SURFING AND SOCIAL THEORY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SURFING AND ITS SOCIAL CONTEXTS. A Thesis. Presented to the. Faculty of. San Diego State University

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SURFING AND SOCIAL THEORY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SURFING AND ITS SOCIAL CONTEXTS A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of San Diego State University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree
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SURFING AND SOCIAL THEORY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SURFING AND ITS SOCIAL CONTEXTS A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of San Diego State University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in Sociology by Chad Joseph Smith Fall 2010 iii Copyright 2010 by Chad Joseph Smith All Rights Reserved iv DEDICATION This thesis is dedicated to my mother, whose unwavering support and unconditional love has allowed me to create and achieve the things in life I am most proud of, and to my father, whose pragmatism and affability taught me that while those things must be meaningful, there is no reason why they cannot also be fun and unpretentious. v...and when wars and flags and religions and nations and cities and rockets and taxicabs and monosodium glutamate and television are gone, there will still be an order to things far beyond the order of power crazed men. It will be the order of a universe at equilibrium with all natural forces in balance. And that's what riding a wave is. -Drew Kampion, 1970 vi ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS Surfing and Social Theory: The Significance of Surfing And Its Social Contexts by Chad Joseph Smith Master of Arts in Sociology San Diego State University, 2010 Despite surfing s popularity, and the ubiquity of the image of surfing and the surfer on the modern landscape, the social phenomenon that surfing represents has been surprisingly under-analyzed. Though there are many excellent journal articles and even books that tackle the subject from various angles, they represent a piecemeal collection of studies and historical accounts. But surfing, like all social phenomena, does not occur in a vacuum. Understanding the context within which surfing, and surf culture, exists is as essential as any other element. A full examination of surfing requires dissection from all directions, and the larger social framework surrounding this social phenomenon has been largely ignored. This thesis seeks to analyze the meaning and significance of surfing within the context of the social, economic, and political environment of the past and present in order to take surfing away from the sui generis and particular mindset that has heretofore dominated its analysis. In this way I hope to provide a more comprehensive and holistic approach to understanding the social meaning of surfing, and the factors that draw people into the water to surf. Viewed through the lens of the seminal social theorists (Marx, Weber, Freud, etc.), and supplemented by more contemporary thinkers, surfing is examined alongside and contextualized within the social critique of these influential thinkers. Through these writings, the deeper social significance of surfing begins to take shape, and the relationship between surfing and the larger social framework is scrutinized. Beyond simple enjoyment, which is still a central and essential component of the compulsion to surf, other motivating factors are discovered that link together the appeal of surfing and the possible shortcomings of modern social organization. In this way a more fundamental understanding of surfing is created while the social theory employed is enriched through the illustrative properties of this unique social phenomenon. vii TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE ABSTRACT... vi ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS... ix CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION A BRIEF HISTORY OF SURFING...7 Pre-Colonial Hawaii...7 Western Contact: Decline and Revival...9 California in the Pre-War and War Eras...13 Post War Boom...14 Backlash and Reaction...19 Professionalization HUIZINGA: COME OUT AND PLAY...25 Surfing is Not a Sport...31 Surfing is Pure Play...33 All Play is Voluntary Activity...34 Play is Not Ordinary or Real...34 Secludedness and Limitedness...35 Play is Order...35 Tension...36 All Play Has Rules Conclusion WEBER: DIVINE CAPITALISTS AND DAMNED SURFERS...43 The Ideal Capitalists...43 The Calvinists Protestants...45 Parallel Paths...46 Culture Clash MARX: ALIENTATION IS A TOTAL BUMMER...53 viii Introduction...53 Estranged Labor...53 Objectification...54 Alienation From the Object...55 Alienation from Production...56 Species Being...57 Nature...58 Further Forms of Alienation...59 Realm of Freedom...61 Why Marx Would Have Been Stoked on Surfing RUSSELL: VIRTUOUS SURFING YOUNG: SUBTERRANIAN SURFING FISKE: SURFING ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD FREUD: CIVILIZATION S GREAT WIPEOUT CSIKSZENTMIHALYI: THE ANATOMY OF GETTING STOKED...94 The Challenge...97 Autopilot...98 Clear Goals and Feedback...99 Psychic Entropy