The Deep Water Breaks

Surfing's fictions, metaphysics and culture.

Review: “Surfer Girls in the New World Order”

Comer, Krista.  Surfer Girls in the New World Order

Duke University Press, 2010, $23.95

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4805-4


The following review originally appeared in Interstitial: A Journal of Modern Culture and Events.


Krista Comer’s Surfer Girls in the New World Order reads as if you are surfing it. Reading the introduction feels like paddling arm over arm through the beach-breaks, constantly duck-diving, reverting to each of the footnotes, emerging just outside the breaks having navigated an intellectual confluence of feminist theory, ethnography, and regional studies. The next two hundred pages are the equivalent of what the author describes as blue skies and the perfect ride on a glassy wave. This is not because Comer ceases her academic rigor. Rather, Comer provides the necessary skill-set that the reader needs to combine often seemingly disparate notions of place and femininity. The author has crafted an effective and scintillating critical examination that considers the political, environmental and social ramifications of surfing. The text illustrates these points through events like the 2002 terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia and eco-tourism in Sayulitas, Mexico. Comer’s ‘surfer girl’ is an example of how localisms and globalization are inextricably combined.

As Comer describes this figure, the surfer girl is not a sub-set of a counter-cultural movement, but one of the several complex and hazily defined points of engagement in a conversation of globalization, localism, environmentalism, and feminism. Comer’s research emphasizes how every ‘local’ is the result of a global model or logic. To illustrate this shifting world of surfing sites and meanings, she draws on ten years of research, varying from close readings of books and pop-culture, to studies in feminism and globalization. Comer deals as succinctly with surf films such as Endless Summer and Blue Crush as she does with Fredric Jameson’s studies of globalization and the “untotalizable totality”(13).

There is as much care given to descriptions of boats “pushing off and returning to shore, leaving gasoline rainbows trailing behind in the water” (1) as there is to the subtle and at times astounding contradictions of surf culture. Comer’s method is that of “transdisciplinary scholarship” working “between textuality, media, global tourism, and subcultural material life” (11). With this method she takes sources as diverse as the Gidget novels and films of the late fifties and early sixties, and the development of Roxy Girl Surf wear and the “burkini”—across this wide range of source material, Comer carefully subjects each text to a uniquely critical and flexible practice of close reading.

The book is separated into two parts, the first titled California Goes Global. This section handles the surfer girl within a historical context, examining the evolution of both the public perception of women in surfing and the realities of their circumstances. In doing so, Comer refutes the notion that the progression of the surfer girl has gone from oppressed to some greater degree of counter-cultural acceptance. In other words, there is no clear progressive arc between the first Gidget novel in 1957 and the release of Blue Crush in 2002. In fact, Comer shows how the first Gidget novel set off a series of hostilities in surf culture that were relatively marginalized before its publication. Comer states that “prior to Gidget, gendered power struggles, a kind of leering anger at women in the water, did not characterize sub-cultural identity as it would thereafter” (35).


Gidget represented the “moving center” (37) between the historical and idealized age of surfing based in its Hawaiian traditions and mythologies, and the crowds and “surfaris” (7) of Southern California that followed the film’s release. Malibu ceased to be an actual surfers’ paradise and became a bastion for tourists and baby-boomers. From this center that is not a center, masculine and localist trends sought unsoiled territory beyond California where the mythical surf spot still existed. Comer points to Bruce Brown’s surf film Endless Summer (1966) as the incarnation of these ideologies. The iconic cover photo, still ever-present in the dorm-rooms of adolescent males, is of several surfers holding their boards, walking toward the waves of an untouched beach. To Comer, Endless Summer “made explicit what was at least one conclusion of Gidget; it offered a response to the crowds. Flee” (37).

This was all a reaction to a novel that in many respects created a true counter-cultural female character. Gidget ignored the Cold War norms of motherhood and the nuclear family. She didn’t tie herself down to any boy, and she was not the pretty girl who sat on the beach watching the boys play in the water. She was part of the spectacle, not a mere subject to it.

Comer follows the trends in surf culture from this point. The tensions, performances, the hybridities of work and play that arise in the following years result in the hyper-masculinity of big-wave surf movies, as well as the representation of women in surf advertisements. This section, in relation to the whole, examines how the Malibu localism becomes intrinsically tied to surfing globally (with all its consumerist ramifications).

The surf camps, eco-tourism, and other aspects of global surf culture that arise from the Gidget era again come together in a single cultural object. Through Blue Crush, Comer examines the third-wave feminist surfer girl in the contemporary surfing scene. This time the localism is the significantly more territorial and masculine Pipeline break in Hawaii. Comer neither endorses nor criticizes the film, but she does cause one to pause and re-evaluate what is at play in a film that seems easily dismissed, but in fact focuses and defines the surfer girl in public perception.

