In cold climes they’re an evil necessity, evil because not only do the rid your feet of sensitivity and connection with your board but for far more heinous reasons. Let’s start with the grip. It’s instant and it’s immovable, not like a bare sole which you can unstick from your wax with ease and shuffle to exactly where it should have been when you took off. Nope once that foot hits the deck the grip on the boots insures that’s where it’s staying. We’ve all done it, the lazy front leg that means your foot lands on your board well behind the sweet spot a quick shimmy and all is right. Not with boots though, get it wrong and you end up hopping the front of your board up and down like a 5 year old on his first skateboard and that’s before you’ve even attempted to bottom turn. Too late sucker.
The smell from wetsuit boots deserves its own degree course. It makes no difference if you piss in your suit or not, it makes no difference if you wash and dry them after every surf. It makes no difference if they remain out doors their whole life (never very long, but more on that later). It is the most vile smell known to man. All those years would be kidnappers have been buying chlorophyll when all they needed was a wetsuit boot. Leave ’em in your car for more than the time it takes to get home and I guarantee you can knock 50% off the resale value immediately. I once picked up a hitcher on the way back from my local. I’ve done my fair share of hitching and was want to believe that he would be over the moon at hopping into a nice Audi Quattro wagon with heated seats on this cold and damp day. “What the fuck is that smell?” was God’s honest truth the first thing he said. I’d become immune and I was mortified. We drove with the heater on full and all the windows open. I never picked up another hitcher in the UK again.
The smell is never a reason to get rid of them though. Must be a tight arsed surfer mentality. They can floor legions of passengers and you will take a deep breath and raise your face skyward as you double thumb them over your heel, to avoid the expulsion, but you won’t throw them out until they literally fall to pieces. Gratefully ammonia will speed this process up. By far and away the greatest reason for buying new boots though..? Leaving them on the roof, trunk, car park wall or that black hole in the corner of the garage where you flung them in disgust last you opened the car boot. There’s probably a marketing opportunity for someone there. Single boots, mix and match. Nah, who the fuck would wear someone else’s?
Reef boots may not stink, they generally have good drainage and they aren’t the last receptacle of all bodily fluids when you’re surfing in boardies or shorty. But the fuckers will still make the front of your board bounce up and down like a QS’er at Huntingdon needing a 4.6 in the dying seconds to step up to the CT. It’s a tough call tagging them ‘a necessary evil’ though. Let’s face it have you ever seen a pro, be it free surfer or comp guy or girl, ever wearing booties? Now don’t tell they never touch the reef, even Kelly paddling safely over the reef at mid tide Ulu’s on the drop and staying out a little too long would have to do the exaggerated elbows out comic ninja to get back in, (it took me 20mins, that was in ’93 I believe the reef has been trampled a little smoother these days).
So why is it that the first thing you notice about those shot’s you’ve just paid a week’s wages for from your boat trip, is the frigging shitty little boots you’re wearing? Now I ain’t no fashionista but c’mon they look fucked up. The ocean based equivalent of Crocs. You spend time choosing your boardies and rashie (yes you do) and you may be crap at it (ask your partner) but I guarantee no matter how garish or miss matched your shorts top combo may be the booties will stand out like a beginner with his wetsuit on backwards. And in the early light of dawn or the dying of the day when the sun is less likely to send you to the dermatologist and you can surf in boardies only. They look even more fucked!!
The hard to swallow truth is that most good surfers don’t often end up knee deep on the surgeons table at HT’s praying to all the deities they can think of for a teleporter. Sure they do occasionally, but you never see them stand up. They let the board and fins take the punishment and starfish their way out of trouble. Also they rarely have to walk across reefs to access the surf. They’re fit enough to paddle the long way round if necessary. The boat trip they are on didn’t cost them a month’s wages and it won’t be their only one for this year. For us average Joes then? Yep I guess they are an evil necessity.
Having said that I hate them enough to have attempted to surf a two week trip to Bali and Sumbawa without them. At Nusa Dua even with the tide too low to pay a boat, I did the long walk up to Chickens and paddled out around the top of the reef. The first day the tide came up enough for me to prone it across the reef and drift back over the lagoon to dry land. The second day was too low and I had to paddle all the way back to the top to come back in through deep water and I didn’t regret it. Don’t get me wrong if the boat happened to be dropping someone off I would have happily parted with $5 for a ride back. But the extra distance in no way out balanced wearing booties. On Sumbawa it was a slightly different story. A lagoon much like Nusa Dua, but a pass right next to the break meant the paddle was just as direct as hopping over the reef with boots on. That was until a super low tide drained the lagoon and the only way across was to walk. Fuck. I bit the bullet. I shook the spiders out of them, slipped ’em on and immediately felt less graceful (who am I kidding! Graceful haha).
Stomping across the empty lagoon crunching coral and tiny crustaceans in the shallow pools with equal disregard I was in the line-up in record time. After exchanging morning pleasantries with the meagre crew I was in order and position for the next wave. A roll-in and a lazy up on any normal day at this size and tide. As my front foot dragged forward the floppy toe of the boot grabbed the wax and started to peel back under itself, my toes were forced to follow and the movement of my foot was halted dramatically. My hands hadn’t even left the rails. I did downward facing dog over the falls.
Fuck these fucking boots! By a stroke of luck as I was extricating myself from the inside, I noticed a guy heading as if to paddle/walk in. I shouted across and indeed he was. With the rising tide, in another 45 min or so it would be deep enough to paddle back so I asked him if he would take the cursed booties back to shore with him. No problem, he told me where he was staying which I promptly forgot (subconsciously on purpose?). I was in too much of a hurry to redeem myself and get my fill while the crowd was sparse (I guess others who didn’t have boots didn’t want to walk?). My turn came soon enough and the easy roll-in and lazy up allowed me to fade the left and wait for it to throw, this was more like it. I could feel every bobble of wax under my unshod feet and it felt good. I crouched and let my trailing arm drag in the face, oh yes! A brief oval framed view of my mate going over the shoulder and it started to run away from me. I wasn’t coming out so I turned hard and punched through the back. Clean out, I anticipated the tug on my leg rope. What I didn’t anticipate was the ‘ping’ as it snapped.
I trod water and watched as the wave took my board all the way in and laid it gently upon the top of an exposed coral head, fins up. I swam and crawled and scraped my knees, I managed to only get one urchin spine in my hand before I got to my board, it wasn’t damaged, there wasn’t even a scratch, I was the only thing hurting. I was convinced the boots had snapped my leash in some kind of surf accessory complicity. I took up my best comic ninja stance and extended both elbows to the side and 20 mins later, after the coral and tiny crustaceans (equally) had extracted their revenge, I stepped on to sand. Did I go and get my booties? Did I fuck. Fuck you fucking booties and long live the comic ninja.