The Paradox of Control The Loss of Self-Consciousness Time Warp The Autotelic Experience Conclusions and Connections CONCLUSION REFERENCES...112 ix ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to express my utmost gratitude to my thesis chair Dr. Mike Roberts for the freedom he allowed me to explore and write about the elements of surfing that fascinate me the most while providing the guidance and expertise to shape it into a sociologically relevant piece. I would like to thank Dr. Jung Choi for his enthusiasm for social theory which motivated me to craft a theoretical thesis and his uncompromising dedication to his students and his field which ensured this work remained meaningful, and sociologically significant. My sincere thanks also go to Dr. Jess Ponting for his attention to detail and for helping me keep this thesis honest and fair. Finally I would like to acknowledge Drew Kampion, whose lifetime contribution to surf journalism represents the foundation on which this thesis is built, and whose friendship opened innumerable doors without which this thesis would not have been possible. 1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Surfing has been studied by a small number of dedicated and enthusiastic historians, anthropologists, and other authors of varying disciplines (Booth 2001; Nazer 2004; Stranger 1999). Their efforts are well researched and insightful and their specific topics are grounded in a range of theoretical frameworks. Surfing has also been examined within the context of social theory itself (Farmer 1992; Flynn 1987; Ford & Brown 2006). These works are valuable in understanding the context within which surfing can be found and they offer detailed analysis of specific topics within the realm of the surfing experience. However, surfing is rarely approached holistically, and the various social theories employed to tackle a specific facet of a much larger phenomenon are rarely coalesced into a more comprehensive theoretical understanding of surfing and its significance within the social framework it finds itself. This thesis is an attempt at filling in a gap that I believe exists in the study of surfing from a social science point of view. Great attention is paid to interesting components of the larger phenomenon (localism, sexism, commodification etc.) and appropriate social theory is dutifully applied to gain a deeper and contextualized understanding. But what is needed is a theoretical step-back, and to pay less attention to the particulars of surfing, and to attempt to see the big picture while utilizing a combination of social theories and theorists to ground the entire discussion within a more complete and general understanding. While these theorist and their work are invaluable in understanding our own social organization, surfing itself is also a effective tool for not only illustrating the application of social theory by representing a distinct microcosm of the larger structure, but also for turning the social mirror back on the theories themselves. In this sense a two-way street of dialogue is created between social theory and surfing. For instance, how can classical Marxist theory help us to understand surfing and its place in our culture, and how does surfing illustrate some of Marx s insights on economics and social organization? Can Weber help to explain surfing s tumultuous history and uncover the roots of the surfer stigma while also utilizing its classical application in socioeconomic theory? Instead of utilizing a theoretical foundation to 2 study surfing with a specific topic in mind, I will review and evaluate social theory as it relates to and helps to understand the larger phenomenon of surfing itself, and I will discuss surfing as a tool to help understand and illustrate the lessons of social theory. Surfing, in the most general sense, is the act of riding an ocean wave as it breaks on the shore while standing on a surfboard. However there are many derivations of surfing across the globe. Though surfing is most commonly accomplished with the aid of a surf board, body boards are also often used, and no board at all is required to body surf. Recently, stand-up paddle boards have become very popular as well. Also, not all waves break on shore. Natural reefs can cause beautiful waves to form just off shore or miles away from any land mass at all. Not all waves even break, as there is surfing on standing waves at river mouths, tidal bores, or on artificial waves. Surfing in any of it s manifestations takes years to master, and understanding what surfing means to those who surf and what it represents in a modern capitalist economy can also be rather esoteric. On the most basic of levels surfing is simply an act of play 1, done only for the immediate satisfaction it provides. But what surfing represents in the lives of its most dedicated practitioners is a subject deserving of deeper investigation. Also, surfing can help reveal quite a lot about society at-large by looking at society from the outside. In order to understand the significance of this simple act of play some of the great social theorists can be employed to effectively shed some light on surfing s place