The surf photo can be the cruellest of masters.
Five days ago this website wondered aloud if a BeachGrit reader could win, perhaps very easily, the Indian Open of Surfing. The two-day event, which began on Friday, featured the best surfers on the sub-continent, as well as Maldivian Ismail Miguel.
As Chas Smith wrote:
“Be honest right now. Be way super honest. If you happened to be in Mangalore with a few hours to kill and, inexplicably, your favorite surfboard do you think you could take the Indian Open of Surfing?
Are you racist for feeling that way?
But also, I think I could. Chas Smith surf champ!”
Of course, the posit was racist to the bone. Just as eating a delicious fish curry is an act of imperialist cultural appropriation.
Or at least it was until this photo was splashed across India’s Deccan Herald, an English-language paper read by half-a-million people every day.
“Austin from USA displays his skill on waves,” reads the caption.
Oh, I know, we’ve all fallen victim to inflated expectations of a surf photograph. Many years ago, one of my dearest friends came back to our North Shore rental breathless that he’d just been photographed taking off on a ten-foot Sunset peak.
This was pre-digital and a week passed before the photograph was revealed. The sheet of transparency film was ripped out of the paper bag, thrown on a lightbox and…
… the friend, a good enough surfer, was captured in a deep squat, a sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, on what appeared to be a still ocean.
I’ve worked in the magazine game long enough to’ve seen bad photos of Jordy Smith and co. (Oddly, never of Dane Reynolds.)
And what I’ve learned is, you have to turn harder than you’ve ever turned, in the most critical part of a wave you’ve ever visited, swish your arms and hips around and then, only then, might you get something that isn’t embarrassing.
As for this,
Did Austin from the USA, read Chas Smith’s story and think, goddammit, I’ll drive those Indians into the dirt and be a one-in-a-billion surfer, the best on the sub-continent?
Maybe he did!