When surfing locally, bear in mind – if not beware of – “localism.” It’s a practice that is very much alive and well on Guam, according to surfers.

In the surfing world, localism refers to the act of local groups of surfers controlling who catches waves on their watery turf. They have no legal authority, but it’s a custom that is found at beaches around the world. It has also been the source of tension and violence among surfers worldwide.

A limited amount of swells and wind means there are only so many waves to be had at any given surf spot in a day. Surfers are always looking for a good spot; and surfers who have found a local one know that it can hold only so many people. If it gets too crowded accidents can happen or there’s just not enough wave for everyone to ride. This results in localism.

“The problem here is when the surf’s up, due to limited surf spots, usually it’s only one spot at a time (where the waves get really good). So if you get 100 or 200 surfers in the water, and if the place can hold only 30 people, it gets pretty wild,” says Willi Byerly, president of Guahan Napu Inc., the local non-profit association of surfers and body-boarders. “That’s why we never really push surf tourism here.”

Basically, if visitors don’t show enough respect for local surfers or if they are not accepted as a member of a particular area’s surf group, they will not be welcomed. That is likely the best-case localism scenario. Worst case? They will kick you out. Many times the locals that tell you to leave will be big and surly. Not complying can pit you against one, or an entire group, with unfortunate consequences.

Guam is rumored to have some of the strongest localism in the surfing world. But that doesn’t mean the enforcers are some kind of surf gang. The most important thing is that you need to show respect to local surfers before stepping into their area. This means communicating with them, asking their advice on when and where to surf, leaving the beach as you find it and not taking to the waves in large groups.

Even that, however, is no guarantee. With the exception of Talofofo Beach, a public beach widely accepted by all local suffers as anyone’s turf, Byerly recommends going with a local – or getting to know a few.

“If you want to surf here, I guess you should contact Lotus Surf Shop. If you go with them, it’s kind of safer,” he says. “If you don’t know anybody and you show up, then what you got to do is sit around and drink beer with the boys and all that to get to know them. If they just go straight up (in to the water), then, everybody is going (to say) ‘Who is that?’”

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