My favorite photos that come out from my research are the ones that politicize and action or question a norm. This one, though it attempts to be political (or satirical) is to me a photograph that is more representative of Miki Dora’s personality, which simply questioned what a surfboard is intended to be. It’s funny how an image that is intended to conjure the crucifixion makes me think of bonzer boards and fish tails.
The New York Times recently published an article by Bee-Shyuan Chang titled “Beach Hair is Riding the Wave” (May 23, 2013) that assessed the ever-popular hair style across the country; that “tousled, tawny and done to look undone” look that “has had staying power all year round.”
Source: New York Times
Chang seems aware of the ironies of beach hair. That people pay eighty-five dollars to have their hair professionally styled to get that “I was surfing in Costa Rica for a month look.” But even if he possesses this self-awareness, the focus of the article is the industry that has developed around beach hair. He tracks the trend back to model Gisele Bündchen, who’s hair apparently naturally possesses such a sexy, tousled quality. For those who don’t naturally possess such follicular magnificence but still want the Gisele or the Gidget look, one need only look into buying Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray, Organix Moroccan Surf Paste or Sachajuan Ocean Mist.
Retails for over fifty dollars a bottle
While the look is as summer as flip flops and tanning beds, its main appeal is that it caters to the culture of “chill.” No matter where you are, you want to be the person who has been hanging out at the beach all day, sun kissed skin and lightly frayed locks. Beach hair falls into that same category as ripped jeans. You either live the lifestyle that frays your hair and tears your pants, or you spend exorbitant amounts of money to create that identity for yourself.
This, still, is nothing new. The fact that beach hair earned an article in the New York Times style section is not in and of itself something to waste words on. But it fits into this broader idea of the surf mythos (bear with me).
Full disclosure: here is a photo of me from the mid-2000’s, sporting my grunge flannel, ripped jeans, and my so-cal surf hair.
The distinction that I am interested is that between the product of a culture and the cultural product. In other words, what results as a natural bi-product of a way of life or a hobby, vs. how that bi-product is adopted and re-appropriated for mass consumption.
Everything you find on-line about beach hair will tell you how to get it without going to the beach. But how does Rob Machado come to look like Rob Machado? Or how does Mary Osborne get that gorgeous Mary Osborne hair?
The science of hair and skin can be studied together (and relate to other studies of contrasts; i.e. the exoticization of dark skinned people with blue eyes, etc.). Under contact from the sun, skin darkens because of damage to layers of skin by ultraviolet rays. These UV rays trigger melanocytes to overproduce melanin in the epidermal, or top, layer of skin. Over time this alters the composition of the skin and darkens it (You are not, in fact, baking in the sun).
Hair, on the other hand, is given its color through the same process as skin, roughly. Melanocytes produce forms of melanin which create their own bi-products that give hair its color. But since the hair itself is actually dead, the melanocytes cannot replenish the melanin that was originally present in your lovely strands. As a result, the sun dries and fades the hair. It photolyses (breaks apart) the melanin and then bleaches the hair.
Ocean water then acts as a sort of rough soap the texturizes the hair, Add to that the natural tousling of wind and waves, and there you have your eighty-five dollar salon style.
This look comes in two varieties, which is fixed along gender lines. Type in “beach hair” into a google image search, and this is what you find:
Type in “surf hair” and this is the result:
It’s interesting how even in this seemingly minor representation of a sub-culture, the same stereotypes that pressure major discussions manifest themselves. Women are passive, observant and wafe-like “beach-goers,” watching the surfers and not participating. Men are the surfers, those being watched.
The market picks this up and pitches their products along these gender lines. Consider these two adds:
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The notion of these gender differences is as contrived as the notion of beach hair itself. As the New York Times article wraps up, Change quotes Miami beach stylist Oribe, who says “When I’m at the beach, the moment I get out of the water, I want to take a shower.”
For me, personally, one of my favorite parts of surfing is running my fingers through my hair and feeling the grains of sand. My skin tastes saltier, and it feels softer, and I smell like the ocean. My hair is short now, but that feeling lies deep in the roots. Kelly Slater feels it, and he’s bald.
I just want to put this out there to my millions of dozens of ten or twelve followers. This kickstarter seems like a really cool project. It won’t save anybody’s lives and it won’t change the world, but it will tell a fascinating surf story from a unique time and place. Surfing is often portrayed as American’s travelling to exotic locales and eating tacos from around the world. But this, though still a travel story, is about two people tracing back their own ancestry and roots, and trying to find their own history, rather than sight-seeing the history of others. I’m gonna give ‘em twenty bucks. I just want to encourage others to do the same.
