Sharing the surf with other sailors is a critical aspect to wave sailing. Courtesy, respect, and safety are common themes.
But as with all things in life, there are grey areas, and its probably impossible to document every scenario that's could possibly happen out on the water.
Case in point, a great session we experienced in Hatteras back in September. I'd like to give you my experience and perspective.
So here is the way the events unfolded that day. Mind you, I’m a newbie out in the waves, so to some extent, you might understand how my vision is rather narrow, grip is often white knuckled, and I may or may not be aware of EVERYTHING and EVERYONE that is in my immediate proximity. It just the way it is as you pay your dues and figure it all out. You’re not entirely cognizant of everything you should be, and ultimately will be, as you gain more experience and time in the surf. It’s just the way it is.
Now having said that, here is how it went down. There where five of us out sharing the waves that session. I was coming in toward the beach, looking for a wave. I found one, pumped, bent the knees, tried my best, but missed the darn thing, and fell out the back. Now this day the surf had some size, and when you fall out the back in bigger surf in side off conditions, there is frequently a wind shadow behind the wave, and I dropped in like a dumb ass. To complicate this, I was on like the first or second wave, meaning there were more coming. And as I said they had some size. So the anxiety and heart rate is increasing. You with me?
I’m down in the water, I think I had the sail cleared, in the water start position, and I look behind me. You guessed, the next wave, bigger than the one I missed, was walling up and bearing down on me. Get up and go right! Yep, I was able to water start before getting mowed. But wouldn’t you know it, just as I was able to stand up on the board, my friend was just at the top of that wave, literally right above me, ready to drop in on this really sweet wave. Put yourself in his straps. You’ve basically caught this great wave, ready to drop in and go down the line, but you couldn’t see that I was down in the water and out in front of it, and I pop up right as you’re about to catch. It all happened so fast.
From my perspective, when I was down in the water, it was a no brainer. It was water start asap or you break your gear. Plus, I couldn't see him, and in fact didn't know he was there. I was after all down in the water, and you really can't see much more than the macking swell about to mow you. As I said the waves had size. From his perspective, I could see how he could think I snaked his wave.
All I heard was a certain expletive as I water started and caught what by all rights was his wave. To add insult to injury, it was a really sweet wave, one of the best of the day, and I came away giddy. When I kicked out after the 4th or 5th bottom turn, I knew that I was gonna have to apologize. But I must also admit I was smiling. It was after all a rather unique geo-political incident, and that wave ride was so sweet. I'd gone from gettin mowed and possibly breaking my gear, to catching the best ride of the day, all in like 30 seconds, albeit at someone else's expense
So I ask you, who had the right of way?? What would you have done?
As it turns out, we had a good laugh out of it (I think). But what I found out later as to who had right of way may surprise you. It did me. Basically, I screwed it up, by missing my wave. So it was on me to take the punishment by getting mowed. I was wrong to take Ken’s wave. Or should I say, Ken didn’t deserve to get his wave taken because I screwed up and missed my wave. Two wrongs don’t make a right so to speak.
So by rules, next time in a similar situation, I should stay down in the water and take that wave on the head, and pay dues for missing the other.