Surfing Violence and Masculinity

If localism an aggression in surfing thins out crowds making things safer, then is it ethically justifiable? Since about 40 years ago surfers attitudes have become progressively more contentious with fixating on defending their so-called local breaks. Surfing as far back as the 1900s has had a system of rules of the road and a so-called etiquette. In the scholarly article “Making Waves” written by Dean Scheibel I read about the cultural contexts of these exclusionary practices as I related them to my own experience with the sport. Surfing ever since has had a theory of having local breaks. Reoccurring ocean growers who perspectively gained ownership to the waves that break there would recognize these local breaks as there own. About 40 years ago a major rise in participation occurred with the sport consequently congesting a lot of breaks transnationally. This idea of localism has come to lengths to be what now is aggressive behavior that is tolerated. The goals of these actions have not yet produced a result they were hoping for. Although, thought about as a performance of policing and having safety in mind localism has not been completely successful. Rather it started other issues in the water that happen every day. Should surfing except localism? How do we deal with localism? Is localism a hate crime? These are all questions I had researching this interesting topic. Localism has become a practice that is linked to issues of masculinity and issues regarding the way we just don’t like to share. One thing is clear, whether localism is moral or not the fact is more and more people are taking to the beach and inflating the number of people who are paddling for waves at once. Growing up in central California I was pre-disposed to a sense of balance of navigating a crowd but still able to score sessions with only friends out, or even better sometimes, alone. Unfortunately this isn’t the case everywhere. But, regardless is the pecking order in the spot a product of aggression or does the system keep the madness containable? Some areas surfers claiming their territory have been known to start gangs that actively will fight or vandalize people out of their spot or the area.

One thing that makes the biggest impression on my view of this would be the way that even if respectful surfing is happening not everyone chooses to participate in the correct etiquette. The idea is that if I’m getting constantly burned I guess I am going to burn the next guy. And if I’m the guy constantly burning people just trying to keep up with the crowd there is no right or wrong. These conflicts are brought up on by usually reasons that point to unsafe conditions which is truly the importance of the question at hand, but these rules of the road act as rules that can be broken in the gaining in self interest. The very selfish behavior is the reason people are participating in this self-destructive nature. In a legal perspective no one legally owns the waves although this argument doesn’t seem to hold water in the line up (out in the water). At some point locals of any sort have earned this type of ownership and would merit respect from a lot of people including myself, but the cases that go as far as antagonistic or even violent behaviors personally I think are a waste of time and disrupts the sports enjoyment. This is why following the rules gets you waves, and keeps your respect from others; a practice I actively participate in. To answer our questions then we have to explore two paths dealing with legitimized notion of resentment of other surfers, or morality and the chance at in stowing a reasonable arrangement of regulations. Everyone produces their own framework in this situation but has different ideas on making or breaking those rules, this makes them hard to identify.

In the scholarly articleWe shall Fight on the Seas and the Oceans…We shall” by Paul Scott I read about how aggression seems to be the main trait of masculinity found throughout surfing. Hegemonic masculinity is found within the way surfers ride waves. This is apparent by the way surfers will paddle around people in order to gain position and will spray people who are paddling over the same wave their riding. This attitude can be seen in the character of surfers in the water as surfers assume their territorial tendencies. In some cases surfers will take priority of waves right over women.

In the article “Gender Issues In Australian Surfing Culture” by Alex Workman the roles of gender bias are explained. He explains how sexism is enacted as masculine ideas caused by men choosing to view women surfers incapable of catching the same waves men are catching. Unfortunately for women they are seen as sexual images and something to look at rather than able surfers. This approach is seen and supported in the surf culture and media making it harder for women to get waves. The underlying issue being that masculinity is hegemonic in this sport and not femininity, is that it forces women to compete as men on an unequal playing field dominated by men. This type of aggressive surfing can be linked to surfers surfing as if they had something to prove. A lot of surfers surf, to surf better than the next guy in the water rather than for the pure enjoyment of the sport. There is always a sense of competition in the water that has every surfer watching one another taking waves as if they are comparing there ability to see if they should be cutting them off or giving them space.

In an effort to answer some of these questions we have to look at what most surfing and participants of surfing are influenced by. This points to the apex of surfing culture, the competition of surfing professionally. We can see the most aggressive surfing acted out in the professional circuit of competition. Surfers going head to head in order to surf better than their competitor seems to be influencing young surfers, and the mindset of locals’ “mostly older” surfers keeping their territory, being the other. These ideas might help us shed some light on why surfing has evolved into an aggressive demeanor that supports such a hegemonic discourse.

Scheibel, Dean. ““Making Waves” with Burke: Surf Nazi Culture and the Rhetoric of Localism.” Western Journal of Communication 59.4 (1995): 253-69. Taylor & Francis Online. Routelidge, 06 June 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Scott, Paul. “We shall Fight on the Seas and the Oceans…We shall ” M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 6.1 (2003). Dn Month Year <>.

Workman, Alex. “” – Gender Issues In Australian Surfing Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

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1 Response to Surfing Violence and Masculinity

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    These are really interesting issues that seem somewhat unique to surfing. I’m intrigued by how intimacy with a space relates to gender, sexuality, age, and ability. I have a bit of trouble at times discerning what is summarized from the article and what is your application of the research. Some of these issues have come up in my mountain biking research, though in much different form. What is at stake in my work was “bootleg” trails built by locals who wish to keep their existence known only to a small number to prevent their discovery by land management and subsequent destruction.

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