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25/05/2022 – 4 min.

Localism I - The struggle about catching the perfect wave

We define localism as the negative, intimidating or disrespectful behaviour of people from a local surf-area towards the visitors of “their” surf spots. Most of the time, it feels like we're just not welcome. Locals usually subtly convey the feeling that they would rather have the beach and waves for themselves. Worst case: We get totally insecure and we stop catching waves, we are permanently in someone’s way until we finally give up and leave.

WaveSisters Surfcamp thinks it's a shame when surfing days go like this. On top of a bad session, fronts between locals and non-locals are hardened as these fronts are mainly self-made. Fortunately this can be prevented!

A change of perspective: 6 reasons for the development of localism

You now know that localism is not getting to know the local area with its bars and nightlife after surfing, but the way the locals deal with the non-locals. Localism manifests itself through graffitis with slogans such as “Stop Surf Business”, there are T-shirts saying “Locals only” or the classic: disapproving looks and sometimes even insults.

If the way the locals deal with the non-locals sucks, it helps to know what actually triggers them in order to behave accordingly. It also helps to distinguish the occasions where localism might be appropriate, from those which are pure harassment.

Reason 1: Scarcity

The ocean and the wind produces waves “for us”. Waves come in different sizes and qualities. Therefor waves are seen as a rare commodity. You have to be in the right place at the right time to have really good conditions. This is the often described as the search for the “perfect wave”. So we cannot compare surfing to climbing. If we don't want to climb today, the rock will still be there tomorrow. Surprise! Waves, best for surfing, on the other hand, are temporary. So if the surf crowd gets bigger, you have to share the fun with more people. As a consequence the envy rises,, which in the worst case ends in disrespectful behaviour.

Reason 2: Time

In addition to the scarcity of waves, there is another factor that stresses the locals: time! While tourists can splash around all day, locals obviously have other appointments. After all, they live and work where you are on holidays. The local resident just quickly squeezes in a session between breakfast and work.

So he maybe got 45 minutes and wants to be stoked when he comes out. Therefor he needs to catch many good waves within super little amount of time. BUT he has to compete with a bunch of hooked holiday surfers: frustration quickly comes into play.

Reason 3: No fair play

Listening to angry locals you quickly understand that most of their anger develops from ignorance. Holiday surfers disregard the surf etiquette or simply do not know about it. The problem is everyone should adhere to the international surf rules in order to not endanger themselves or others.

The lower the level, the more likely it is to get in the way of someone, to let go of your board or hurt someone because you simply do not pay attention. Of course, beginners also have to learn somewhere ... but at least it helps to know the rules just mentioned, which we have already discussed in this article.

Reason 4: Anger about the carelessness of visitors

A guest in a certain spot neither knows its peculiarities nor its dangers. Who knows how often locals have had to jump in as lifeguards or first aiders to rescue overly careless visitors?

The simple feeling of having to rush to help someone, distracts the locals, consequently they can no longer concentrate on the surf they deserve. If these events pile up, this forced sense of responsibility will turn into ignorance and recklessness to show guests that they are not welcome here for precisely this reason.


Reason 5: Strong attachment to the spot

Locals who have spent their lives at this spot, appreciate their beach. They may also look after it as if it was their own garden, organise beach barbecues and spend Sundays there with their family.

The local surfer usually knows the spot from a time when there were fewer surfers in the water. And now he has to share his "garden" and his waves with thousands of tourists. It might be that his beloved environment does not always get the appropriate amount of respect. Nevertheless, the last point is quite similar with the next bullet point, because even "respectful" visitors can become victims of localism due to our instincts.

Reason 6: Our instincts

Unfortunately localism is quite human. Since ever, people display property behaviour. It is deep within us and can be observed when we are the older ones or the "previous ones".

Property behaviour is easily explained with the example of playing children. If a child has an object that it enjoys, it will defend the toy or whatever in front of other children. It naturally takes ownership! Thus, locals are nothing more than children with wave envy.

An interim summary on localism:

It is complete nonsense to claim something like the ocean or the waves for oneself. But it is even more stupid if you enforce this self-made claim with aggression or dirty looks.


It is very hard to judge localism though. Mainly because I think that the bad habit of possession is something human. I can't bet against something, I've felt myself in Portugal for a long time, even as a foreigner. I felt resentments seeing wet, sandy surfers trampling through the supermarket or surf groups in the line up that are screaming, screeching or chatting a lot.

Presumably we all have a little problem with sharing things with new people. Even more when we feel like we were pioneers or owned it for a long time. In my opinion the local crowd and their perceived right regarding the spot is very easy to understand. For us visitors it is very important to figure out whether localism is justified (because you maybe really screwed up) or not.

In the next blog article I show you the “Bright Side” of localism. Not because we are hopeless optimists, but becaucse there clearly are positive things to be said and written about! Look forward to it! Until then, have a good time!


Blog Series about Localism

Birgit writes here about the universal problem: Neighbours fight over parking spots, siblings for the attention of their parents and surfers for their most important asset: the waves. This WaveSisters blog series is therefore dedicated to an “evergreen” topic that will always be present among us surfers: Localism.

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