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By Bill Polick, Editor

Jack Hoog leaned into his van, pulled out a half-dozen folding chairs, a folding table, a box of donuts, cooler of soda, huge jar of cashews and a large bag of M&Ms.  Camping trip?  Tailgate party at the ball game?

Nope, just a typical summer Sunday at the beach. Hoog is joined by seven or eight of his surfing friends who snack and chat with each other for a couple of hours, then head home for chores or other weekend happenings. This loose-knit group calls itself Tailgaters Surfing Association.

This rite is repeated, to a lesser or greater degree, at beaches around the world; tribes of middle-aged men gathered in small groups.  They may give themselves a name like Reef Riders, Long Boarders or Log Jammers; they may form into official clubs or just refer to themselves as a group of friends.

"It's the camaraderie that draws us together," Hoog, a retired probation officer, says.  "It fulfills a need to be with other guys.  In this case, we share a common interest in surfing."

That sentiment is echoed by other Tailgaters.

Tourmaline Tailgaters

"We have a social bond," says Jim Gildea, a retired airline pilot.  "There's a sense of belonging.  We used to get these things with our friends at work or our neighbors, but now life is different."

Cultural anthropologists call groups like Tailgaters a non-static small group, people roughly the same age who interact on a regular basis and have a sense of collective identity.  Demographically they are: male, 45-60 years old,  generally successful in their careers, married at least once and athletic.  One noticeable characteristic of these groups is the absence of women.  There may be females on the fringes, but they do not become part of the inner circle.

Gildea knows why his is an all-male group.  "Guys need time with guys.  Women have been doing this for years, now men are discovering the value of being with others like them."

"We need time to scratch and spit and swear without having to worry about being politically correct," said Mike Neu, a buyer for a major international retailer, one of the younger members of the group.  

Like other groups of older men, surfers congregate based on an activity.  In other cultures that might be playing dominoes or chess, whittling on the front porch of the town hall or shooting pool.  Roger Cook, a physician's assistant and one of the founding members of Tailgaters says that he appreciates the group's mutual support system.

"We are a melting pot based on personality not profession," Cook says. 

Indeed, these groups are an amalgam of backgrounds.  Tailgaters, for example, consists of working and retired members from all walks of life: school teachers, business owners and managers, a writer, a dentist and other professionals.  Some pay dues, others don't.  But all are considered part of the group.  Each year the dues paying members hold a drawing for a new surfboard, the remaining money is used to put on an invitation-only party for their surfing friends.  They also travel to local and distant beaches in Costa Rica, Hawaii and Mexico.

"I take a lot of good-natured kidding from these guys, but we're all great friends," says school teacher John Pruitt.  "I know that if I have a problem, my friends will be there to help out, no matter what time of day or night."

They are also a mutual support group, sharing family or work problems.  Neu says that's an important part of the group's dynamic.

Mail bonding

"Many of us have kids who are grown or old enough to not need constant attention," he says.  "Like teenagers, we can talk about the women in our lives or our bosses.  There's always someone with us whose had the same or similar situation."

Whether it's the advice from a friend, the spitting or scratching, it's the camaraderie that binds them into their own tribe.  And the tribe takes care of its own.