Documentary Traces Growth of Surfing

October 6, 2006

By Jaclyn Anderson
3 Oct 2006

Consumption, consumerism, and corporation-principles that surfers once loathed- have accelerated surf culture into a mainstream entity.

What once started out as a rebellious sub-culture is now embraced by popular culture.

Surfing’s enormous growth is documented in a new film directed by Chris Cutri, assistant professor in the Communications Department.

The documentary, called “Riding the Wave,” focuses on how surfing culture has become mainstream, specifically through fashion, and how individuals find their identities through what they buy and what they wear, Cutri said.

Surfing has grown into a billion-dollar industry. In 2004, the surfing and skate industry made $5.6 billion, Cutri said.

Cutri interviewed the C.E.O. of Quiksilver, the C.E.O. of Hurley, the president of Billabong USA, and several professional surfers for the documentary.

Some long-time surfers say surfing culture in the west started out as a rebellion against the idea of consumption and the corporate world, and they argue there has been a shift from what surfing used to be due to surf corporation marketing, Cutri said.

Former professional surfer, Dave Parmenter, points the finger at surf corporations for the commercialization of surfing.

“In order to grow and get that big and prosper, they’ve had to basically sell out to the mainstream and market the good things about the surfing lifestyle to non-surfers,” Parmenter said.

Malcolm Botto, who researched identity issues for the documentary, said surf brands have grown in popularity because they make it easy for people to feel like they fit in.

“In our capitalist world all you need to do is consume the cultural products and you’re in, Botto said in an email interview. “Surfing is a lifestyle with a particular world view people really like. Many may wear surf brand clothing not necessarily because they surf but because they like what surfing stands for, or because they want to belong to the group of people that identify themselves with surfing.”

Parmenter said surf corporations target the insecurity of youth.

“Kids today are so petrified of being uncool that they don’t know what cool or uncool is anymore,” Parmenter said. “They can’t even tell so they just want to exist in this camouflage all the time so they don’t have to make those choices.”

Nate Stanley, a 23-year-old junior from Minneapolis, Mn., said all the “cool kids to normal kids” in his elementary school wore surfing brands. “Back in the day it was awesome to wear Billabong, Stucci, Redsand, Mossimo, Quiksilver, all those surfing shirts with the big logo on the back and the little logo on the front,” Stanley said.

Surf corporations, like Quiksilver, take credit for much of the recent popularity of surfing and surf culture.

Greg Macias, vice-president of marketing for Quiksilver, said in an email interview that surf corporations spend millions of dollars to promote riders, events, camps, and their products.

“All of this energy is aimed at making the lifestyle more attainable and desirable to young people globally,” he said. “The draw of the sport and the lifestyle are there already but these groups of people [surf corporations] have definitely accelerated its popularity.”

“Riding the Wave,” which will be finished around the end of October, will be shown at the North American Sociology Sport Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, in November. Cutri plans to send the documentary to film festivals.

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