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Surf culture includes the people, language, fashion and life surrounding the sport of surfing.

The culture began early in the 20th century, spread quickly during the 1950s and 1960s, and continues to evolve. It affected fashion, music, literature, films, jargon, and more. Surfers, who come from many walks of life, are bound by the hunt for great waves, the desire for the ultimate ride, and life in and around the ocean.

The fickle nature of weather and the ocean, plus the great desire for the best possible types of waves for surfing, make surfers dependent on weather conditions that may change rapidly. Surfer Magazine, founded in the 1960s when surfing had gained popularity with teenagers, used to say that if they were hard at work and someone yelled "Surf's up!" the office would suddenly be empty. Also, since surfing has a restricted geographical necessity (i.e. the coast), the culture of beach life often influenced surfers and vice versa. Localism or territorialism is a part of the development of surf culture in which individuals or groups of surfers designate certain key surfing spots as their own.

Aspects of 1960s surf culture in Southern California, where it was first popularized, include the woodie, bikinis and other beach wear, such as boardshorts or baggies, and surf music. Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land; and the number of boardsports and spin-offs has grown ever since.


For specific surf spots, the state of the ocean tide can play a significant role in the quality of waves or hazards of surfing there. Tidal variations vary among the various global surfing regions, and the effect the tide has on specific spots can vary among the spots within each area. Locations such as Bali, Panama, and Ireland experience 2-3 meter tide fluctuations, whereas in Hawaii the difference between high and low tide is typically less than one meter.
A surfer waits as a wave crashes
Each surf break is different, since the underwater topography of one place is unlike any other. At beach breaks, even the sandbanks change shape from week to week, so it takes commitment to get good waves (a skill dubbed "broceanography" by a few California surfers).

The saying "You should have been here yesterday." became commonly used phase for bad condition. Nowadays, however, surf forecasting is aided by advances in information technology, whereby mathematical modelling graphically depicts the size and direction of swells moving around the globe.

The quest for surf has given rise to a field of tourism based on the surfing adventure. Yacht charters and surf camps offer surfers access to the high quality surf found in remote, tropical locations, where tradewinds ensure offshore conditions.
The Shaka greeting sign
Surfers may see surfing as their "lifestyle".

The goals of those who practice the sport vary, but throughout its history, many have seen surfing as more than a sport, as an opportunity to harness the waves and to relax and forget about their daily routines. Surfers have veered from even this beaten path, and foregone the traditional goals of first world culture in the hunt for a continual 'stoke', harmony with life, their surfing, and the ocean. They; these "Soul Surfers", are a vibrant and long-standing sub-group. Competitive surf culture, centered around surf contests and endorsement deals, and localism's disturbance of the peace, are often seen in opposition to this.

The historic surf village of Ocean Beach, San Diego, Californiamarker, is a good example of a place devoted to the surfing lifestyle, having been introduced originally by OB Lifeguard George Freeth.

Surfers have often been associated with being slackers or beach bums (with women being known as beach bunnies). Though surfers come from all walks of life, the basis of the stereotype comes from that great enthusiasm that surfers can have for their sport. Dedication and perfectionism are also qualities that surfers bring to what many have traditionally regarded as a commitment to a lifestyle as well as a sport.


Even though waves break everywhere along a coast, good surf spots are rare. A surf break that forms great surfable waves may easily become a coveted commodity, especially if the wave only breaks there rarely. If this break is near a large population center with many surfers, territorialism often arises. Regular surfers who live around a desirable surf break may often guard it jealously, hence the expression "locals only." The "locals only" expression is common among many beach towns. For instance, many locals from the Jersey shore use the expression "shoobie" to refer to non-locals. These sayings are consistent with the territorialism that drives the beach culture and those that live on the coastal territories year round. Localism is expressed when surfers are involved in verbal or physical threats or abuse to deter people from surfing at certain surf spots. This is backed by the belief that fewer people equals more waves per surfer.