2013 Surfer Girls in the New World Order by Krista Comer (Duke University Press: 2010) Reviewed by Stewart Sinclair, Loyola University New Orleans
Last December, I reviewed Krista Comer’s ethnographic study of surfing, Surfer Girls in the New World Order, a fantastic analysis of surf culture and the role women occupy within that cultural space. The cultural studies journal Interstitial, picked it up and it is finally online.
Check out the interview, since it’s something I’m proud of. But when you’re done, read the book. Comer has done extensive research and has rigorously analyzed surf culture from a perspective that is rarely taken.
Krista Comer is from Oxnard, California and is a professor at Rice University. Her work on western frontiers and feminism is exciting and accessible, while challenging. For people who want surfing to be taken seriously as something more than stoners with free time, this is a good place to start.
Man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.
Here’s a link to my latest op-ed in the Loyola University Maroon. I offer my take on what should be considered in the gun debate.
Screenshot from Hironobu Sakaguchi’s iOS game Party Wave
Any research into surfing video games will likely yield one of two results: a history of surf games, or the mystery of their disappearance from the market. Regarding the former, several people have created informative and entertaining chronicles that can be found here and here. Within these articles, and likely with most others you will find, the conclusion will likely be the lamentation of the lack of new surf games. There aren’t many adequate explanations for the failure of this sports sub-genre. After all, titles like California Games from the 1980’s were highly successful, spawning sequels and eventually gaining multi-platform releases.
Further, games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Shaun White’s snowboarding game franchise suggested the viability of the niche-sport market in the world of commercial gaming. In fact, most any set of data points you can find suggests that a surfing game should sell.
So why haven’t they?
This question is harder to answer than it would seem. Obviously, there is no one reason, but some of the answers that seem sound take on water under scrutiny. For instance, it could be assumed that surfing simply does not have a a very broad real world audience, and therefore touches on nothing of the universal aspect of play. What fun is a sport you don’t understand? Most of us have played football, basketball, or baseball as children, and we maintain exposure to those sports and their inner-dramas throughout most of our lives. In a sense, skateboarding possesses that same universal accessibility. Yes, skateboarders are weighed down by certain stigmas and laws, but the world is your skatepark. But then we look at the success of snowboarding video games. The Shaun White Snowboarding franchise would by any marker be considered a success. The first game in the series sold over three million copies, hardly something to laugh at.
Does anyone seriously want to say that snowboarding is more accessible than surfing? Perhaps there are more white-bosomed slopes than surfable beaches (and if so, probably not for long), and maybe a surfboard costs more than a snowboard. But factor in lift-tickets, snow gear, and anything else that may be involved, and I promise the price will invariably level out, or more likely tip on the side of the snowboard. Still, if it is not the immediate accessibility, maybe there is some x-factor that alters a gamer’s view of snowboarding. Does its place in the winter olympics lend snowboarding enough momentum to propel it into the HD displays of American kids? If that were the case we’d all be playing Russ Howard’s Pro Curler.
Your child’s next obsession
The X-Factor exists in surfing. Unlike Snowboarding and Skateboarding, the human being on a surfboard is placed in a situation that is subordinate to nature. Rather than constructing wooden skate parks or “carving” mountain slopes, the surfer is instead at all times reading the ocean, and trying to estimate what it is going to do. This act of reading and studying implies a certain level of work that a sports gamer might not like to associate with the experience.
It once again sets the focus on the more seemingly mundane aspects of surfing, and paddling in particular. To paddle out for a wave is to work, and to work without the aspect of intermittent play. Think about Tony Hawk. The way to really rack up points is to perform tricks in between tricks—to manual all the way to the half-pipe.
In later incarnations of Tony Hawk it is possible even to dismount from the board and run and climb. Paddling allows for none of this. The natural conditions inside the break-zone mandate expediency. One of the reasons surfers hug close to jetties is because they create natural rip-tides that pull you out past the breaks, minimizing the effort to paddle into the line-up.
In fact, One recently developed game for iOS, Ripcurl Live, does away with paddling entirely. The entire game takes place on a breaking wave that you ride until you bail. This would seem to be the surfer’s wet-dream. Surfline reviewed it, claiming that it was a game for “regular old surfers looking for something relatively easy to keep them entertained while waiting for a flight, in the doctor’s office or in a boring class.”
Screenshots from RipCurl Live
But it received a lukewarm reception, in broader reviews, as simplified and repetitive. Meanwhile, a simultaneous and more immersive mobile release, Billabong Surf Trip, was a fully immersive surf experience taking the surfer from the shore to the breaks, with all the minutiae in between (except more technically complex maneuvers like duck-diving). However, the guys at Surfline found it less intuitive, and how many people do you know playing it on their phones?
From Billabong. An uncomfortable screenshot on many levels.
