Surf culture

Pontiac woodie, used by early surfers.

Surf culture is the culture that includes the people, language, fashion, and lifestyle surrounding the sport of surfing. The history of surfing began with the ancient Polynesians. That initial culture directly influenced modern surfing, which began to flourish and evolve in the early 20th century, with popularity spiking greatly during the 1950s and 1960s (principally in Hawaii, Australia, and California). It continues to progress and spread throughout the world. It has at times affected popular fashion, music, literature, films, art, jargon, and more.

The fickle nature of weather and the ocean, plus the great desire for the best possible types of waves for surfing, make surfers dependent on weather conditions that may change rapidly. The staff of Surfer Magazine, founded in the 1960s when surfing had gained popularity with teenagers, used to say that if they were hard at work and someone yelled "Surf's up!" the office would suddenly be empty. Also, since surfing has a restricted geographical necessity (i.e. the coast), the culture of beach life often influenced surfers and vice versa. Localism or territorialism is a part of the development of surf culture in which individuals or groups of surfers designate certain key surfing spots as their own.[1]

Aspects of 1960s surf culture in Southern California, where it was first popularized, include the woodie,[2] bikinis[3] and other beach wear, such as boardshorts or baggies,[4] and surf music.[5] Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land;[6] and a number of other boardsports.[7]

Surfers and spectators in boats at Mavericks, a world-renowned big wave break a half mile off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California

Big Wave culture

A surfer in Santa Cruz, California

A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularized in the 1990s has seen big wave surfing revolutionized, as surfers use personal watercraft to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves (see tow-in surfing). These waves were previously unrideable due to the speed at which they travel. Some waves reach speeds of over 60 km/h; personal watercraft enable surfers to catch up to the speed of the wave, thereby making them rideable. Personal watercraft also allow surfers to survive wipeouts. In many instances surfers would not survive the battering of the "sets" (groups of waves together). This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.

Though surfers come from all walks of life, the basis of the beach bum stereotype comes from that great enthusiasm that surfers can have for their sport. Dedication and perfectionism are also qualities that surfers bring to what many have traditionally regarded as a commitment to a lifestyle as well as a sport.[8]

For specific surf spots, the state of the ocean tide can play a significant role in the quality of waves or hazards of surfing there. Tidal variations vary greatly among the various global surfing regions, and the effect the tide has on specific spots can vary greatly among the spots within each area. Locations such as Bali, Panama, and Ireland experience 2-3 meter tide fluctuations, whereas in Hawaii the difference between high and low tide is typically less than one meter.

Surfing on the Gold Coast, Australia

Each surf break is different, since the underwater topography of one place is unlike any other. At beach breaks, the sandbanks can change shape from week to week, so it takes commitment to get good waves.

The saying "You should have been here yesterday," became a commonly used phrase for bad conditions.[9] Nowadays, however, surf forecasting is aided by advances in information technology, whereby mathematical modeling graphically depicts the size and direction of swells moving around the globe.

The quest for perfect surf has given rise to a field of tourism based on the surfing adventure. Yacht charters and surf camps offer surfers access to the high quality surf found in remote, tropical locations, where tradewinds ensure offshore conditions.

Along with the rarity of what surfers consider truly perfect surf conditions (due to changing weather and surf condition) and the inevitable hunt for great waves, surfers often become dedicated to their sport in a way that precludes a more traditional life. Surfing, instead, becomes their lifestyle.

The goals of those who practice the sport vary, but throughout its history, many have seen surfing as more than a sport, as an opportunity to harness the waves and to relax and forget about their daily routines. Surfers have veered from even this beaten path, and foregone the traditional goals of first world culture in the hunt for a continual 'stoke', harmony with life, their surfing, and the ocean. These "Soul Surfers" are a vibrant and long-standing sub-group.[8][10][11] Competitive surf culture, centered around surf contests and endorsement deals, and localism's disturbance of the peace, are often seen in opposition to this.[8]


Even though waves break everywhere along a coast, good surf spots are rare. A surf break that forms great surfable waves may easily become a coveted commodity, especially if the wave only breaks there rarely. If this break is near a large population center with many surfers, territorialism often arises. Regular surfers who live around a desirable surf break may often guard it jealously, hence the expression "locals only." The expression "locals only" is common among beach towns, especially those that are seasonally encroached upon by vacationers who live outside the area. Localism is expressed when surfers are involved in verbal or physical threats or abuse to deter people from surfing at certain surf spots. It is based in part on the belief that fewer people mean more waves per surfer.

