By Dylan Heyden/Posted attheinertia.com/ –
As of late, I’ve found myself frustrated with the played out portrayal of surfing as a mechanism through which one can achieve enlightenment and inner peace. Compounding days with minimal surf in the forecast are partially to blame. Along with crowded lineups that make sessions feel less meditative and more Darwinistic.
As it happens, the history of surfing is rife with diverse narratives that are more complex if not disingenuous beneath the surface. The idealistic search for the perfect wave has played a role in promoting surf tourism that hasn’t always led to positive outcomes for the small far flung towns and villages in close proximity to fine surf. What’s more, emerging research suggests the sport’s halcyon days were far from idyllic. A recent article written by Dina Gilio-Whitaker for KCET reveals as much. The piece in its entirety is highly recommended. Here’s a taste:
“An emerging academic literature loosely referred to as critical surf studies, however, has been challenging all the prior assumptions constructing surfing’s conventional narratives. One strand of the scholarship deconstructs surf culture’s origin story by highlighting the fact that the so-called revival of the ‘dead’ sport occurred within the context of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government by American military forces during a time of violent U.S. expansionism on the continent and elsewhere.
“Understanding surf history in the context of imperialism helps to shed the veneer of innocence undergirding these cultural narratives. One of the predominant mythologies, for example, is that surfing formed a subculture free of political constraints because surfers have always considered themselves outside the mainstream. As apolitical outsiders, the myth goes, they were social outlaws, bucking the system through their refusal to conform to society’s norms — eschewing full-time jobs to pursue lives of pleasure, dressing outside socially acceptable standards, adopting a distinct subcultural vernacular, etc.
“The surfing subculture is generally viewed by social scientists as part of the counterculture movement that swept the U.S. in the 1960s, with its roots in the earlier beat generation of the 1940s and ‘50s. The narrative of the surfer as social pariah within the counterculture is part of what scholars of settler colonialism term “moves to innocence,” where complicity in an oppressive society is denied. Because oppression is consigned to the past, no longer existing in the present, no one is responsible for their roles in maintaining the system….