Virtual Paddling is as fun as it sounds
When we consider this one small aspect, we jump directly to the strange place that the surfer occupies. There has yet to be a game where a person constructs a surf spot. This is not because it is impossible. Surf spots are destroyed and created all the time, both by natural forces and by human intervention. The creation of a jetty or the extinction of a reef will both immensely alter the nature of a break. But that is not how the audience perceives it. Rather than skating to the half-pipe, the surfer waits for the wave. The duration of the wave is determined not by a human clock but by a complex set of circumstances varying from the fetch of the wind in the Caribbean to the phase of the moon in that hour. We accept the boiled down versions of skateboarding and snowboarding. We appreciate the degree of freedom that these games give us, where even the worst skateboarder can, in a virtual world, surpass the best. But I don’t think that that feeling has ever been captured in a surfing game. Ian Bogost lists a number of games that place the player in a position of weakness, and suggests that this runs counter to the expected narrative of most video games.
One wonders if the surfer is inherently in a position of weakness, and that no one is willing to be subjected to that state. And further, one finds an uncomfortable position for the surf gamer, where the stronger agent is a virtual ecology, which in all current incarnations is unalterable, massive, and poorly rendered.
Perhaps the savior of the genre is the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series. Years ago, Sakaguchi left Square Enix and founded his own studio Mistwalker in 2004. In June of last year, they released their first game for iOS, Party Wave.
In Party Wave you play in two modes: paddle and surf. Through swipping and touching the screen you control the movements of multiple surfers who must navigate water and waves, collecting objects and fighting bosses. The video beautifully lays out the nature of game play:
The game seems likely to gain traction in the mobile market, and though this is not synonymous with platform gaming, it would mark the first time since the nineties that any surf game gained serious attention. Sakaguchi accomplished this by abandoning the conventions of the form that people would have considered most crucial. The game does not play like a surfing simulator, but like an old-school strategy game with boss battles and reflex tests. Sakaguchi incorporates surfing in both literal and abstract waves. Yes, the characters are surfing, but the musical tone, the visual aesthetics are all incorporated to create a “surfer vibe.” As for the virtual ecology, in a sense nature is still overwhelming. In the surf setting the threat of a wipe-out is always eminent, and in the paddle setting sting-rays and jelly-fish are obstacles to avoid. But at the same time the incorporation of bosses like giant eels and jelly-fish provide the surfer with the opportunity to fight back against nature, proving that even while surfing, the person is the master of its domain.
Party Wave re-imagines the genre rather than trying to confront the deeper issues that prevent the purer surf game from gaining some sort of prominence. It situates the surfer back in the man vs. nature binary that seems comfortable at some base level. But Sakaguchi has accomplished anything, it is a reintroduction of the surf game back into the conversation. This is something he should have an interest in. After all, he’s a surfer.
5 min Tea break :)
I thought this photo, from Cornwall, was interesting not just aesthetically, but for it’s caption “5 min Tea break :).” The phrase is at once intrinsically relates to the notion of surfer as not just at play, but completely outside of the work environment. In this photo and description, notions of time and relaxation are skewed. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a five minute surf sesh (as some might say where I’m from in California), and neither is surfing as effortless as a cup of tea. So how does surfing, from California to Cornwall, develop this mythology of ease?
Deleuze would probably associate this with surfing’s place as a new type of sport (new being his term, not mine), that places the surfer as a being that is carried by the wave, as opposed to the head-on collisions and defensive nature of other sports. The surfer represents a new type of sport (and again even a new type of capitalism, to Deleuze).
But why don’t we associate these same ideas with cycling or skateboarding? Skateboard’s represent the same sort of motion, and cycling sets up this near limitless playground for sport. The reason is likely a surface issue. Consider that the skateboard is associated with the concrete jungle, urban exploration. It is the sport of trucks and bearings, grinding—fluid motion made possible by polycarbon on hard surfaces. In fact, the artistry of an aerial is made possible by rubber soles on sand-paper grip tape. As for the bicycle, the issue is endurance, and that a cyclist at his height is one who can climb the steepest slope the fastest, etc. This is not far from surfing, but the big difference is this: a cyclist’s hill does not move. There are winds, and rains, but on the scale of human time, the mountain is pretty much constant.
Surf breaks are readable. Pipeline, The Wedge, Cloud Break. These places are defined by the waves they produce. but these wedges, pipes and clouds shift and change, grow and shrink, explode. So why do we consider this tea time?
Because outside the competition, just outside the break, one has control over his efforts. The option to drift and to wait is vital to the surfing experience. And no matter what beach, in whatever part of the world, provided you can bear the water’s temperature, this option is always present.
Surfing, a California sport par excellence if there ever was one. No longer a sport of self-control and domination directed towards some goal, it is just a practice of inserting oneself into a wave and letting oneself be carried by it.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Ongoing Soft Revolution. Critical Inquiry (Winter, 2004).