The best thing about surfing is the sheer joy of being out in the ocean with friends. You don't have to say much when you're bobbing up and down in the sea waiting for waves. There's a sort of unspoken set of nuances among you and your friends. But when you've ridden that last great wave of the session and you get back to the beach, that's when the stories really begin.
The phrases we use are familiar only to surfers. That's what makes surf stories so special.
One tends to regard the phrases as a common language among surfers, but alas, they are not. The South African surf lingo is unique in many ways. I was recently reminded of this when my wife bought me a book called Surfing South Africa, which was put together by Steve Pike from Cape Town, in which he concludes with a glossary of terms. Terms like ‘howzit' (hi), ‘slap' (weak), ‘kiff' (good), ‘kussed' (exhausted), ‘stukkend' (finished), ‘porsie' (home), ‘mal' (crazy), ‘lank' (very), to mention a few.
Growing up in Port Elizabeth, my friends and I spent most school holidays camping in Jeffreys Bay. We surfed from dawn to dusk – for weeks at a time – and became well-practiced in the language of the sub-culture. Nowadays, while every Tom, Dick and Harry walks around in Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl clothing, the only thing that can tell a real surfer from the rest might well be the lingo.
Just last week I was in the water and decided to do the right thing and greet the other surfer in the line up – a ‘grom' who was styling big time and he tuned me ‘howzit' without checking me ‘skeef', so I knew right then we had something in common and I said: “Lekka, man, where you from?” He ‘skiemed' the waves here were ‘slap' compared to Crayfish Factory in Cape Town, but it was ‘kiff' anyway and at least the mob weren't aggro like Snake Park in Durbs.
“Stru, bru”, I agreed.
He pulled into a sick barrel that got me ‘amped' for one too and when I waxed it he hooted. Two hours later he said he was ‘kussed' and paddled in. I was feeling ‘stukkend' too. We needed to chow, but both our ‘porsies' were too far so we just sat there gazing out to sea, sort of semi-zonked. Inevitably our thoughts turned to our home breaks.
He began ‘doening it': “Last time I surfed Supers it was all-time mal, man. The place was going off its head, ekse. We were just full-on cranking and getting insanely slotted.” The passion in his voice reminded me of home.
“Nooit, I don't miss much about South Africa,” I said lamely. Actually, it was an understatement, which incidentally is also a feature of surf lingo.
The next day I made a trip to the local South African shop and realised there are actually a few things I miss. That weekend I invoked Facebook to find some ballies – long-lost surf buddies – just so I could tune them: “Howzit ous, Oz is lekka, but I do miss J-Bay at times”.
Dr Dave Robinson is professor of management studies at Imagine College and Central Queensland University, an entrepreneur, surfer and amateur musician.