Illustration by Nanda Ormond.

The Short History Of Surf Insults


Peter Capaldi is probably the finest exponent of invective working in the English language. He’s sadly wasted as Doctor Who. If Capaldi was a member of the WSL commentary team we’d have a much richer culture. In fact, if we ever have a “Scottish Storm”, the webcast will only be available via deep encryption from the Dark Net.

It’s a sad reality that despite our happy-go-lucky demeanours, surfers occasionally feel the need to share emotions which are less than unequivocally buoyant. Sometimes, just sometimes, we need to advise each other that we are not entirely thrilled by one another’s presence in the lineup, or by natural human variances such as choice of equipment, technique or even facial expression.

For such occasions, surfers have historically been happy enough to carry ordinary terrestrial insults beyond the high tide line: thus ‘doofus’, ‘muppet’ and plain old ‘fuckwit’. Some slap-downs oddly have their origins in cuisine: like ‘banana’, ‘peanut’, ‘egg’, ‘crab’, and the Big Wednesday classic, ‘squidlips’. Gradually, surfing developed a spiteful lexicon of its own: terms like ‘kook’ (either from Tom Blake’s 1935 “kook box” hollow board design, or from the Polynesian word for poo, ‘kukae’), ‘waxhead’ (from ancient times when boards were carried on the head), ‘hodad’ (a beach cruiser who doesn’t surf) and the related ‘shoobie’, from “lunch in a shoe box”, because you came from inland for a day on the beach. ‘Skeg’ and ‘gumby’ are typically considered surf-exclusive insults, but in fact ‘skegg’ is Old Norse for beard and ‘gumby’ is both a claymation character and a common surname.

Speaking of names, nobody knows why ‘Derek’, ‘Gary’, ‘Barney’, ‘Quimby’ and ‘Jake’ are terms of surfing derision.

Then there are the anatomical references, which rarely stray beyond the genital. Like ‘dick-dragger’, for example. Testicles loom large (now there’s an image), and can be used both in affection (‘ballbag’, ‘knackers’) and in abuse (‘scrote’).

Sometimes it’s the fist in the velvet glove, the subtle put-down that doesn’t register until you’ve paddled away: like when the set wave you don’t want rolls up, and the surfer beside you knows you don’t want it; “Are you going to go?” Fake paddling is not the answer here either; “Close your fingers, mate.”

Sly tactics in a crowd will often invoke ‘shoulder-hopper’, ‘snake’ or ‘blinkers’. Choice of craft is also a magnet for mockery (‘egg-beater’, ‘sponge’, ‘shark biscuit’, ‘cripple’, ‘half-man’, ‘goat boat’), as is surfing ability (‘chook pumper’, ‘stinkbug’, ‘goober’, ‘poo-stance’, ‘shitfooter’, ‘squibber’). Some of it is based on nothing more than geography, like ‘dumb Okie’ (Big Wednesday again) and ‘Mexican’ (for Victorians, not, er, Mexicans). In certain cold-water island communities, ‘away’ is a dismissive term for the entire world.

You can achieve a lot without even swearing. If only Keating, and not Abbott, surfed. He called Laurie Oakes a ‘cane toad’, Peter Costello ‘all tip and no iceberg’, and Richard Carleton ‘a 24-carat pissant’. He said his opponents ‘couldn’t operate a tart shop’, and Wilson Tuckey would be ‘flat out counting to ten’. He once said arguing with John Hewson was ‘like being flogged with a warm lettuce’. And he’s never been done for slander.

But back to the Scots, who don’t understand why you would avoid profanities, when that’s where all the fun is. There’s a technique to the Caledonian genius for insult. You take an obscenity and a bi-syllabic common noun and graft them together end-on-end like a sewer pipe. Thus, ‘jizztrumpet’ and ‘fuckpuffin’. When Trump declared that Scots were “going wild” about the Brexit vote, he was met with a deluge of abuse, including ‘numpty’, ‘cockwomble’ and ‘tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’. A female tweeter showed the value of restraint, adding simply: ‘Scotland voted to remain, you tit’.

Billy Connolly was once accused of swearing so much because he had a limited vocabulary. His response? “I know at least a hundred and twenty seven words, and I still prefer ‘fuck’.” But remember, anyone can launch a hurricane of potty-mouthed invective. So let me apologise for the even-lower-than-usual tone of this column, in the words of the great Malcolm Tucker: “I’m really fucking sorry for sounding like a hairy-arsed trucker after twelve pints.”

Jock Serong