Cutting Class

Musing on surfing’s history of romantic rebellion.

Light / Dark

Surfing, being a daylight activity, and quality waves, being acts of nature that come and go, often creates a conflict between getting surf at its best and performing normal societal functions. This conundrum becomes apparent as one takes on surfing and then as one begins to be faced with the decision of choosing which is more important at any given moment. Each side of the equation possesses qualities that, depending on how each individual values them, bends his or her decision on how to spend time. 

Various aspects come into play when making a decision of one over the other. This includes supply and demand, the costs and penalties associated with each, and one’s tendency toward accepting responsibility versus pursuing aesthetic reward. It becomes a fulcrum on which life paths depend and often diverge. Is one right or wrong? The answer to that question relies on one’s personal goals, and then on one’s broader societal aspirations. The departure point can be hard to retrace and reverse if followed in one direction for long enough. Stability has been a built-in pursuit that spans generations, while the simple or free life is a newer and rarer means of escaping those generational concerns and pressures.

With the youth being the larger share of those who explore the latter, and with their being so visible right there at the beach while you’re driving to work, it emphasizes an aspect of our culture that is perhaps less prevalent than it might outwardly appear. 

Surfing in the 1950s and 60s saw many who faced the decision of waves or work. And while most chose conformity, some chose the other way. It was one of the first times in modern American history that a faction of the populace defected to “go surfing,” metaphorically or otherwise. It emboldened some and frightened others, who wondered if it implied society was departing from its foundations. For those who cut loose, it did work for a while, until age came to require the stability they had forsaken. At its peak, it provided the appearance of a romantic rebellion, though in hindsight it was a momentary affectation that was mostly swept aside by the end of the Vietnam War. Still, that time remains noteworthy for momentarily flaunting the abandonment of the parental values that had produced those offspring.

What followed that period were gradual geometric increases in surfing versus all else, the smaller variety within who dropped out and obfuscated surfing’s common nature. Since its root periods, we’ve mainstreamed and commoditized surfing’s magic feeling, which has made the whole deal less erotic yet better funded as a categorical choice for human activity. And on and on. The original essence has become yet another rare and trace moment left behind.