Running Head: SURF RAGE
Surf Conditions and Home Territory Effects on Surf Rage

Melissa Schau
The University of Tulsa
November 2002


Although surf rage has likely been around as long as there have been surfers, only recently has it been identified as a new and upcoming type of rage. Until recently, the non-surfing population did not even know surf rage existed. Many empirical studies have been done on road rage, but none thus far on surf rage. The main focus of this study is to provide a starting base for a serious examination of surf rage. The focus of this study will be the effects of surf conditions and the home territory of the surfer on surf rage. A large group of male surfers were examined in their home counties on a good surf day, and then again on a bad surf day. They were then taken to another beach that is not in their county. They were observed again on a good and then a bad surf day. Where and when surf rage occurred was noted.

It was hypothesized that if the conditions are good, and the surfer is not on his home territory, then aggressive behavior from local surfers would occur. This is exactly what happened. When the surfers were taken out of their home counties on a good surf day, the local surfer were aggressive towards the non-local surfers. These results show that even though the beaches are technically free with access rights to anyone, there are still unspoken and unwritten territorial laws being observed by locals. Perhaps state legislature should be enacted to make it quite clear that anyone is free to surf on any beach they wish without consequence.

Surf Conditions and Home Territory Effects on Surf Rage

Turf wars between gangs are common enough in Southern California, but turf wars between surfers receive rather less publicity. Now a series of violent confrontations between surfers objecting to others they see trying to muscle in on their waves has led to a debate within the surfing community over who rules the waves.

This territorial issue amongst surfers is not exclusive to the California coastline. It can be seen on almost every surf beach in the world. For many years, on any coast, there have been disputes, some violent, when surfers from outside an area try to surf at a different beach where they are usually not welcome. However, to the non-surfing world, surfing has a simple, loose, laid-back image. Therefore, there has been little publicity of this terror on the waves, until lately, when the first book entitled “Surf Rage” by Nat Young hit book shelves. Now the non-surfing world is starting to get a glimpse of what really occurs on the waves.

Recently, surf rage has been compared most closely with road rage. This is likely because road rage is the most commonplace type of rage the average person experiences on a daily basis. Lawton and Nutter (2002) questioned whether people really do become more aggressive behind the wheel. They put a 15 question survey on the internet, and found that although levels of frustration did not differ between driving and non-driving situations, people were more likely to act aggressively while driving than when in non-driving situations. This study can be very easily converted to a surf rage survey, simply place “on the board” in place of “behind the wheel”. Deffenbacher, Oetting, and Lynch (1994) researched how anger affected drivers and their safety records. They studied freshman at a good-sized college. The students were asked to imagine driving situations, and then rate the amount of anger they felt. Deffenbacher, et al. found that men were more angered by police presence, while women were more upset with illegal behavior while on the road. Again, it would be fairly easy to alter this study in order to make it a study of surf rage.

In light of Nat Young’s book, many reputable magazines have been running articles on this newest form of rage. In December 2000, The New York Times Magazine ran a story called “Rules of the Waves”. It described the various atrocities that are occurring on the beaches around the nation and world. The story putsblame for the violence on the overcrowding of beaches and the slow deterioration of these beaches, be it from pollution or natural erosion.

In September 2002, People Magazine did an article on Tim Banas and his son Tommy. They reenacted a recent situation that took place when Tim and Tommy decided to go surfing in Palos Verdes, away from their home of Hermosa Beach. Prior to even putting on their wet suits, a group of locals demanded to know where they were from. When Tim told them, the locals began throwing rocks, yelling for them to go home. Tim suffered a severe knee injury, enough to keep him out of work for several months.

As depicted in these two recent articles, surf rage is on the rise, and should be considered a serious issue. People are getting hurt and property is being destroyed. There is enough evidence to warrant a scientific investigation into what causes surf rage and how it can be avoided. This study should help support a subsequent investigation. It is theorized that surf rage occurs when a surfer from another beach comes and attempts to surf on a beach that is not considered their home territory.

