Surfing has enjoyed the benefits of exceptional marketing and representation in popular media and culture since at least the 1950s. Most people associate surfing with the cool, carefree, peace-and-love lifestyle that was born out of mid-century Southern California. Today, surfing is a mirror to contemporary American society which hosts many elements of racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, territorialism, and even physical violence. How could the self-described “Zen” sport of surfing simultaneously encourage and harbor bad actors? Why exactly did this Indigenous practice become perverted in places like Southern California, Australia, and South Africa so quickly, yet mostly maintain its stewardship and original intention in Hawai‘i?
THE INEVITABLE RETURN OF AN ATOMIC BEING is an upcoming feature documentary which investigates surfing’s colonial and imperialist history in connection to contemporary American surf culture. From the illegal annexation of The Kingdom of Hawai’i and ban on surf practice, to its appropriated resurgence, commodification, and connection to the military industrial complex, issues of ownership, belonging, and exclusion funnel into hyper-local surf communities. “Keep politics out of surfing”, they say, but surfing is and always has been a political act. The film will include two concurrent plots and story arcs; contemporary surfing history with explanation of the sport’s evolution, and a character focus on those actively resisting the status quo in American surf culture and working towards creating a more inclusive environment.
Unfortunately there is a cultural gag order in surfing not to criticize it, and those who do are often bullied or ostracized. In the case of pro-surfing, one may be suspended or fined. According to the World Surf League’s rulebook under section 14.04 entitled “Damage to Surfing‘s Image”, athletes must not participate in “conduct that reflects unfavorably on the sport of surfing”, which includes speech.
I don’t mind speaking out against my own community. I don‘t see it as damaging surfing’s image – I see it as improving it. This project is stewardship.