Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Keep your mouth shut and the masses won't follow

Jul 25, 2007
Outside Magazine

LOOSE LIPS SINK TRIPS: Let's keep this spot to ourselves

WHEN I IMAGINE A GOOD DAY SURFING, I think waves, one after another, churning left across a bay. (Hey, it's my fantasy, and I'm a goofy-foot.) When I think of a perfect day, it's pretty much the same, only you're not there.

This may sound selfish, but trust me: Exclusivity can feel downright sweet in practice. As much as I want to, I don't even feel guilty about it. The way I see it, if you've done the legwork to find a secret spot—a fishing hole, backcountry powder stash, climbing crag, or surf break—you owe it to yourself and the explorers who may follow to shut the hell up.

Why? Moab, for starters. Sure, the mountain biking is still incredible—as long as you don't mind the crowds. But when those 5,000-plus riders and spectators descend on the place every year for the 24 Hours of Moab, there's some dude kicking himself for not keeping those trails under wraps. Then there are the endless lines in the Wasatch. I'm not talking chutes; I'm talking queues. Ever since Andrew McLean wrote The Chuting Gallery, gifting the entire ski world with instructions to Utah's best nearby backcountry stashes, the Wasatch has become like Huntington Beach in the summer. But at least the Wasatch is still unregulated. In the 1990s, climbers so overran the boulders of Hueco Tanks, in Texas, that the bureaucrats stepped in. Now you need a reservation and a guide just to get on some rock.

As for surfing, truly good waves are a limited resource, and it hasn't helped that the sport's popularity has doubled in the U.S. in less than 20 years. But even with two million Americans combing the beaches and Web for new spots, it's easier to keep a break hidden than you might think. For 15 years, surfer Jeff Clark had Maverick's, the now iconic break outside Half Moon Bay, California, all to himself. These days the wave is shoulder to shoulder with the world's best surfers on every suitable swell. But if one guy could have his own 20-plus-foot monster off the coast of the country's most populous state—and he wasn't even trying to keep it a secret—imagine the possibilities. You might be able to hand your secret little point break off to your kids before the masses ever caught wind. "The places that take a little bit of doing to get there—I'm not up for making road maps to them," says Clark. "Leave them for those people who have the energy to search them out. Don't blow it up in the newspaper every time you want to make a dollar."

OK, that one stings a bit. I once wrote a feature for Surfer magazine on an untapped Fijian island that now has surf charters. And every time Outside dishes on some great new adventure locale, it offers its two million readers a small piece of paradise while ruining the whole thing for the pioneers. [Editor's note: Our bad.] Still, I understand that it isn't easy to stop bragging after you've found nirvana.

"I've done the wrong thing before," admits pro surfer Dan Malloy, who's made a living out of being photographed at hard-to-reach waves. "But just saying that it's your job doesn't make it OK. If anything, I feel like more of a sellout if I'm showing up with six surfers and a photographer at some guy's place and saying, 'Look, buddy, but it's my job.'"

So here's my proposal. I won't tell you where I've been, and I won't ask where you've been. Especially if you're a surfer. Considering all the factors that have to line up for a perfect break—swell direction, bottom contour, tide, wind, weather, temperature—it's a wonder anybody ever gets one. But they're still out there. Here's hoping you find yours. And here's hoping I never hear about it.

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