One of the independent variables in this study is the surfer’s home territory. It is hypothesized that there will be more surf rage directed at a non-local surfer than a local surfer. The other independent variable is the weather. It is hypothesized that surf rage will be greater when the weather is good. When the conditions are bad, fewer people are surfing; therefore there is less of a territorial issue at hand. There is an interaction predicted between surf conditions and local status. If the surf conditions are good (as opposed to bad), an even greater increase in surf rage directed at non-local surfers will occur.

Study Methodology - Participants

For this study, there were approximately 60 subjects. These subjects were random male surfers. Males were chosen for this study because, although females surfers are aggressive, they are not as likely to invoke aggressive behavior as are male surfers, which almost 90% of all surfers are male. In order to recruit these surfers, the observer went to the beach and randomly ask surfers if they would like to earn free surf t-shirts and a ride to another beach in exchange for a couple hours of the author observing them surf at this other beach. There was no anticipation of any difficulty in gaining cooperation from these males.

Study Methodology - Materials and Measures

Materials used in this study included any and all surf gear, provided by the subject. This gear included, but was not limited to: surf boards, a wet suit, rash guard, leash, wax, towels, hoods, etc. Observations included not only pen and paper, but also a video camera lest any extreme cases of surf rage occur. The camera was not be used in such instances to prevent evidence of provocation and reaction in case criminal charges are brought against any individuals.

Study Methodology - Design and Procedure

The study lasted several weeks. The two independent variables for the study were the surfer’s home territory (manipulated) and the surf conditions. The dependent variable was the local surfers’ aggressive behavior towards the non-local surfer. The operational definition for the independent variable is: either the surfer will be from a different beach and county than on which he is surfing, or he will be from the same beach and country on which he is surfing. In order to accomplish these two levels, the observed surfer, local to beach “A” and county “A” was observed at beach and county “A”, then taken to beach and county “B”. The operational definition for surf conditions was considered “good” when the swells reach or exceed 3-6 ft and not blown out (when the wind is blowing off shore, then the waves will crest backwards, also known as “blown out”), they will be considered “bad” if the swells are under 3 foot, over 10 foot, or blown out. Aggressive behavior is defined as yelling, gestures, negative comments, or unwelcome physical contact between two or more surfers.

During this study, surfers were observed from in the water and on the beach on good and bad surf days at both their home territory and also on beaches not within their county. The surfers were asked only to surf as they would on a regular daily basis, not trying in any way to provoke fighting amongst other surfers simply for the cause of this study. The researcher watched the day’s surf session and recorded any aggressive behaviors as defined above.


As hypothesized, the most amount of surf rage was found when the surf conditions were good and the surfer was not in his home county. There was also aggressive behavior observed in non-local surfers on bad condition days, but not as much as on good surf days.

When observing surfers in their home counties, surf rage could be observed, but not against the surfer being observed, rather against non-local surfers. This reinforces our hypothesis. Another phenomenon observed was that when surfers were being harassed for surfing out of their counties, it was always males exchanging words or action. If there were females present, they never became involved nor were ever provoked.


Surf Rage is definitely becoming more and more of a problem. As the beaches get more crowded and more polluted, more surfers will be forced into smaller areas. This is bound to cause more problems. The state of California is considering enacting the Open Waves Act which states: "no person, regardless of residence, lineage, social status or other reason, may lawfully claim the right to a wave". The act will carry a three month prison sentence if violated.

Surfers are more worried about what will happen if there are more battles as to who rules the waves. They fear that the law will step in and require surfing licenses (like fishing licenses) or liability insurance (like car insurance). However, one change that is occurring in the surfing world is the increasing number of women surfers. As observed in this study, women are not as likely to provoke nor invoke aggression, and some male surfers did express concern over acting like a jerk in front of female surfers. This could be a solution for the surfing world, cutting back on the number of surf rage incidents by increasing the number of female surfers.


Deffenbacher, J. L., Oetting, E. R., & Lynch, R. S. (1994). Development of a driving anger scale. Psychology Reports, 74, 83-91.

Fields-Meyer, T., Dodd, J., & Truesdell, J. (2002, September 2). Bad vibrations. People, 58 (10), 95-97.

Lawton, R., & Nutter,A. (2002). A comparison of reported levels and expression of anger in everyday and driving situations. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 407-424.

Newman, A. (2000, December 17). Rules of the waves. New York Times Magazine, 158 (51605), 42-45.

Interviews with numerous surfers