Surfing as a Lifestyle..Not a Product

Surfing is recognized by the definitive culture that surrounds it as a sport. Although surfing is recognized as one of the fastest growing sports, the authentic nature lies behind the surfer’s lifestyle. Surf culture can be symbolized as the type of people who participate in the sport as well as the fashion, language, and surrounding nature. But in my experience with surfing would not be labeling it as a sport but rather a way of life. Surfing should be embodied through a specific set of behaviors that represent a surfing lifestyle. This framework is built around the idea that surfing is a privilege that should play a large role in your life only benefiting you positively. Surfing at this level is almost seen as a spiritual connection due to the way we are able to indulge completely into the unmatched energy of the ocean. Surfing in this sense can be seen as an escape as well as a connection with nature that creates these remarkable, lucid, emotions towards the activity and the ocean.

Our oceans demand respect and warrant us to honor these responsibilities as privileges rather then products of our environment. To participate in surfing and the associated lifestyle should change the way we appreciate where we live and for some of us were fortunate enough to grow up. Surfing for some walks of life have become a product of everyday entitlement that fails to recognize and celebrate the true happiness surfing provides. Racial spatiality and cultural capitol has in a sense blinded some people who are fortunate enough to afford living close to our beautiful coastlines. Beachfront property and its advantages have constructed a level of surfing obtained by grommets, “young surfers” far beyond the normative level obtained by average kids. Having grown up near the coast I can personally connect with the concept of living near an environment that directly enhances your lifestyle and cultural understanding. In the reading discussed in class Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of Whiteness, we read “Racial spatiality is founded on the perception that certain racialized bodies are expected to occupy certain social spaces and, complimentarily, that the presence of other bodies creates social disruption, moral unbalance, and/or demands explanation” (Harrison, 2008). This quote I found to parallel surfing and its ideas regarding geographic exclusion and how white privilege can be identified throughout surfing’s predominantly white participation. These locations that allow these demographics to be displayed are seen within surfing cultures and communities. As we read further in Harrison’s reading we see, “Because such perceptions exist at the level of ideology, and not social structure, their exclusionary functions are especially hidden and enduring. As such, power remains cloaked behind what refers to as an epistemology of ignorance” (Harrison, 2008). The concept of misrepresentation among many different races in surfing is what I aim to demonstrate while addressing the ignorant unawareness within the culture. Although this idea seems to address the hegemony and whiteness of the sport it also peels back some other levels of he sport effectively advance its revenue.

The commodification of surfing and the companies that represent it have grown into multi billion-dollar industries that directly seem to feed off the surfing as a lifestyle mentality. This concept can be met all over the world and is still prevalent to places thousands of miles from any coastline. This theory seems to support my previous argument tying into the way that surfing and its associated lifestyle should be recognized as a privilege and meets up with the ideas of cultural capital. Surfing and its growing market in associated commodities have appropriated surfing into its expanding mainstream market. Surfing for years was not recognized as a misesteem sport or a mainstream society but has grown into a central market for economic growth whether directly correlated to the sport itself of the coupled culture. In Waves of Commodification: A Critical Investigation Into Surfing Subculture, author Michael Alan Reed explains, “In a capitalistic society the most important mechanism for the hegemonic control of ideas is commodification, that process whereby places, products, people, ideas and images are construed primarily as goods for consumption in accordance with the directives of the market. Dick Hebdige (1979), in Subculture: The Meaning of Style, ‘demonstrates how consumption of status-rich commodities reflects a desire to be affiliated with particular subcultures’” (Reed, 1999). The advantage surfing as a market to be sold as commodities, not only demonstrates the popularity and longing companies strive for but shows different ways this can be socially constructed. Most surfing companies and ads represent not only a lifestyle that suggests a whiteness but also themes of exotic territories. Surfing is able to illustrate an idea of transnationalism. The search for foreign exotic shores that offer perfect dreamy waves is among the most recognizable. Surfing is a transnational sport that happens in all corners of the earth and is shared by all types of cultures but can specifically be sold and marketed to surfers with economic stature available to support these adventures. Michael Alan Reed explains this by stating, “Surfing is actively involved in the shaping of places throughout the world. The practice and imagery of surfing have been involved in place making and place marketing for almost a century. Beginning with the use of surfing in travel advertisements for Hawaii in the 1920s and 30s, the sport eventually came to be a recognizable facet of American culture through its association with particular places and a distinctive lifestyle revolving around the beach and waves” (Reed, 1999). The way that tropical uncrowned destinations are readily used in the marketing as well as the transnational concept of tourism create and exemplify the way surfing as a market is commercialized and used with commodification.

As a surfer I experience much of what is displayed in these models as I actively participate in these conceptions. The way an activity is perceived is much different than the ways it is performed or acted out. Media and media sport constructs these ideas in ways that are directly manifested to promote consumption of the sport. This promotes many different categories for the surfer to fall into. A recurring example of how this is acted out throughout surf culture is seen in amateurism of the sport. Surfer magazine author Taylor Paul writes in an article called Dancing When the Music Stops, “only 1 percent of surfers are paid to surf, the rest of the 99 percent aren’t, and once finished doing the asp or photo trips have to find a new chapter in life simply because they get to old or the company drops them.” This proves how media sport throughout surfing generally displays unobtainable heights for the average surfer. The majority of these amateurs strive to obtain the spotlight but never succeed. Almost no on will get paid to surf everyday of their lives which mainly keeps them grounded with other occupations. Not allowing them travel and get paid to surf these amateur surfers work to maintain a living as well as partial surfing career but are well recognized within their local areas and communities especially surf breaks. The local recognition these surfers gain is then applied to a system that with surfing is socially constructed around the idea of localism. Localism in surfing plays a major roll that affects the balance of surfing in check with a sequence of unwritten rules. In the article, We Shall Fight On the Seas and the Oceans… We Shall, written by Paul Scott, we read  “One way of maintaining the perception of individualism and freedom of the surfing experience is through protecting the local break from newbies via localism: its advocates justify it as a means of keeping hierarchical law and order in a field where game rules do not officially exist” (Scott, 2003). This quote explains some of the structures that are actively reinforced by local surfers and local amateurs who participate in these behaviors in order to demonstrate masculinity and dominance of the territory.

In my arguments on surfing and the surrounding factors that create a culture and a lifestyle I deconstruct some of the socially constructed factors dealing with cultural capital and white privilege among the sport of surfing; and how racial spatiality is reality is enacted. Within these concepts I chose to also shed light on the nationalism market within surfing and ways it has come about throughout the media while demonstrating factors surrounding the way surfing is marketed on a global scale. I also chose to exhibit how this produces amateur athletes striving for pro status. Specifically I chose to argue that surfing as an occupation is unrealistic and doesn’t allow for the amateur athlete to achieve this. This I chose to connect back to a local scope and how these hierarchy factors within the surfing community contribute to a pecking order in the water. This pecking order ads and constructs a sense of self-policing within the lineup demonstrating localism. In conclusion my argument seeks to reflect on my personal experience with the sport of surfing and how the prevailing discourse surrounding surf culture and lifestyle should be shared.


Harrison, A. K. “Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of Whiteness.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 37.4 (2013): 315-39. Print.

Paul, Taylor. “SURFING Magazine.” SURFING Magazine RSS. GrindMedia- Surfer Magazine, 14 July 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

Reed, Michael Alan. Waves of Commodification: A Critical Investigation into Surfing Subculture. Thesis. San Diego State University, 1999. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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 <;.

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