Fistral Beach showing the beach bar setup ready for the 2010 Boardmasters Festival

Some locals have been known to form loose gangs that surf in a certain break or beach and fiercely protect their "territory" from outsiders.[1] These surfers are often referred to as "surf punks" or "surf nazis." The local surfer gangs in Malibu and on Hawaii, known as da hui, have been known to threaten tourists with physical violence for invading their territory. In Southern California, at the Venice and Santa Monica beaches, local surfers are especially hostile to the surfers from the San Fernando Valley whom they dub "vallies" or "valley kooks". The expression "Surf Nazi" arose in the 1960s to describe territorial and authoritarian surfers, often involved in surf gangs or surf clubs. The term "Nazi" was originally used simply to denote the strict territorialism, violence and hostility to outsiders, and absolute obsession with surfing that was characteristic in the so-called "surf nazis." However, some surfers reclaimed and accepted the term, and a few actually embraced Nazism and Nazi symbolism. Some surf clubs in the 1960s, particularly at Windansea in La Jolla, used the swastika symbol on their boards and identified with Nazism as a counter culture (though this may have just been an effort to keep out or scare non-locals.) The "locals only" attitude and protectionism of the Santa Monica surf spots in the early 1970s was depicted in the movie Lords of Dogtown, which was based on the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys.

Localism often exists due to socioeconomic factors as well. Until relatively recently, surfers were looked down upon as lazy people on the fringe of society (hence the term "beach bum.") Many who surfed were locals of beach towns who lived there year-round, and were from a lower economic class. For that reason as much as any other, these groups were resentful of outsiders, particularly those who were well-to-do and came to their beaches to surf recreationally rather than as a way of life. Australia has its own history where surfers were openly treated with hostility from local governments in the sport's early days, and the tension never really went away, despite the sport's enormous increase in popularity. Maroubra Beach in Australia became infamous for localism and other violence chronicled in the documentary film Bra Boys about the eponymous group, although the surfers in the film maintain they are not a "gang."

Surf Gangs

Surf gangs often form to preserve cultural identity through the protection of beach towns and shorelines. If known territory is trespassed by members of another surf gang, violence usually occurs. Long Beach is home to one of the oldest and biggest surf gangs, called "Longos." Some surf gangs have been known to not only claim land territory, but also claim specific surfing waves as territory. Surf gangs have gained notoriety over the years, especially with the production of Bra Boys.

The Lunada Bay Boys (in Palos Verdes Estates, California) became the subject of a class action lawsuit in 2016.[12]


The Wolfpak is so named "because we run in a pack, working together. When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us." –Kala Alexander''[13]

The Wolfpak was originally composed of a few select surfers from Kauai, Hawaii who believed in respecting localism.[14] Kauai, according to a Wolfpak member, is a place where one is raised to honor the value of respect. If you don’t show respect, then you can’t expect anyone to return the favor.[15] This value is what led to the group’s effort to manage the chaos associated with North Shore surfing. Some notable members have been pro surfers Andy Irons and Bruce Irons, as well as the reality show 808 star and Blue Crush actor, Kala Alexander.[13]

Wolfpak began in 2001 when leader Kala Alexander moved to North Shore in search for job opportunities, and found disorganization and lack of respect in the surf lineup at surf reef break, Pipeline. Alexander found it necessary to dictate some sort of organization in who would surf the Pipeline to both preserve the value of showing respect to one’s elders, i.e. those who were native to the land and had been surfing for many years, and also protect surfers from the reef’s potentially life-threatening waves.[13]

The waves at Pipeline can reach over 20 feet and its powerful disposition has taken the lives of professional surfers. If a visiting surfer dropped in on another surfer, unknowing of the wave’s nature, he could cause serious harm or death to the former. On a related note, some surfers aren’t ready to handle Pipeline. These observations led to the Wolfpak’s proactive enforcement on the North Shore.[16]

The Wolfpak’s ways of preventing the aforementioned consequences of Pipeline popularity have gotten attention through their violent means. In an incident where a tourist cut off a friend of Alexander’s in a dangerous six-foot swell, the Wolfpak leader beat up the visitor for his poor decision and later reflected on the positive outcomes native enforcement could bring.[16] Comments from anonymous locals show that the presence of Wolfpak is well perceived, if not intimidating. Though, some locals who hold similar values of cultural respect support what the members are trying to do.[13]

Alexander doesn’t view Wolfpak as a gang, but says they look out for every local Hawaiian. Embedded in the brotherhood’s philosophy is respect for others. They attempt to preserve this way of life and realize the implications that a lack of respect can have on Hawaiian culture.[16]

"I don't care if it's Kauai or Brooklyn. And I believe wherever you go, locals have the right of way. That's how it should be, and how it used to be here."- Kala Alexander[13]

Bra Boys

The Bra Boys are a popular surf gang founded in Maroubra, a beachside suburb in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Australia. They established international fame and attention in 2007 with the release of Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker than Water, a documentary about the bonds and struggles of the many gang members. The Bra Boys name originates both from the slang word for brother, and as a reference to the gang's home suburb, Maroubra.[17] Gang members tattoo "My Brothers Keeper" across the front of their chests and the Maroubra area code across their back.