in society and ground this understanding in a larger theoretical framework. Knowing this will demonstrate why surfing can be so important to those who shape their lives around their ability to surf as much as possible and it will also detail the social significance that surfing and other forms of play have. First, the works of Johan Huizinga will create foundational understanding of play upon which the rest of the thesis can be build. Huizinga s writings on play and its importance in creating culture will be detailed. It will be demonstrated that surfing represents a pure form 1 Throughout this discussion surfing is referred to as play, a sport, an industry, and a craft to name just a few. In reality surfing is all those things, and to narrow the definition too strictly would be to sacrifice much of the meaning it carries. At the same time, too broad a definition risks losing all meaning and context as well. For the purposes of this thesis surfing will be referred to as whatever is most applicable and appropriate for each instance. When in the context of play, it will be referred to as such. When the more competitive elements are outlined it should be appropriate to refer to surfing as a sport, and so too with the other definitions. 3 of play, and in many cases a very special instance of a unique form of play. The writings of Max Weber will not only provide a theoretical framework to help understand the social context within which modern surfing will be discussed, it will also help illustrate part of surfing s most significant historical periods. Bertrand Russell s repudiation of the ethos outlined by Weber will lend credence to a surf-centered life and the value of idleness. Next the classic social treatises of Karl Marx will be examined to further illuminate the social context, but also to illustrate the social afflictions common in a modern industrial capitalist setting. Marx will also help illustrate the social need for play. Then the social meaning of surfing will be discussed using the writings of Jock Young, John Fiske, Sigmund Freud, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is important to note that surfing is practiced worldwide, and in each locale a distinct sub-cultural pattern emerges that incorporates the history and social context of the particular region. Even with common roots, surf subcultures around the world are very different in important ways, and very similar in others. For the purposes of this thesis, I will be focusing almost solely on the American surfing experience. This specific subset the surfing world is greatly informed and modeled after the post-colonial Hawaiian resurgence of surfing, which will be discussed later. More specifically, this thesis revolves around the Southern California surfing culture, which is the site of the genesis of American surfing and the cradle within which the American surfing subculture was formed and codified. Unless otherwise stated, this thesis also focuses on free-surfing or non-competitive, non-professional surfing. As is later stated, surfing that is done in competition for some extrinsic goal (money, fame, sponsorship etc.) is considered a much different sociological phenomenon that does not fit into the theoretical framework of this discussion. 2 To an outsider, or a non-surfer, the act of surfing seems like a simple pastime. It may appear beautiful, or relaxing, or even a little scary at times. For those who don t surf, surfing isn t a complex activity or a challenge to understand, it s just surfing. Curiously, for those 2 It should also be noted that there is another category of surfing known as professional free-surfing, in which a talented surfer is paid to tour around the globe surfing in idyllic paradises so that his or her sponsors can take pictures of them while they surf using their equipment. The photographs are also used as promotional materials for any number of products or services, but what is important in this case is that a surfer can make a living through surfing without competing. 4 who do surf, especially for those who dedicate a significant portion of their lives to it, surfing is far more esoteric. It may seem odd that those who spend a great segment of their lives in the water chasing waves have a less fundamental grasp of the event than those who rarely or never attempt to ride an ocean wave with a specifically shaped piece of foam, fiberglass, and wood. And this is certainly not the case. Those who do not surf may generally believe surfing is an easily understandable and simple phenomenon, those who do surf know much better (Brown 2003; Kampion 2003; Peralta 2004). In reality this dichotomy makes perfect sense. A non-surfer can only understand surfing based on the information they are given and what they observe. A superficial knowledge of surfing will almost certainly result in uncomplicated conclusions: that the sport in itself is pretty straightforward, albeit requiring a great deal of skill and mastery by the surfer, that surfing is the simple act of riding a wave with a board, and that it is probably really fun. Pop-culture has seized the image of surfing and the surfer, and the surf industry promotes itself in