For Abstract Magazine: Issue: Glass

(Thumbnail photo via Tumblr...^)

When I think “surf culture” I see that scene from Blue Crush (the motion picture) in my head. “Could you be loved” by Bob Marley is playing and the girls are driving past Pipeline in a beat up, salt-corroding, desaturated blue car. They’re sticking their heads out of the window. Surfboards hanging out of the back, completely stoked out of their minds at the seemingly perfect sets rolling in from the horizons. To describe these conditions, this landscape where viscous mountains rise only to crumble into foam, surfers have created their own dialect to describe all that moves in the big blue thus simultaneously affecting their most beloved pastime. Waves can be like “glass”, they can be “firing”, surfers can get “drained” or “spit” out of waves, someone dropping in can be “heavy”, they wanna be “ripping” instead of looking like a “kook” out there. The act of wave-riding, something so natural, something people describe as a spiritual experience, soul searching turned soul surfing has become something other than a land mammal’s shangri-la. 

    Surfers would say that heaven is approximately seven miles long and sits at 21°40'11" North, 158°2'58" West. Living in Hawaii, the place of surfing’s birth, we are inundated with bits of this culture from the salt particles drifting on a trade wind breeze, to throwing a shaka out the window when we switch lanes on the freeway. Every winter on O’ahu’s North Shore, the surf industry gathers awaiting the perfect swells to complete the three legs of the Vans Triple Crown, according to Wikipedia, “Hawaiian speciality series of professional surfing events.” Companies like Billabong, Volcom, Quiksilver and even Nike have invested in beach front property along Ke Nui Road, the main drag. In an article by Surfer Today, it was reported that home values have exploded by more than 300 percent since 2007. The surfing industry itself is predicted to be worth $13.24 billion in just two years. Why? Because “surfing has emerged as an indicator of cool and casual lifestyle for young minded people” (GIA). Because one doesn’t have to be a surfer to look like one. Because surfing is no longer “sinful” or a manifestation of “savagery” as it was to the white missionaries who landed upon Hawaiian shores in the 19th century and were intrigued by the spectacle but dared not to partake in it. Surfing has become cultural capital, a sport, a competition. Something that was once arguably interwoven into every aspect of Hawaiian life (including religion and politics) has become it’s own brand—and in the making Hawaii too has not only become a place but a brand, reduced to the essentials: hula girls, luaus, pineapples, obnoxiously loud “Hawaiian” print shirts and of course, surfing. 

    Yet for many native Hawaiian surfers, though they don’t consider surfing to be their religion, it is still a way in which they perpetuate their culture sans anything hipster. Though surfing has indeed become part of the corporate world in a sense, those who paddle out to their favorite breaks still see the ocean as a place where they can find themselves. Whether it’s “glassy” or “choppy” or if they choose to take out that “tanker” board or the “gun”, surfing at its core will always be about the waves and you will never be able to buy bona fide aloha.