Great white lie

Special to The Times

As a surfer, I don't hate airports for the way they frisk toddlers for sharp Tinkertoys. As a surfer, I hate airlines for encouraging me to lie, especially over a simple, three-word question like, "How many surfboards?"

Every year about now, Oahu's North Shore comes alive. The winter swell season draws thousands of pros, surf industry players, fans and free surfers who will ante up an excess baggage fee of $80 per flight -- per board. No other adventurer faces this fleecing. Not skiers, snowboarders or golfers. Just surfers.

Even if you squeeze six, finless sticks in a single sleek case, you get taxed half a dozen times. And they make you sign a waiver saying they're not responsible for damage. Meanwhile, the dad next to you checks in 12 pieces of luggage, six pairs of skis and a Big Wheel and doesn't spend one extra cent.

All the airlines slap surfers with some surcharge, blaming the board bags' bulk. They also complain about the "special handling" required to prevent crushing beneath golf bags stuffed with Big Berthas. Yeah, sure. Tell that to my poor, hobbled 6-footer (wait, make that two 3-footers). Besides, they still can't explain away a baggage policy based on content instead of volume or weight.

But Hawaiian Airlines is the only carrier bold enough to charge by the board instead of the board bag. Just last week a friendly service representative asked a friend to pay $320 for one bag containing four boards -- one way -- more than the cost of her ticket. And, as always, the enforcer did so at the counter, when my friend had no option but to stroke a check -- or leave $1,200 in fiberglass sitting unattended at LAX.

No way, pal. Not unless I get to see the looks on the bomb squad's faces as they move in on 32 cubic feet of what they imagine to be explosives.

So, instead, I lie. I lie when I say, "only one" while pointing to a bulging sack the size of Godzilla's prostate. I lie when I say, "The rest is all clothes." And then I really lie: I say, "Thanks."

Matt Walker is a senior editor at Surfing magazine.

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