However, local surfers have been known to be violent when it comes to protecting their surf break from tourists or outside surfers. Some locals have been known to form loose gangs that surf in a certain break or beach and fiercely protect their "territory" from outsiders. These surfers are often referred to as "surf punks" or "surf nazis." The local surfer gangs in Malibumarker and on Hawaiimarker, known as da hui, have been known to threaten tourists with physical violence for invading their territory. In Southern California, at the Venicemarker and Santa Monicamarker beaches, local surfers are especially hostile to the surfers from the San Fernando Valleymarker whom they dub "vallies" or "valley kooks". The expression "Surf Nazi" arose in the 1960s to describe territorial and authoritarian surfers, often involved in surf gangs or surf clubs. The term "Nazi" was originally used simply to denote the strict territorialism, violence and hostility to outsiders, and absolute obsession with surfing that was characteristic in the so-called "surf nazis." However, some surfers reclaimed and accepted the term, and a few actually embraced Nazism and Nazi symbolism. Some surf clubs in the 60's, particularly at Windansea in La Jolla, used the swastika symbol on their boards and identified with Nazism as a counter culture (though this may have just been an effort to keep out or scare non-locals.)

Big Wave culture

A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularized in the 1990s has seen big wave surfing revolutionized, as surfers use personal watercraft to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves (see tow-in surfing). These waves were previously unrideable due to the speed at which they travel. Some waves reach speeds of over 60 km/h; personal watercraft enable surfers to reach the speed of the wave thereby making them rideable. Personal watercraft also allow surfers to survive wipeouts. In many instances surfers would not survive the battering of the "sets" (groups of waves together). This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.

Surf terminology

Surfing (particularly in Southern California) has its own slang, which has coincided with Valspeak. Words like "tubular", "radical", and "gnarly" are associated with both. One of the main terms used by surfers around the world would be the word, "Stoked". This refers to a mixed feeling of anxiety and happiness towards the waves breaking.

Issues affecting surfers

Global warming, environmental damage, and increasing riparian development may continue to increase pressure on the sport. Oil spills and toxic algae growth can threaten surfing regions. And, many wealthy homeowners have tried to prevent free access to beaches in violation of English and American common law traditions, in which "the strand" is not private property.

Some of these stresses may be overcome by building of artificial reefs for surfing. Several have been built in recent years (one is at Cables in Western Australia), and there is widespread enthusiasm in the global surfing community for additional projects. However, environmental opposition and rigorous coastal permitting regulations is dampening prospects for building such reefs in some countries, such as the United States.


A surfer memorial service, Huntington Beach Pier, Orange County, California.

Australian surfer Nat Young tried to register surfing as a religion, but to no avail. Many surfers combine their love of the sport with their own religious or spiritual beliefs. In Huntington Beach, Californiamarker for example, a local Christian, non-denominational church occasionally meets on the beach for Sunday early-morning services. After the closing prayer, the minister and his congregation paddle out for a morning session. In addition, many surfing communities organize and take part in memorial services for fallen surfers, sometimes on the anniversary of passing such as the Eddie Aikau memorial service held annually at Waimea Bay, Hawaiimarker. Participants in the memorial service paddle out to a suitable location with flower leis around their necks or with loose flowers (sometimes held between their teeth)., The participants then get into a circular formation, hold hands, and silently pray. Sometimes they will raise their clasped hands skyward before tossing their flowers or leis into the center of the ring. Afterward, they paddle back toward the beach to begin their surf session. Often these services take place at sunrise or sunset. In locations with a pier, such as Huntington Beach, Orange County, Californiamarker, the service can take place near the end of the pier so that any non-surfers, such as elderly relatives, can watch and participate. Often the participants on the pier will throw down bouquets of flowers into the center of the ring.

Surfing music

Surf culture is reflected in surf music, with sub-genres such as surf rock and surf pop. This includes works from such artists as Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Surfaris ("Wipe Out!"), Dick Dale, The Shadows, and The Ventures. The music inspired dance crazes such as The Stomp, The Frug, and The Watusi. While the category surf music helped popularize surfing, most surfers at the time, such as Miki Dora, preferred R&B and blues . A newer wave of surf music has started in the acoustic riffs of artists such as Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, who are both former professional surfers. The rise of surfers creating their own music and new style of surf rock has started.

Surf rock

Wedding Cake Island, in Coogee Bay, Sydney, Australia

Surf pop

Dick Dale in 2005



Surfwear is a popular style of casual clothing, inspired by surf culture. Many surf-related brand names originated as cottage industry, supplying local surfers with boardshorts, Ugg boots, wetsuits, surfboards or leashes.thing and hardware.


