Bemoaning our cultural wipeout
LAST DECEMBER in the Tyrolean Alps, an Austrian extreme skier wiped the last of the evening’s spaetzle from his shiny chin and launched into a heartfelt bro-down with a French extreme skier. The topic? Surfing in Micronesia. Here they were, two of the strongest freeskiers in Europe, sitting in a warm lodge at the base of a glacier-capped peak, surrounded by treasured mementos of the sport that is both their birthright and livelihood and they were both blathering about surfing. Just as I was about to further erode America’s image in Olde Europe by asking the multilingual duo to stifle, the Austrian picked up a guitar and began to sing and strum, ever so lightly, in the surfy and sackless key of Jack Johnson. I gazed into my beer, holding back tears of rage.
The pandemic that is surfing must be stopped. Even now, its symptoms are making me itch like I’ve been swimming in the waters off L.A. It’s spreading to my home turf as I write this. I’ve watched perfectly normal mountain-town guys walk into one of the two surf shops on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, only to come out a few minutes later wearing breezy collared shirts and boardshorts, their locks all frosted and tangled to go with their spray-on tans.
Kelly Slater has his own beer canSL8R. There are surf shops in Times Square and in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the latter of which is proudly trademarked Ski Town U.S.A. Bethany Hamilton, the one-armed surfer girl, stares at me gleefully from a banner ad in the Denver airport. This past winter, I opened up a cheesy hotel-room magazine called Snow only to see a photo spread of Laird Hamilton running shirtless through the Chugach powder. That’s right. He was running, bare-chested, in the pow, in Alaska. Apparently, at least one magazine other than Outside wants to see Laird nakedbad.
But sex sells. And right now surfing is selling its sexy soul. Around 2.3 million Americans say they surf. Probably half are lying, but more to the point: The rest of us spend $7.5 billion on surf-related products each year. So Madison Avenue, always looking for a trend to pimp, aligns its brands with surfing and the sport grows more obnoxious by the day. Have you seen that SUV commercial in which a bunch of surfer dudes check out a hot blonde only to realize she’s a mom going surfing with her daughters? The message: Surfing is hot, and if you buy our SUV, you’ll be hot, too. Whoops, marketing alert: When soccer moms become the face of the sport, the youngsters will stop buying $40 flip-flops. Someone call the Reef girls!
The other tired trope is that, because surfing is dangerous, it is therefore noble. Enter the poseur who bought the Riding Giants DVD and ordered an EDDIE WOULD GO T-shirt online. But just because a dozen or so big-wave surfers risk their charmed, sun-drenched lives by dropping into Jaws once a year doesn’t make surfing dangerous. Most surf time is spent burning spleefs in the parking lot, or bobbing around on some milky chop off the Jersey Shore.
Which reminds me of another shopworn sentiment that surfing promotes: that surfers are somehow more spiritual and mellow than the rest of us. You think surfers have a lock on Zen? Tell it to Nat Young, the Aussie surf champ who had his eye sockets pulverized a while back for daring to paddle into someone else’s perceived territory. Or run your Buddha talk past the undercover cops and lifeguards in San Diego who deal with surf rage on a daily basis. As for the shrine of surfing, Oahu’s North Shore, a more accurate slogan there would be something like this: “If You Park Your Rental Anywhere Near the Beach, Eddie Will Go Jack Open Your Trunk.”
Luckily, I have only pretend surfers living near me. I just wish I didn’t have to hear them talk. Four months after hanging with the extreme-skiing surfers in the Alps, I was fortunate enough to score a coveted spring powder day at Snowbird, Utah. As the afternoon wound down, I drank a beer on the tram deck while two lifelong skiers went on and on about Sayulita, Mexicowhich, apparently, is the spot for surfing mountainfolk. “Sayulita, Sayulita,” they said. “Scot Schmidt has a place down there. There’s a sweet little break. You should check it out.”
Feigning interest, I took out my notebook and wrote, screw Sayulita. And since we’re on the subject, SCREW SURFING, too. L8R.