The Problem with Malamalama Board Shorts

by The Deep Water Breaks

Delta Airlines wants you to take a trip to ease your mind. And to make it easier, they want you to buy a Delta Rewards card, offering 35,000 bonus miles and your first bag free. Now, I don’t work for Delta, and I have no intention of selling anyone a premier rewards card. I just happened to see on their screen that this advertisement includes two satisfied surfers stepping out of the water and walking towards a piece of plastic hovering in the air next to them.

I’m supposed be compelled to purchase a rewards card because these surfers convey a sense of ease, leisure and satisfaction. They clearly don’t have any worries about credit card debt. So why not book a trip to some beachfront hotel, catch a few waves?

The emphasis of this screenshot, and the point of the image, is to sell the AmEx credit card with the frequent flyer package. How do two surfers slogging ashore in the sunset achieve this goal? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to view the surfer in the ocean, paddling to catch a wave? Or at least to see these two guys walk into the ocean as the swell builds.

Forget it. Placid sea. Content surfers. Setting sun. The fact is, using someone who is actually surfing might more readily convey a sense of effort, difficulty and work. It’s much easier to think of the action as already being completed, moving into a moment when there is nothing to do. A moment where play consists of sitting on a beach drinking mojitos. The advertiser might want to the card to signify the same notion of completion that we ascribe to the surfers stepping out from the ocean. The surfer’s boards point to the credit card. They walk towards it. By spending with AmEx, we now are saving little by little to afford the trip we desire. But like surfer’s walking away from the ocean, perhaps we are moving in the wrong direction.

As a staple of Americana, surfing readily lends itself to advertisement. If the mark of late-capitalism is the consumer using his or her spending power to demonstrate leisure, then indeed surfing is the paragon. Using just a few images and videos, we can examine the way this leisure activity has been employed to sell you a wide variety of shit.

Cars and Surf Culture

The Woody is as big a surf icon as the board itself in Southern California. After all, how could a person get a ten-foot board to the beach without a car? Moving from air to land, there is plenty of visual culture linking the two. The Beach Boys had at least as many songs about cars as they did about surfing. And the truth is that surfing’s broad acceptance in Southern California is in no small way indebted to the automobile and the massive infrastructure created in Southern California.

This advertisement for the Triumph Spitfire Mk2 ascribes all the sexiness, power and fluidity of surfing and surf culture to the car.

In this ad by Jeep, the car and the board become synonymous. In the Spitfire ad the car embodies surf culture. It is inactive, leisurely, and not serving any particular purpose. If the advertisers wanted to demonstrate superior handling or any of the aspects mentioned in the writing below the image, it would make much more sense to place the vehicle on the road. In the Jeep ad, the vehicle enables the possibility of “Fun.” The car facilitates the journey, but it is also a part of it. In fact, the car isn’t even present in the image. It embodies surfing as much as surfing embodies the car.

This ad is a partnership between MiniCooper and Malamalama Board Shorts. The catch: Malamalama board shorts don’t exist. Mini-cooper invented a board-shorts company and purchased additional ad-space to produce this eye-catching ad. Like the Delta photo, the Malamalama ad features the surfers looking away from the beach, while their friend peers over the edge of the advertisement to the adjacent wall. Just as the surfers in the AmEx frequent flyer card draw our attention to the card, we are similarly drawn to the MiniCooper. And if we could look straight on at the Mini-Cooper ad, it would look a lot like the Jeep ad. Meta-Culture, Ad-Hoc.

 Look back at the Malamalama ad and it’s slogan:


Just because Malamalama is a fake company does not mean that this is a poorly constructed board shorts ad. The same sex appeal, power and edginess of the Spitfire advertisement is embodied in the line of surfers on the beach. The slogan is designed to simultaneously make the wearer feel unique and part of cultural movement.Even the word “Malamalama” is both validated and invalidated by it’s presence. In Hawaiian its roughly translated meaning is “Light of knowledge; clarity of thinking or explanation; shining, clear.”

The Other Side of Surf

the above advertisements, as we’ve seen, appeal to the idea of leisure and play. But in other cases advertisements have sought to eek out the more harsh and intimidating, life-threatening or otherwise unfathomable scope of surfing. The following advertisement was crated by Pepsi for their “Dare for More” campaign.


It’s hard not to appreciate the brilliance and beauty that advertisements are capable of. In this case, Pepsi has impregnated its entirely abstract logo with all the meanings of epic surf and stormy red skies. The brand loses nothing and gains everything. The viewer is first hit with abstraction, and then it’s a toss-up as to what first becomes apparent. Our eyes look to the corner and see the traditional Pepsi logo embedded in the new slogan, and looking back to the whole image we might begin to discern the shape of that same logo, and then realize it’s a wave if we haven’t already. But certainly the last thing to come to light will be the minuscule surfer  careening down the wave, who may as well be one of the shipwrecked passengers on Stephen Crane’s “Open Boat.”

It’s worth noting that while Pepsi is urging us to “Dare for More,” it is also clear that that wave, and by association the Pepsi-Cola company, are far more vast and powerful than the individual, who can ride the wave, but he cannot conquer or alter it. Though, in fact, the wave will eventually lose its form, become amorphous and crash, and ultimately dwindle down to ripples sucked back out into the sea.

That same power is evoked in an ad campaign by Guinness. The following video was ranked the most popular advertisement in British history. It is by all accounts a technical marvel. there is no computer animation. All of the effects are created through super-imposing different footage, creating a narrative that delivers an impressive punch. The narrative running through the ad is composed of quotes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The whole point is to convey Guinness’s new slogan: “Good things come to those who…”

It’s not possible to see the conflict by looking at one advertisement, but when the whole array of surf ads is analyzed, the duality of surfing’s representation become apparent. Intense power and Taoist passivity come together in the sport, but cannot be represented simultaneously in the media. It doesn’t sell.