Perhaps you’ve found this page because you’re familiar with our podcast, “KookCast”. Maybe you’re a new surfer and the word was mentioned, even–directed at you?
It wouldn’t surprise us if you found this page because you’ve been secretly wondering, “am I a kook?”.
A “kook” is a descriptive word with a wide spectrum of contexts and uses. You may have already gathered this from its frequent appearance in other surfer’s vocabulary, or the popular instagram accounts “KookSlams” and “Kook of the Day”.
It can be used in a playful and endearing manner to tease a friend…
Or it can be used as an offensive and derogatory word intended to insult a beginner.
Before we dive into the ethos of a kook, it should be made clear that it’s possible to be a beginner surfer, but not a kook. It won’t be easy however, and as a beginner you’ll just have to make your peace with the fact that in many cases you will kook it.
Live and learn humbly.
To put it simply, a true kook is a person who doesn’t care about or respect surf culture.
It is often witnessed as grave neglect for surf etiquette. As a result, this triggers recurring conflicts with other surfers, and the reason for conflict is valid. Kookery in the line-up introduces a higher level of risk for accident or injury.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon to spot a kook by observing their execution of surfing fundamentals (or lack thereof).
Poor paddling technique, lack of board control, and/or a horrifying stand-up technique are common characteristics you will see in a full blown kook.
On the other hand, a beginner surfer is actively working on and showing improvement in these basic areas.
Whether subtle or blatant, a kook doesn’t care to be sensitive to the dynamics of our community. To add insult to injury, this person tends to exhibit a sense entitlement to continue on in ignorance and resist education.
Perhaps the best synonym for describing the a kook’s behavior and attitude is, negligent.
Behavior vs. Skill
It’s important to realize that it’s your behavior that qualifies you as a kook more so than your ability or experience.
Therefore it’s possible for a years long surfer to be more of a kook than a beginner.
What will separate you from kookdom is a few simple things:
- Passion to practice and display well executed fundamentals.
- Becoming well versed in surf etiquette.
- Emanate respect and humility for the ocean, beach, and other surfers.
*Quick reminder: Surfing is famously called, the sport of kings for a reason. If you choose to ignore etiquette and behave like a kook, you can be certain there won’t be place for you at the peak. This will be less significant in terrible waves or when surfing alone, but when the waves get good, the good surfers will arrive too. If you continue acting as a kook, you can be sure your chances of getting good waves with them will drastically decrease.
Kooks in a good line-up are viewed like rodents in the house. They’re not welcome. Through group dynamics, skill greater than yours, and a desire to keep a clean house, surfers may go to extreme lengths to ensure you feel that unwelcoming vibe in the line-up.
Types of Kooks
What contributes to the complexity of defining a kook is the fact that surfers use the word in many different contexts.
As mentioned above, a surfer may call their friend a kook when they arrive at the beach and realize they forgot to bring their leash.
Or if you leave your board in the car on a hot day and the wax melts all over the interior.
Maybe you placed your surfboard on the roof racks in preparation to strap it down when a gust of wind came and blew it off the car.
These are honest mistakes (that hopefully only happen once). But when they occur near a friend you can bet they’ll call you out with a laugh and declare, “Ha! you kooked it!”.
A kook can also be used to describe a person who is “uncool” or doesn’t fit the surfer stereotype.
Probably our least favorite use of the word, because it implies the accuser sees themself as “cool” and qualified to pass judgment…which ironically carries its own brand of kookiness.
And of course, some surfers use kook as a synonym for “beginner surfer”.
While this is not an automatic truth, it makes sense that a beginner won’t grasp the depth of surf culture which makes them more prone to kooky behavior.
Nevertheless, there are a number of things you can do that will help reflect your respect for surf culture, and you should be eager to display them.
Are You a Beginner or Big Ol’ Kook?
To those of you who realize you run the risk of being a kook, you’re at least one step closer to not being one simply through your awareness…
Awareness that as a novice, greenhorn, newbie, etc. you have the increased propensity to be a kook.
Kookiness is more like a spectrum than a black and white issue, and the more you educate yourself in surf culture and work on your fundamentals, the less you’ll kooky you’ll be.
The best way to keep yourself on the “beginner” side of the spectrum is to learn some of the basic tenets of surf etiquette.
This starts with the recognition that if you do not have proficient control of your surfboard at all times, you shouldn’t be near other people.
We’ve done a number of episodes and articles on these topics such as the following:
- “Yellowcard: 3 Surfing Penalties to Avoid”
- “34 Ways to Avoid Being a Major Kook”
- “Catching Your Own Waves”
- “How Not to Kook It on a Surf Trip”
A “Kook” vs. “Kooking It”
A last point to recognize is that regardless of your ability or experience, you’re inevitably still going to “kook it” every once in a while. Hopefully less and less as you become more aware and practiced, but it’s ok, and most times it’s something you’ll either laugh off with a friend or apologize for if it affected another surfer.
Of course, embodying the essence of an ultra kook is a different matter. When you are a serial kook, you consistently break the surfer’s code of conduct. You probably don’t apologize or try to improve yourself, and maybe even go as far as to feel entitled to be a kook.
This is not ok, because it is not safe, but don’t take our word for it. Next time you’re out surfing and you consistently breach the surfer’s code, come back and tell us how it went. If your story’s really good, you can be our guest on KookCast.