will be aware not to surfe in La Joya shores after read this.