California Surf Culture

Joe Reid

Joe Reid

English 101

California Surf Culture

The manufactured image of health and happiness that became synonymous with the California Lifestyle has over the years become more refined, molded into a specific state of existence that is, by definition, a contradiction placed at the ocean's edge. The exploitation of this natural condition has been traced from the innocent origins of early local surf industry into the contemporary realm of multi million dollar public offerings on Wall Street. The recreational sport of surfing is but one of several histories through which the process of co modification and exploitation becomes obvious. Stripped of its innocent beginnings surf culture has become a malleable part and participant in the construction of the California dream and of a style unique in its own because of it’s message and underlying theme.

Surfing’s origins date back to the days of the ancient Hawaiians. Nobody exactly knows when the first surfers first paddled out to ride on wooden boards. Surfing among the Hawaiian culture is an important aspect of their relationship between man and nature. Surfing among Hawaiians was almost lost near the latter part of the eighteen hundreds until a young Hawaiian beach boy named Duke Kahanamuku revitalized the sport, introducing the modern surfing scene. Duke Kahanamuku was the “Original Beach Boy” of Waikiki beach in Hawaii around the beginning of the nineteenth century. Duke excelled in surfing and swimming. He later won a gold medal in the Olympics in swimming, bringing global attention to the Hawaiian culture. Duke brought surfing to mainland California where it was an immediate hit among those close to the beach. Surfing came from the desolate beaches of ancient Hawaii to the modern beaches of the world.

The surf industry in California and the world, began innocently enough in the middle of the nineteen hundreds after the impact of Duke Kahanamuku. As the sport developed from a sleepy, eccentric pastime of a few thousand in Hawaii to the fad explosion of 1959-1963 (kicked off by the Hollywood movie Gidget) the millions of new surfers needed surfboards.

A garage industry, as specialized and quirky as was the act of riding the waves, tried to mimic big-time sporting goods manufacturing. Through the sixties, a dozen or so factories manned by surfers who suddenly saw the opportunity to make a living around something they loved. But by 1969, the surfboard industry had imploded back into hundreds of "do your own thing" underground garage builders with no financial overhead that the larger more commercialized board builders had. Skilled craftsmen could make good wages on the local level and even became admirable figures, and that's the way it is today.

Surf trunks were another matter. These functional bits of surfing paraphernalia had a charisma of their own. Surfers used colorful and insolent style variations in their trunks to make statements about who they were. This habit was turned by some clever image manipulators and marketers into a lifestyle industry, based around the reliability of real surf trunks for sale at real surf shops, as an authentic image base to penetrate a mass market hungry for real stuff.

Growing out of the same surf trunk distribution network into the mass market, screen print Ts, the personal statement-of-affiliation billboards of our times, became another huge success spawned largely in the core-surf market. By the late 1970s, several surf wear companies were doing multi-million a year sales mostly in these two categories of goods. The industry as a whole was heading towards a billion dollars a year. By the late eighties those same companies sales were topping a hundred million a year each and some were going public. At that stage, little of it had much to do with serving people who rode waves. But as an image base, it remained intact and called itself the "surf industry."

Surf T shirts of today have not changed much from their first mainstream introduction. Surf T-shirts are typically any color and have generally a small logo on the front breast and a larger logo on the back. The designs reflect the laid-back nature of the surf culture yet showing the artistic, personal, extreme aspect of the sport. Men and women alike wear these shirts on all occasions. When the occasion calls for formal attire a