such a way that outsiders are left no real option but to see surfing as the sport of laid-back, counter-cultural drop-outs or stoners with long blond hair and baggy clothes. (This image is less applicable in other places like Hawaii and Australia where surfing is more culturally central and accepted as a valid and estimable pursuit.) Except for the regard given to surfing s most prominent and successful professional competitors, this image of surfing is accepted by consumers and persists as the popular and standard embodiment of the sport (Lawler 2010). There just isn t much mystery in a one-dimensional understanding of surfing. For surfers, those who commit to a life of surfing, whose day-to-day ephemera are considered first through the filter of surfing, the craft is anything but straightforward. This is not to say that the more one surfs the less one understands surfing, quite the opposite: the more one surfs the more one is exposed to the complexities of surfing and the more they realize how much there is to know (Flynn 1987). The further one travels down the path of the surfing lifestyle, the more one is confronted with forces and phenomena that elude rationality and surpass the ordinary. Surfers often struggle to describe an inexplicable and ineffable state of harmony. As transient as these feelings are, their impact is lasting and the impressions left on the surfer pull them further and further down the path. A lifetime of surfing only broadens 5 one s awareness to the possibilities of nature, life, and existence so that surfing becomes anything but straightforward. My own experience in surfing started over 15 years ago and followed a path that many surfers share. I ve learned through my own research and some rare studies on the subject that most people who have been surfing regularly for over ten years go through a sort of maturation process whereby their understanding of, and relationship to surfing changes through experience over time (Fisher 2005; Irwin 1973; Pearson 1979). For beginners surfing is a challenging and fun experience with a slow learning curve punctuated by fleeting moments of revelation. Those moments, rare they may be, are what keep the surfer coming back as they attempt to recreate those moments and reach those short instances of ecstasy again. This carrot is forever dangled in front of both the novice surfer and the veteran as new challenges are constantly presenting themselves. Every wave is different and every session contains new lessons. For this reason, slow though the learning curve may be, it is quite limitless (Butts 2001). Through time the relationship the surfer has with his or her pastime changes dramatically as well. As some aspects become second nature others are discovered. Beyond the physical movements one learns and develops, a cognitive, psychological, and social progression is also common as the relationship to the ocean, to nature in general, and to other surfers also develops (Flynn 1987). Many surfers experience an attitudinal shift, as I did, when surfing slowly changes from being a whimsical caper in the ocean into a meaningful (but still very fun) lifestyle (Pearson 1979). At some point a person crosses a threshold, albeit vague and ultimately subjective, whereby they cease to be a person who surfs and they become a surfer. Referring to oneself as a surfer, or having the honor of others doing so, comes with it a necessary degree of commitment, authenticity, and respect, which is demanded simultaneously by the sport, the distinct sub-culture, and the ocean itself. Personally, surfing has been a 15-year journey through moments of elation and absolute terror, camaraderie and introspection, chaos and lucidity, pure fun and peacefulness, and dotted with rare but lasting moments of a feeling of revelation and wholeness. Shared by other surfers, these feelings accumulate over time to contribute to what surfing means to those who do it. What it means to them affects what surfing means to society. A large part of my personal experience with surfing has been as an observer of social phenomena. As a 6 research subject, surfing represents an incredibly rich history and culture. The participants are a diverse and international mixture of men and women of all ages and span the spectrum of socioeconomic status. Through its history surfing has been vilified and extolled, it has represented a central cultural characteristic as well as a distinct counter-cultural subgroup. Surfing has been repressed, revived, corrupted, and reborn. Through all this the actual act of surfing has changed very little while the world surrounding it has evolved in unimaginable ways. For all these reasons and more surfing is an incredibly fertile resource for study. In my own experience surfing often involves an incredible amount of sitting and thinking, which is often a stark contrast to everyday modern life. Often the surfer is alone during these periods, and even when he or she is among others, surf culture cultivates an air of calm appreciation and respectful stillness. This calmness is, of course, variable from day to day and break to break. During l
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