"Letting go of the idea of surfing will liberate you from its perceived demise. It's acceptance through transcendence."
As the King rolled broken-pawed into his last high-scoring Ranch run on Sunday po-faced surfers bemoaned the latest corruption of surfing. This giant aquatic simulator, a hundred miles from the ocean, pumping out folded lumps of dam water with a Disno-reptillian conglomerate greasing the plow.
To paraphrase the great philosopher Garth Algar: it looked like surfing; only, that’s not surfing.
There’s no need to peer in to that existential maw again.
But after seeing Surf Ranch in full flight it could be easy to say surfing finally jumped the shark. To plant a flag in the fake Lemoore sand right under the Polo Ralph Lauren booth.
This is where we sold out. Yet it wouldn’t be the first time…
This is the cover of a Tracks issue from 1977.
Let’s read inside.
“Commercialism is sponsors, endorsement, propaganda images, hard sell, soft sell and the whole crazy game. It will hurt some aspects of surfing and it will help others. But whichever way you look at it , the age of commercialism in surfing has arrived. And it’s the most important surfing development of the decade.”
Phil Jarratt was coming to grips with the Bronzed Aussies 40 years ago, but he could just as easily be describing Lemoore and the WSL in 2018. Just replace ‘commercialism’ with ‘The Ranch’.
Lemoore is a marketing team’s dream. Everything’s on demand and ready to be packaged. It is the most important surfing development of the decade, at least from the WSL’s perspective. Dirk, Sophie and backwards Beth are (in Ronnie Blakey voice) absolutely frothing at the possibilities. A wave pool for every strip mall. The WSL aren’t the first to try and make a buck from surfing and they won’t be the last.
But for many it left an uneasy feeling. Is this really where we’re headed?
Well, just as experiencing ego death can lead to true enlightenment of the self, letting go of the idea of surfing will liberate you from its perceived demise. It’s acceptance through transcendence.
Dig it: Trying to put a label on surfing is like trying to sweep leaves in a breeze. It’s in a constant state of flux. Is it a professional sport? A counter-culture movement? A spiritual release?
All of the above?
Probably, and more.
The problem isn’t which direction surfing is heading. It’s more fundamental. We need to stop thinking of surfing as a singular identifier. The concept no longer stands up. It’s a misnomer. We’re not a broad church. We’ve branched out into entirely different religions. You can still surf in verb form, sure.
But surfing as a common noun? It’s no more.
Just like the electric foil ripping through the waterways of Florida has fuck-all in common with the beak-nosed quad paddling into SA desert death slabs, so to does the WSL action sport enthusiast target market have no connection with me, or how I value surfing. It’s the crazy 88s in Byron vs corporate surf retreats in Costa Rica.
The idea of surfing as a blanket term no longer fits. Lemoore’s just another fork in a road that left the highway ten turns back.
Surfing is a medium. An interpretation. It holds up a mirror to the user and nothing more. The cathartic nature of surfing has more to do with drug consumption than it does with a sport. It’s a way for some people to get their kicks. And a way for others to make money.
But there’s so many different ways to do it now that trying to skin it is a futile effort.
Again, this isn’t a new idea.
Here’s Graham Cassidy from that same Tracks in ‘77.
“What has to be remembered in the outset is that surfing, whether amatuer or competitive or day to day fun, is what the individual makes it. No one can take that peculiarly personal element out of the pastime. Not money, not hype, not media overkill. It is what makes the act of surfing so inviolate. Surfing is no longer a counter culture, but a thing of the masses. It can’t go on being smothered in a cocoon, free of outside forces. The pastime is too popular, too big and too unwieldy for such utopian-like detachment. This is, of course, the unfortunate way of life.”
So criticise The Pool if you need to.
Hold the WSL to account. Especially when it’s as fun as the BG comments section.
But embrace the absurdity of it all. And don’t cry for surfing. It’s already dead.
Long live surfing.