Today I asked myself a question that I don’t yet know the answer to: Would the surfers of early 18th century Polynesia be more proud or ashamed of what the surfing community has become today? My instinct is they would lean towards the latter.
The ancient Polynesian culture was a collectivist one. They worked together to survive and they lived off the earth. They shared waves and the joys of their sacred sport.
As surfing spread like wildfire around the world, it found new epicenters in California and Australia. The people that embraced surfing in these locations were primarily of European decent, and therefore identified more with individualism than collectivism.
Over the years we sensationalized, industrialized, commercialized, and globalized. Companies that represent surf culture and operate sustainably are in the minority as opposed to the majority. Board builders making the use of sustainable materials a priority are a minority as opposed to a majority. And how about us, the individual surfers?
We use surfing to get ahead in the world. We use it for image crafting and looking cool to our peers on Instagram. We don’t think twice before driving our big trucks back and forth to the beach as they spew out carbon into our atmosphere. Aggressive, competitive vibes fill our waters. Fights break out in our beach parking lots.
Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of what we stand for. It became about me, not us. And about us, not them.
There is a global climate crisis, yet there’s no clear indication that surfing, not just the industry but our community as a whole, is coming together to do anything about it. We’re more concerned with capturing our next GoPro surf-selfie.
Sure, there are surfers out there leading NGO’s and trying to serve the greater good. But take a look around your local beach parking lot on a given Saturday, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one. So when I think about how our surfing ancestors would feel about our community today, I can’t help but think they’d be disappointed.