More and more disenchanted with surfing’s gatekeepers, MICHAEL ADNO reconsiders just what’s worth celebrating about the sport.
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IN PLACES like Florida, where I grew up and returned to three years ago, what we’re left with is some sort of distant parody. Brands like Lost and Salt Life form the culture’s compass, and this militant machismo is so far removed from the things that seem worth celebrating about surfing. We seem so far from aloha.
I used to joke that what you needed to fit in among a Florida lineup was a rotten tan, a sun-burnt board shaped by Matt Biolos two decades ago, and green melting tattoos. That fog is what I grew up in. Longboarding wasn’t cool. Girls couldn’t surf. Epithets and provincialism were currency.
I look back at the broader culture of media, where surf magazines ascended to the level of gospel and films are almost biblical. And I realize, that’s where those fairytales about Americans discovering or pioneering waves in Hawai’i come from. The myths came on like afternoon rain. We continued to tell those stories year after year. And soon, they grew like weeds.
“surfing’s image was shaped in the past five decades by editors, directors, and brands that were almost entirely white, suburban men. they were “bros.””
It was bound up in my bones; the idea that surfing and surfers belonged to a counterculture, but honestly, the people I grew up around, and the people I met when I traveled, were much closer to jocks than punks. They were squarely in the mainstream, not in some alternative place. Most surfers were countercultural dilettantes rather than outsiders. Surfing’s image was shaped in the past five decades by editors, directors, and brands that were almost entirely white, suburban men. They were “bros.” No wonder nobody cared to talk much about Dora being a fucking Nazi, and instead built shrines to snake oil salesmen like him that still stand today. But in the last decade, filmmaking fell sway to social media; magazines have almost vanished; and the brands once so influential are no longer peddling surfing’s bland conservatism. Finally, it seems like a moment when the whole thing will be remade, again.
What I ask myself now is, what did we lose? What do we keep?