Six foot and free
Is surfing returning to its authentic, countercultural roots? A brief tour of the subculture reveals it just might.
Surfing and freedom have always walked hand in hand. For over a century, people have been blowing out work, disappearing up the coast and getting lost in the magic of the water. Somewhere along the way though, surfing became about advertising and big brands, competitions and surfboards with no float. Surfers became jocks and the art became a sport, but it didn’t last for long. The last ten years have seen a backlash and right now, surf culture is more diverse and interesting than ever before.
Global trends have included a shift away from large companies, with surfers supporting individuals and boutique operations at a local level, just the way the beach surf shop and surfboard shaper have always operated. Boards for joe public have changed too, becoming shorter, flatter and wider with an emphasis on speed, style and fun. Heavy single-fin longboards have made a revival with the classic hang-tens of the past updated with a radical, modern take. The ongoing exploration of new coastlines, heavier slabs, more isolated waves continues. On established coastlines, surfing mashes up with countercultures such as punk, bikers and hot-rods. As usual, Europe takes its cues from California and Australia, but increasingly creates its own culture.
Australia has a thriving alternative surfing subculture. George Greenough, the radically influential kneeboarder who created Crystal Voyager and The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun, is the overseer of northern New South Wales surfing. People like Dave Rastovich (a Billabong freesurfer and environmental activist who runs Surfers for Cetaceans) have influenced the culture with a free-thinking, ride-anything ethos based in free enjoyment of the ocean. Andrew Kidman, the filmmaker behind Litmus and Glass Love, continues to hone his various forms of erudite, beautiful art and in so doing proves that surfers are not just dumb beach jocks. It’s been almost twenty years since Litmus, but the film is more relevant to the current culture every day. Andrew’s recent work has featured female world champion Stephanie Gilmore dancing on a Dave Parmenter single-fin. With his girlfriend Michelle Lockwood, Andrew remains a cultural light within surfing. Derek Hynd, as ever, continues redefining everything.
In California, pockets of experimentation are rife, largely sparked by Thomas Campbell’s film efforts The Seedling and Sprout. From the Santa Barbara experimental laboratory steered by Ryan Lovelace to the Hydrodynamica movement overseen by Richard Kenvin (with the incredibly talented postmodern shredder Ryan Burch) to the veritable cult surrounding Alex Knost, a longhaired throwback longboard ace and musician, the onus is on freedom of expression. A modern surfer who sits perfectly in this mix is Cyrus Sutton, the filmmaker and owner of Korduroy and now a full-time freesurfer sponsored by Reef. Kassia Meador, a highly graceful longboarder, could be considered a female equivalent – and is a fine photographer to boot.
On this side of the pond, Mickey Smith makes beautiful, poetic films summed up by Dark Side of the Lens. The high-quality, remote waves that fringe Ireland and Scotland have come under media scrutiny, captured by photographers like Al Mckinnon. We’ve got great longboarders like James Parry, Candice O’Donnell and Sam Bleakley, not to mention singular stylists like Neil Erskine and Mark Dickinson. Europe is exploding with interesting characters, grouped around hubs like Portugal’s Magic Quiver outside Ericeira.
It is these characters the world over who inform the state of modern surfing, bringing it to life and giving it form through their film, photography, art or words. Their greatest contribution is the one usually unseen – dedication to the beach and the waves that break upon it – lives sculpted by the ocean. Whatever type of board you ride, despite the growing crowds, surfing subculture continues to evolve from healthily alternative roots.
WORDS by Daniel Crokett
(Mr Crockett is a writer and a surfer, who has written for magazines such as The Surfer’s Journal, Surfer’s Path, Huck, Caught by the River. His poetry has been on Channel 4 and in two films. He has done coffee table books and last but not least, he is the publisher and editor of The KooK)
PHOTOGRAPHY by Karoliina Barlund