International Surfing Day celebrates the sport and lifestyle on June 20.

Surfing contests

Competitive surfing is a comparison sport. Riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world surfing championshipmarker series held annually at surf breaks around the world.

Although competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for its participants and its sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of "soul surfing", and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity. An organisation called the Spirit of Surfing has chosen not to accept surf label sponsorship, since an association of that sort could detract from the sentiment they wish to promote.

Surfing organizations

Spin-offs & influences


Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land. Later came windsurfing (also known as sailboarding), bodyboarding, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, skimboarding, snowboarding, riverboarding, kiteboarding, sandboarding, mountainboarding, carveboarding all now competitive sports. Another fast growing boardsport is skurfing a mix of surfing and more conventional water sports in which the participant is towed behind the boat. Pineboarding and sandboarding are recreational boardsports.

Surfing in multimedia

Films about surfing

The surf culture is reflected in film. Bruce Brown's classic movie The Endless Summer glorified surfing in a round-the-world search for the perfect wave. John Milius's homage to the Malibu of his youth in Big Wednesday remains a poignant metaphor for the similarities between the changing surf and life. Beach movies such as the Gidget series and Beach Party films like Beach Blanket Bingo are less reverential depictions of the culture. Liquid Time (2002) is an avant-garde surf film that focuses solely on the fluid forms of tubing waves.

Some film events include the Sydney Fringe Festival, Bondi Beachmarker, Sydney, Australia. the Surf Film Festival, Saint Jean de Luz Surf Film Festival, and Wavescapes Surf Film Festival.

Television shows

TV documentary series

TV episodes featuring surfing

Fictional surfers in TV

Duke: "Man, five days on that board and I'm nothing but skin and bones." • Ginger: "What skin." • Mary Ann: "And what bones."

Television advertising

Major advertisers appeal to the surfing market (and to would-be surfers) with commercials featuring, in some cases famed surfing athletes, such as the Coca-Cola commercial featuring Kalani Robb and Maila Jones, and a Kashi food commercial featuring Kashi nutritionist and surfer Jeff Johnson, 2006

Print media

Oil painting of surf at night

Surfing magazines

Video games about surfing

Surfing in non-fiction

Conceptual metaphor

The word "surf" is polysemous; having multiple, related meanings. "Surfing" the World Wide Web is the act of following hyperlinks. The phrase "surfing the Internet" was first popularized in print by Jean Armour Polly, a librarian, in an article called "Surfing the INTERNET", published in the Wilson Library Bulletin in June, 1992.


Academic topics

Natural science

Surfing in fiction



"Tapping the Source: Waves and Mystery, Guns and Grit""Dogs of winter" and "Tijuana Straights" By Kem Nunn
  • Surfing in Hawaii: A Personal Memoir, by Desmond Muirhead
  • Paunalu, by Rustom Calisch
  • The Impact Zone, by Ray Maloney
  • Fear Nothing, Seize the Night, by Dean Koontz. Christopher Snow, the main character, is a surfer, as are his best friend Bobby Halloway and girlfriend Sasha Goodall. Bobby makes his living running a surf forceasting service called Surfcast. Christopher's experience of surfing is rather unusual: suffering from the genetic disorder xeroderma pigmentosum he cannot go out during the day, but only at night.
  • In Search of Captain Zero, by Allen Weisbecker.
Philosophical novels

Graphic art

See also


  1. Harshaw, p. 708
  2. Harshaw, pages
  3. Harshaw, p. 35, 68, 196, 300
  4. Harshaw, pages
  5. Skateboarding, Ben Wixon
  6. The Surfboard: Art, Style, Stoke, by Ben Marcus, Juliana Morais, Jeff Divine, Gary (FRW) Linden
  7. Google Books "George Freeth Ocean Beach"
  8. Billion Dollar Breakers: The Professional Surfing World Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, Sunday, 13 April, 1997
  9. Nude Night Surfing
  10. Surfilm festival and exhibitions
  11. International Surf Film Festival France,
  12. Wavescapes Surf Film Festival set for the Bay of Plenty, The Surfing Yearbook
  13. 1977 Coca-Cola TV commercial, video
  14. Ocean Lifestyle Magazine
  15. TV ads TV ads

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