On January 19th the Small Claims Court of Nova Scotia awarded $750 to an aggrieved surfer whose new surfboard was dinged by another surfer who breached the “paddle behind” rule of surfing etiquette.
The rule of surfing that the defendant was proven to violate is a pretty indisputable rule of surfing etiquette. The surfer paddling out should not interfere with the surfer riding the wave. This usually means that the surfer paddling out takes a path that leads into the breaking part of the wave, moderately discomforting but a warranted self-sacrifice to allow the rider to enjoy an uninterrupted ride.
Of course, one of the wonders of surfing is the number of variables engaged, and even experienced surfers can get caught exercising bad judgment. Ordinarily the exercise of bad judgment on the part of the paddler leads to a ruined ride and a few words. “What haole boy, you like beef?!” Yet riders can err in judgment too, which can lead to collisions.
With all the imprecision associated with a good surf session one might wonder if the voluntary assumption of risk rule (raised unsuccessfully in this case) should prevail. In more animated terms, surfing etiquette is about being conscientious, but shit does happen.
So is a damages claim for a dinged board a good outcome for surfing? Arguably no more than a damages claim for interference with a good ride. And now that I’ve applied more analysis and language to an act that is too pure in its origins to deserve this kind of deconstruction, we should all go back to the beach.