Many of the Bra Boys came from impoverished homes and families torn apart by drug use. Brothers Sunny, Jai, Koby and Dakota Abberton, came from an especially difficult upbringing. To them the Bra Boys were much more than a gang, they were a group of friends, a family of their own that loved to surf and always stood up for each other.[18] The documentary, written and directed by the gang members themselves, showed the raw gritty side of a surf life previously glamorized by Hollywood.[19]

Surf terminology

Main article: Glossary of surfing
Look up Surf slang in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Surfing (particularly in Southern California) has its own sociolect, which has comingled with Valleyspeak. Words such as "dude", "tubular", "radical", and "gnarly" are associated with both and Northern California created its own unique surf terms as well that include "groovy", "hella", and "tight". One of the primary terms used by surfers around the world is the word "stoked". This refers to a mixed feeling of anxiety and happiness towards the waves breaking. Surfers have often been associated with being slackers or 'beach bums' (with women being known as 'beach bunnies').

Beach bunny

beach bunnies

A beach bunny is general North American popular culture term for a young woman who spends her free time at the beach. In surf culture it may also refer to a female surfer. Beach bunnies are known for the amount of time they spend sun tanning and are usually represented wearing bikinis, see Muscle Beach Party and Gidget.[20]

Shaka sign

The shaka sign, associated with Hawaii, origins unknown,[22][23] is a common greeting in surfer culture.[21]

Issues affecting surfers

Environmental damage, and increasing riparian development may continue to increase pressure on the sport. Oil spills and toxic algae growth can threaten surfing regions.

Some of these stresses may be overcome by building of artificial reefs for surfing. Several have been built in recent years (one is at Cables in Western Australia), and there is widespread enthusiasm in the global surfing community for additional projects. However, environmental opposition and rigorous coastal permitting regulations is dampening prospects for building such reefs in some countries, such as the United States.

Surf Environmentalism

Surfing, as a sport, is heavily dependent on a healthy environment. As a result, interest groups have blossomed to influence the utilization of coastal properties relevant to surfing. There is conflict between surfers and other user groups over the allocation of coastal resources.[24] Common to most disputes are two issues, disposal of sewage and toxic waste into near shore waters and the formation of harbors, breakwaters and jetties. Sewage and toxic waste almost always affects mammals in a negative way. Coastal construction and engineering projects can have either good or bad effects on surf breaks. While some sources suspect the effectiveness of surfing environmentalist groups,[25] notable victories have been achieved by surfers championing their issues. Some examples of these victories include:

Surf tourism

The surf industry is a billion dollar industry whose popularity as a recreational sport has gained momentum in many coastal areas around the world over the past decades.[30] With the publicizing of new surf destinations through television, movies, magazines, and the Internet, and other media, as well as greater access to traveling accommodations, surf tourism has created large impacts on local communities and environments in developing countries as well as in established areas around the world.[31] Tourism is not always the main reason for fast expansion in developing countries, but under those circumstances groups of activists and non-profits such as Surfrider Foundation, SurfAid, IJourneyGreen, Surf Resource Network, World Tourism Organization, NEF, and UNESCO have begun working with locals and their governments to minimize the negative impacts of tourism upon host communities’ environments and maximize and equitably distribute the positive impacts of tourism.[31] Some of the negative impacts of tourism relevant to surf dominant communities are:

Some of the positive impacts of tourism relevant to surf dominant communities include:


A surfer memorial service, Huntington Beach Pier, Orange County, California.

Many surfers combine their love of the sport with their own religious or spiritual beliefs. In Huntington Beach, California for example, a local Christian non-denominational church occasionally meets on the beach for Sunday early-morning services. After the closing prayer, the minister and congregation paddle out for a morning session. Many surfing communities organize and take part in memorial services for fallen surfers, sometimes on the anniversary of passing such as the Eddie Aikau memorial service held annually at Waimea Bay, Hawaii.

