Why do surfers have gangs?

Surfing Violence

Crowded waters can lead to violence.
Crowded waters can lead to violence.
Lukas Creter/Getty Images

Surfers are usually known to be laid-back, easy going types. They wax philosophic as they wax their long board and hang around in the water discussing Zen and the perfect wave. That's true in some cases, but surfers can also be violent and highly territorial. Violence can happen for a number of reasons, but most fights stem from overcrowded waters. Like most gangs, it's usually about defending territory. In this case, the territory is the ocean's waters.

There may be 326 million trillion gallons of ocean on Earth, but only a portion of that is accessible shoreline. And a smaller portion of that shoreline has waves that can be surfed. And even smaller still are the areas of shoreline that actually have consistently great surfing waves. Surfing is a $2.6 billion industry, and some of that money comes from novices interested in getting into the sport [source: The First Post]. When a novice gets in the way of an experienced surfer, tempers can flare. Even if a beach isn't well-known for violence, known as localism, there's still the potential for a fight if local etiquette isn't respected. It varies from beach to beach, but in general, there are two ways you can earn the right to a wave -- be the first one up or be the closest to the wave's break.

These rules are actually in place for a reason. Colliding with another surfer is dangerous, so a set of ground rules in crowded waters helps to keep surfers out of the hospital. And since there aren't surf police that roam the beaches, the surfers themselves play judge, jury and punisher when the code is violated. Localism is so bad at some beaches that intruders are spotted by their choice of wetsuit or board and told to leave before they ever touch the water.