A few weeks ago I was chatting via email to Susie Dent. You know. The double smart word guru off of Dictionary Corner on Countdown and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
Just your standard kind of thing that happens when you edit the nation’s leading surf magazine. She was lovely of course.
‘Why?’ I hear you cry with a hint of ‘as if you did you liar’ in your tone.
Well. Scooch closer Padawan and I shall explain. We were, unsurprisingly, considering Suz’s profession, talking about words and language. In particular the lexicon used by particular tribes and groups of people. All for something she’s working on. So our own, and other subcultures, little cults of language so to speak.
Surfers are renowned in mainstream society for, and pardon the sweeping generalisation, sounding like extras from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You know the archetypical classic west coast Spicoli stoner drawl.
We, being British, obviously don’t say ‘dude’ ‘bodacious’ and ‘most excellent’. Much. Few surfers have ever actually said ‘cowabunga’ only Bart Simpson.
But the conversation and resulting dialogue on surfer lingo got me thinking. It’s all a bit daft. But it’s ours.
Words and language evolve. Sometimes the source is clear other times they just mutate as they spread around the world and eventually become the standard. The Hawaiians, Californians and Australians are responsible for most of it. The classic surf movies like Big Wednesday, North Shore and Endless Summer time capsule it. So it was with great pleasure I enlightened Countdown’s finest, who had her first surf lesson looming, on the meaning and origins, if known, of words like leggie, haole, bommie, grommet and the like.
Surf lingo in the modern day still has words that mean nothing to non-surfers. Goofy, twinnie, pigdog, kook, kegged, etc are all our words. It’s the language of surfing that lets you know when you’ve kind of arrived at the ‘knowledge’. That point in your surfing journey when nothing phases you. You know what a bonzer is, you know a stalefish isn’t a gone off marine creature and you’ve got a million words for the following:-
Getting: tubed, bazzed, kegged, pitted, slotted, deep, shacked. And no. We will not ever be down with the awful contraction of getting a sick ’tub’. That’s just totes daft. Obvs.
Wiping out otherwise known as getting: drilled, flogged, smashed, doughnuts, beaten, served, rag-dolled, hammered, smoked, nailed, axed.
Then there’s good surf or surfing which can be cooking, smoking, insane, awesome, filthy and going off also.
Which as surfers makes us stoked, amped, buzzing, frothing, or psyched.
So. Don’t worry if you are a kook, a grommet, a blow in or a newbie. You’ll get there eventually. The language will come. As will your surfing. Just don’t be a Barney.
Also. If the words don’t exist for what you want to convey just make it up. That’s what everyone else has been doing for the whole history of surfing anyway.
Words and Photo (Gearoid McDaid in Portugal) shot by Sharpy