Category Archives: Videos

Co-opting the swell: understanding surf culture appropriation

You know the feeling. You’re watching TV, and a music video or an ad for gum comes on. Your jaw drops as a kid with frosted tips starts surfing against an obvious green screen filled in with a giant wave. The typical 60s surf music is pumping too, as the kid reaches for the gum, or the breakfast cereal, or whatever else the clip is trying to sell.

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Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

When this sort of thing happens, we get mad or insulted: “Is this really what the world thinks my culture is all about? Leis and blonde hair and shell necklaces?”

But should we really care how people on the outside perceive surf culture? They’re not even part of the club anyway. So what does it matter if tween heartthrob Cody Simpson just titled his latest album Surfers Paradise? And who knows? Maybe some of the best pro surfers out there are hardcore Cody Simpson fans. Probably not, but anything’s possible.

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Teenage heartthrob Cody Simpson

This sort of cultural appropriation is nothing new. Actually, surfers have been dealing with it for a long, long time.

In the the early 90s, you couldn’t go anywhere in America without hearing somebody echo Pauly Shore’s surf-inspired lingo. His early MTV reality show, Totally Pauly, even put a surfer in its title sequence. Nevermind all the Spicoli-isms of the 80s.

Go even further back, and you get a clean-cut Elvis in Blue Hawaii, playing a surf instructor who gets all the girls. Go all the way back to 1907, and you get George Freeth surfing as part of a publicity stunt to promote the opening of a railroad.

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The King in Blue Hawaii

It’s clear that surfing has been co-opted, not just by individuals who want to look cool, but by big business for profit. Freeth was making a youthful splash on behalf of Henry Huntington’s railroad. Simpson is fuelling sales for his record label.

Blogger Dino Boreanaz nailed it when he wrote: “Fuelled by the media’s glorification of the surfing lifestyle, the surf industry has grown from small shops serving the needs of the wave riders to multi-national manufacturing operations that clothe and accessorise [sic] those with a desire to look the part.”

But surfing is hardly the only thing that’s been tainted by big business. So why does its appropriation so anger those who have surfing in their hearts and souls?

SFSU’s R. L. Rutsky got right to the core of the issue in his paper ‘Surfing the Other.’ He argues that the big Hollywood surf films of the 50s and 60s — think Gidget and Beach Party — offered “a reassuring conformity as an escape from the troubling social problems of the times.” As opposed to juvenile delinquent and anti-establishment youth films of the era, “the beach movies helped turn the beach into an exaggerated version of the suburban backyard.”

Sandra Dee in Gidget, 1959
Sandra Dee in Gidget, 1959

The big issue here isn’t just about individuals faking their way into the surf scene. It’s more about whitewashing a huge slice of youth culture to sell a particularly sanitized, obedient image of young people who fit into society’s prescribed mould.

The appropriation of surf culture trivializes and oversimplifies the real motivations, thoughts and experiences of youth in the surf scene, replacing them with images of happy, wholesome teens who respect the status quo, and have no real conflicts or challenges of their own. We’re much more diverse and complex than that.

So, is it really worth hating on the Cody Simpsons and Gidgets of the world? Sure, phoney representations of surfers spread a false image of what we’re all about. But anger probably isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Maybe, instead, we should be putting our energy into sharing our own perspectives and experiences of surfing, and show the world why it’s a lifestyle we care really deeply about. Then, go and watch a Cody Simpson video on YouTube. Because, man, when you’re not mad, the little hodad is actually pretty catchy.

 

It’s all good: C’est Beau Handwork

Picture a working class Montreal neighborhood.

Its streets have got potholes the size of your head. And its old wrought iron staircases lead up to antique apartments filled with young people just bristling to get out after almost five months of winter.

Next door is a corner store where you can buy lotto tickets, beer and cigarettes. And all around you is a maze of back alleys and side streets plastered with posters for rock shows, graffiti, signs for missing cats and notices for next weekend’s garage sale.

Oh, and not far down the way, you’ll find a little workshop where they take standard, mass-produced skateboards and turn them into a thing beauty. That’s C’est Beau.

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From C’est Beau’s “Post-Coït” exhibit

Based out of Montreal’s blue collar Hochelaga neighborhood, C’est Beau Handwork originally started up in another, more remote area of Quebec (the Canadian province where Montreal is located)– one of those countless regions where the old French Catholic tradition still lives strong in towns named after saints.

So down in St-Gabriel, C’est Beau’s first recycled, handmade and hand-painted skateboards hit the road. The whole idea being that throwing out good wood is kind of like hosing down your driveway after a nice rain: “Ça fait aucun esti de sens vieux con.” Or in other words, it makes no f*cking sense.

Nowadays, though, C’est Beau works out of an old industrial space a quick ride from Montreal’s bustling corporate, commercial and residential center.

From there, they recut and rework old boards, which are then hand painted in the style of any one of the many artists that seem to be part of their collective. The end result can be an image of anything from Buzz Lightyear to a butt plug, a moody black and white portrait to kitschy photo booth snapshots.

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From C’est Beau’s “Post-Coït” exhibit

So what does C’est Beau get up to during the colder moths of the year, when snow fills those back alleys and Montrealers keep their doors and windows shut? Their attitude seems to be that’s it’s no big deal, and their natural inclination seems to run toward benders. C’est Beau’s videos of raucous house parties, offensive acts at art shows and other debaucheries are proof enough of that.

