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Researcher Reveals Surf Rage, the Ugly Side of Surfing

by Cristina Costea

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Researcher Jhan Gavala has studied surfer behavior and found that surf rage is very much present in the surfers’ day-to-day life. This it is the ‘ugly’ side of surfing that not a lot of people talk about.

Jhan Gavala is a researcher at the Massey University in New Zealand who is studying a certain surf phenomenon that is more common that we think: surf rage. When we say surfers and surfing, we imagine chill and mellow dudes and dudettes, who talk slowly and hang out on the beach all day long, hoping to catch the perfect wave. Well, that’s one side of the story, according to Gavala.

Surf rage happens when surfers get territorial, and it is a behavior similar to plenty of mammals out there. Surfers who become protective of their surf turf can occasionally use intimidation, verbal and even physical violence. This phenomenon is coined surf rage and is apparently more prevalent in areas with big surf breaks.


Researcher Studies Surf Rage

Photo credit: Massey University

Gavala stated:

There's an idea of surfers being really mellow and relaxed basically and in fact some surfers are pretty amped and not that chilled out. […] People have ownership or de mark certain spaces in the surf zones, they form packs of surfers, they use verbal intimidation, physical intimidation and the raging is being physically beaten up - boards broken, cars broken."

Gavala is the first psychologist in New Zealand and one of the few in the world who is going to make surf rage the subject of his Ph.D. in Psychology. He also hopes to go deeper into the roots of Maori surfing, as a Maori himself.

So what makes road rage different from surf rage? Gavala reveals that one trait that can be identified specifically to surf rage is that of surfers stating ownership of public surfing spots. It’s a type of first come, first served, but with plenty of violence and even more entitlement. The psychologist plans to observe surfers during this upcoming summer at Northland, Waikato, Auckland, Gisborne, Mt. Maunganui, Taranaki, and Whakatane. So, if you find yourself on these beaches, somebody’s watching your every move!



Gavala will measure depression, stress and aggression in those surfers who have agreed to take part in his study, as well as having a surfer focus group. Jhan Gavala revealed that "Every time I go to Piha, I see an incident going on. But if you're not a surfer you don't notice it's going on. It's like the underbelly of the surfing society.”

It’s about time someone took a look at surf rage from a more scientific perspective!


Book a surf camp in wonderful New Zealand and you may just run into Gavala himself!

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