Participants in the memorial service paddle out to a suitable location with flower leis around their necks or with loose flowers (sometimes held between their teeth). The participants then get into a circular formation, hold hands, and silently pray. Sometimes they will raise their clasped hands skyward before tossing their flowers or leis into the center of the ring. Afterward, they paddle back toward the beach to begin their surf session. Often these services take place at sunrise or sunset. In locations with a pier, such as Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, the service can take place near the end of the pier so that any non-surfers, such as elderly relatives, can watch and participate. Often the participants on the pier will throw down bouquets of flowers into the center of the ring.

Surfing art

Surf music

Main article: Surf music

Surf culture is reflected in surf music, with subgenres such as surf rock and surf pop. This includes works from such artists as Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Surfaris ("Wipe Out!"), Dick Dale, The Shadows, and The Ventures. The music inspired dance crazes such as The Stomp, The Frug, and The Watusi. While the category surf music helped popularize surfing, most surfers at the time, such as Miki Dora, preferred R&B and blues. A newer wave of surf music has started in the acoustic riffs of artists such as Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, who are both former professional surfers.

Surf rock

Surf pop

Dick Dale in 2005


Surf visual art

Many people have incorporated the free spirited and hippie nature of many surfing lifestyles into their paintings and murals such as the Surfing Madonna mosaic in Encinitas.


Bethany Hamilton wearing surfwear.

Surfwear is a popular style of casual clothing, inspired by surf culture. Many surf-related brand names originated as cottage industry, supplying local surfers with boardshorts, wetsuits, surfboards or leashes, as well as other hardware.

An early Australian surf fashion company was Kuta Lines, founded by Tony Brown after visiting Bali in 1973. Brown adapted Indonesian textiles and designs for his surfwear. From the 1980s, Kuta Lines used traditional ikat weaving and dyeing techniques, adapted to a heavier, fleecy fabric for cool climate surfing.[33]

Some other clothing brands include Quiksilver, RVCA, Roxy, Billabong, O'Neill, Hurley, Reef, Rip Curl, Volcom, DaKine, Element, Oakley, and Von Zipper.


International Surfing Day celebrates the sport and lifestyle on June 20.

Surfing contests

Competitive surfing is a comparison sport. Riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world surfing championship series held annually at surf breaks around the world.

Although competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for its participants and its sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of "soul surfing", and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity.[34] An organisation called the Spirit of Surfing has chosen not to accept surf label sponsorship, since an association of that sort could detract from the sentiment they wish to promote.

Surfing organizations

Wedding Cake Island, in Coogee Bay, Sydney, Australia

Spin-offs & influences


Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land. Later came windsurfing (also known as sailboarding), bodyboarding, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, skimboarding, snowboarding, riverboarding, kiteboarding, sandboarding, mountainboarding, carveboarding all now competitive sports. Another fast growing boardsport is skurfing a mix of surfing and more conventional water sports in which the participant is towed behind the boat. Pineboarding and sandboarding are recreational boardsports.

Surfing in multimedia

Films about surfing

Main article: Surf film

The surf culture is reflected in film. Bruce Brown's classic movie The Endless Summer glorified surfing in a round-the-world search for the perfect wave. John Milius's homage to the Malibu of his youth in Big Wednesday remains a poignant metaphor for the similarities between the changing surf and life. The 1980s cult classics North Shore and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are good introductions to teenage, light-hearted, superficial surf life (from the "heyday"). Beach movies such as the Gidget series, and Beach Party films like Beach Blanket Bingo are less reverential depictions of the culture. Liquid Time (2002) is an avant-garde surf film that focuses solely on the fluid forms of tubing waves. Blue Crush (2002) is a film about surfer girls on Hawaii's North Shore. The sequel, Blue Crush 2 (2011) is a film about a California rich girl who travels to South Africa to find out more about her mother and herself. The 1991 film Point Break starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze involves a group of bank robbers who are also surfers. The 1987 comedy film Surf Nazis Must Die features surfer gangs in the wake of an earthquake that destroys the California coastline. Soul Surfer is a biopic about surfer Bethany Hamilton in Hawaii.

Some film events include the Sydney Fringe Festival, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia.[35] the Surf Film Festival,[36][37] Saint Jean de Luz Surf Film Festival,[38] Wavescape Surf Film Festival in South Africa,[39] and the New York Surfing Film Festival.

Television shows

TV documentary series

TV episodes featuring surfing

Fictional surfers in TV

Duke: "Man, five days on that board and I'm nothing but skin and bones." • Ginger: "What skin." • Mary Ann: "And what bones."