But then again, it’s all there in their name. Because even though the literal translation of c’est beau means “it’s beautiful” – which of course their work is – anyone who’s lived in Montreal can tell you that it more often means “it’s all good.”

 

“Une Brosse” (translation: A Bender) Video:

C’est Beau | Handwork – Une brosse. from C’est Beau | Handwork on Vimeo.

 

“L’Été (translation: Summertime) Video”

India’s first female surfer goes Beyond the Surface in colorful and uplifting new surf doc

You can do incredible things your whole life through and probably still never be the “first” at anything.

So imagine living your life, feeling more or less ordinary, only to find out that you had in fact done something completely unique.

Beyond the Surface, a new documentary film in the works, focuses on one such person, and how her amazing relationship with the sport she loves is changing the face of surfing in her country and for her gender. The film, which is raising funds for completion on Indiegogo, follows Ishita Malaviya, India’s first female surfer.

“When I first found out that I could possibly be the first female surfer in India I was shocked,” says Malaviya in a trailer for Beyond the Surface. “I kind of felt special in a way. I felt like the universe had chosen this path for me [...] because when I started surfing, it just felt like I had found everything I was looking for in life and more.”

Set against the rich and colorful backdrop of India, the film focuses on Malaviya as she travels through the country with a group of young women, exploring the ways surfing, yoga, and ecological consciousness can help India – and the rest of the world – face some of their biggest challenges.

From Beyond the Surface's photo gallery
From Beyond the Surface’s photo gallery

Of course, Beyond the Surface is largely a film about surfing, and about the joy it can bring to people, especially those who suffer hardships. But in the context of modern day India, the subject necessarily sprouts branches as numerous and diverse as the people that make up this ancient and multilayered culture.

It’s a film that “will touch upon eco-tourism, youth and women’s empowerment, biocentrism and personal growth [...] integrating these causes with the pursuit of India’s perfect waves,” reads the Beyond the Surface website.

Hypnotizingly colorful, the film itself promises to be a beautiful journey, not only for the viewer, but also for the young women at its centre, as they ignite hope and passion in others by sharing their love of surf.

“All the while, they will discover more about themselves, exchange life experiences and – through the medium of film – inspire others to seek a deeper connection to their fellow humans and to the wonder of nature.”

You can learn more about Beyond the Surface at the film’s website or on their blog. And you can make a contribution to fund them on Indigogo here.

Tipping Barrels: Surfing with the Spirit Bear

British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is one of the most beautiful surf spots in Canada, if not the world. Boasting a killer coastline, the 27,000 square mile area stretches between Vancouver Island and Southern Alaska and is, til now, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforest zones in the world. It’s also home to whales, coyotes and a number of bear species, including the kermode, or “spirit bear.”

The area has an untamed, untouched quality you don’t get in many places. But that wild appeal has been threatened over the years by industries like logging, and most recently by a proposed oil pipeline that could see the waterways of Great Bear flush with supertankers rather than surf boards.

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For surfers like Reid and Arran Jackson, that’s an eventuality that must not come to be. In ‘Tipping Barrels,’ a short film collaboration with surf label Sitka and environmental group Pacific Wild, the brothers recently headed into the Great Bear Rainforest for a four day surf trip where they’d test the coast’s swell and learn about this amazing region.

Directed by Ben Gulliver, the film offers beautiful shots of the forest, its wildlife and its coast, as the Jackson brothers pitch camp on the beach, tote their boards through the bush, and take on barrels along the coast. Along the way, these two are struck by the solitude and beauty of surfing in a place that seems as yet untouched and unmarred. It’s a place where you’re more likely to run into a wolf or a pure white spirit bear than another surfer.

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But the Jacksons’ growing appreciation for the untainted coasts of Great Bear is cut with warnings from Pacific Wild’s Ian McAllister of what may come if oil giant Enbridge gets its way:

“People expect the Canadian government to protect it. But it’s not the case; The Canadian government, they want to bring fish farms here, they’re not supportive of banning oil tankers, they want to bring oil pipelines to this coast, they want to turn this whole rainforest into basically an oil depot and a place to transport crude bitumin from Alberta to Asia.”

Seen through the eyes of the Jacksons, who love a good coastline the way only surfers could, ‘Tipping Barrels’ acts not only as an ode to the majesty of one of the world’s last great temperate rainforests, but also as an urging to protect it.

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In the words of the Gitga’at First Nation’s Helen Clifton, “With Enbridge, there will be the onset of these super tankers. What about our fishermen? What about our food resource. What about the spirit bear?[...]They call this the Great Bear Rainforest. What will be great about it?” It’s a question that probably anyone with a conscience, and definitely anyone with a surfboard, should be asking.

 

Surf Re-Evolution

A couple of weeks ago, our man JJ headed out to Long Sands Beach, Maine, to meet with Brad Anderson, co-founder of Grain Surfboards and organizer of Surf Re-Evolution, an annual event that celebrates the heritage of surfboard construction.

During the 2 days packed with board demos, music, food, art and discussion, we got to hear Brad’s thoughts on the legacy of surfing, and how he constructs surfboards that stay true to their heritage all while incorporating new materials and designs to his work.

 

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Grain Surfboards workshop

 

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Grain surfboard under construction

 

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Surf Re-Evolution, Long Sands Beach, ME