Television advertising

Major advertisers appeal to the surfing market (and to would-be surfers)[40] with commercials featuring, in some cases famed surfing athletes, such as the Coca-Cola commercial featuring Kalani Robb and Maila Jones,[41] and a Kashi food commercial featuring Kashi nutritionist and surfer Jeff Johnson, 2006

Surfing magazines

Video games about surfing

Surfing in non-fiction

A surfer waits as a wave crashes

Conceptual metaphor

The word "surf" is polysemous; having multiple, related meanings. "Surfing" the World Wide Web is the act of following hyperlinks. The phrase "surfing the Internet" was first popularized in print by Jean Armour Polly, a librarian, in an article called "Surfing the INTERNET", published in the Wilson Library Bulletin in June 1992.

Academic topics

Natural science

Surfing in fiction



Philosophical novels

Graphic art

Main article: Surf art

See also


  1. 1 2 Malibu Surfers Fight Paparazzi (internet video). 2008.
  2. Harshaw, p. 708
  3. The Encyclopedia of Surfing - Matt Warshaw. p. 552. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  4. The Encyclopedia of Surfing - Matt Warshaw. p. 552. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  5. The Encyclopedia of Surfing - Matt Warshaw. p. 552. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  6. Ben Wixon (2009). Skateboarding: Instruction, Programming and Park Design. Human Kinetics. ISBN 978-0-7360-7426-1.
  7. Skateboarding: Instruction, Programming, and Park Design - Ben Wixon. p. 41. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  8. 1 2 3 Dawnea Adams. Soul surfing: tune in your power to live the movie of your life.
  9. "I should have been here yesterday.". Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  10. Bethany Hamilton; Sheryl Berk; Rick Bundschuh. Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Simon & Schuster.
  11. Matt Harshaw. The Encyclopedia of Surfing. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 Borow, Zev. "Surf N' Turf". ESPN.
  14. Higgins, Matt (22 January 2009). "Rough Waves, Tougher Beaches". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  15. Surfermag. "Kai Garcia-The Surfer Interview". Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  16. 1 2 3 Melekian, Brad. "Rough Justice". Outside Online. Retrieved November 2008. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  17. Marks, Kathy (19 March 2007). "Sydney's notorious surf gang turns tide of violence into big-screen adulation". London: The Independent. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
  18. "Surfing Gangs". SurfingGangs.TK. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  19. "Bra Boys breaks box office record". ABC News Online.
  20. eHow Sports & Fitness Editor. "How to Be a Beach Bunny". EHow. eHow, Inc. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  21. 1 2 Trevor Cralle. The surfin'ary: a dictionary of surfing terms and surfspeak. Quiksilver.
  22. Watanabe, June (31 March 2002). "Wherever it came from, shaka sign part of Hawaii". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  23. "The Shaka". Polynesian Cultural Center. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  24. Scarfe, B.E.; T.R. Healy; H.G. Rennie; S.T. Mead (2009). "Sustainable Management of Surfing Breaks: Case Studies and Recommendations". Journal of Coastal Research. 25 (3): 684–703.
  25. Wheaton, B (2007). "Identity, Politics, and the Beach: Environmental Activism in Surfers Against Sewage". Leisure Studies. 26 (3): 279–302. doi:10.1080/02614360601053533.
  26. Paddock, Richard (September 10, 1991). "Surfers Force Pulp Mills to Halt Ocean Pollution: Suit brings about precedent-setting accord. Firms to spend $56 million in fines, improvements". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. Rosenblatt, Susannah (September 23, 2008). "Federal officials struggle to maintain order at toll road hearing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  28. "Ericeira, Portugal Dedicated as World Surfing Reserve". Save the Waves Coalition. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  29. "Inspire. Activate. Empower". Save the Waves Coalition. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  30. "Global Surfing Market to Reach $13.2 Billion by 2017, According to New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc". 2011-08-25. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  31. 1 2 "Managing the Mentawai Surfing Tourism Industry". Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  32. 1 2 Brohman, J. 1996 “New Directions in Tourism for Third World Development”, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol 23, No 1: pp 48-70
  33. Archived March 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  34. Archived December 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Jinman, Richard (October 30, 2003). "Baiting Bondi's fringe". Sydney Morning Herald. Nude Night Surfing
  36. "Surfilmfestibal 12. 5-8 Junio 2014". Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  37. "AutoViewer". Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  38. Archived April 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  39. "Surfing in South Africa". Wavescape. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  40. "Coca-Cola Summer Commercial 1970s". YouTube. 2007-05-31. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  41. Archived April 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
Look up Appendix:Glossary of surfing terms in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Surfing.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.