The second section of Comer’s book is titled Globalization from Below. Having established critical and historical contexts through the introduction and first part of the book, the final part digs deep into hot spots of eco-tourism. Comer describes trips to the Las Olas surf camp in Sayulitas, described in camp brochures as a “reverse finishing school,” intended to “makes girls out of women” (3). These luxury campers call themselves surfistas, a term that brings together several of the book’s themes.  In this complex locus, Comer explores NAFTA, eco-tourism, and even the ins and outs of Mexican international real estate markets.

Nothing in Comer’s research resolves comfortably. Perhaps this is the nature of the New World Order: because a B-movie in Southern California can motivate a generation to turn the pristine oceans of the world into their playground, nothing can ever quite settle, but rather everything is subject to the perturbations of capital and liquid markets. But still one finds earnest hope in the stories of the Paradise Surf Shop, or the inspiring life of Hawaiian surfer Rell Sun. Comer has taken surfing, as examined through her own academic interests, and reflected on both the broad tides of globalization and the small wakes of real people in specific places.

She ends her book in Houston. The last photograph is of her niece Sammie in the North Shore Surf Club. They paddle out from the beaches in Galveston on the Gulf Coast, where surf goes to die. This is a provocative decision, compositionally speaking. Comer’s book provides lessons for other locations, recreations, exoticisms; it says a lot about the products of privilege and the precarious and dangerous possibilities of globalization. The author breathed it as she grew up in Oxnard, California, and now Comer is yet another sort of West Coast expatriate, profoundly influenced by the place she came from, even seeking to reproduce it in a new place. Comer sees the same struggles in place, femininity, and culture as she did in California, combined with the pre-existing social conditions native to Texas.


Here in Louisiana, possibly the only place in the United States with surf worse than Texas, there are a few die-hards who rode the almost mythical breaks at Fourchon Beach. These Cajun surfers have lately been kept from Fourchon as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Meanwhile hurricanes are destroying the beaches faster than tourists at Waimea Bay. Comer’s work applies, even here and especially now.





The terminal: an isolated biome of circulated air pumping through the rafters of expansive atriums; where baggage carriers glide across the precisely laid out tarmac; a placeless place devoid of what we typically call nature.

There’s no surf in this place.

Today the baggage handlers are wilting like safety-orange flowers under New Orleans’ hot hot sun. Outside it feels like one-hundred-and-ten degrees Fahrenheit. Inside it doesn’t even feel like a temperature. I am in a place that does its best to simulate a warm environment. But the goal of an airport architect is to design a stream-lined conveyor belt for people to get from zero to thirty-two thousand feet in a matter of minutes with no more than two bags and a couple of kids. So the airport itself fails to simulate a natural environment. Photos of flowers don’t offset the true form and function. No one is fooled.

Louis Armstrong International Airport

I just bought a Red Bull a few moments ago from the airport bar. I stared at the ceiling fans while I drank it. The fans hung down on long steel poles that shined down from the windows above. Every surface was either steel, white or flat grey. The fan blades were shaped like airplane wings. Maybe it had some sort of aerodynamic advantage, but I think that mostly they were meant for people like me to look up and say, “hey, check that out.”

While I checked it out my mind started to wander to other things—to places that weren’t airports. I intended to get my mind as far from this placeless place as possible. And despite all the seemingly busy assemblage of design puke that composes an airport terminal, it was surprisingly easy to let my mind go blank. After all, all I needed to do was wipe clean the whites and greys and the steel beams and then my mind was left with absolutely nothing. All the people surrounding me were strangers. Without any real personal connection to anyone, they all became hats and dresses framing people-like figures. I was alone and selfish, adrift in this airport’s ocean of function and form.

Function and form. I kept watching the fan-blades rotate. They spun round and round until my eyes lost focus and the blades became grey disks with a red ring around the outside edge. Then the fans disappeared entirely and I found myself paddling out against pounding surf in Ventura, a strong swell with waves that hung just overhead beating me back on my 6’ 2” board. I paddled arm over arm ascending over each crest and dipping into each trough. My board’s nose lapped the water like a sick thirsty pup.

I looked at my board, in my daydream, and it seemed more like a shape than an object. It was an abstraction; one that I soon realized was the same shape as an airplane’s fuselage. Flip the surfboard over and you have the near perfect profile of a plane. Air or water, after all, are both functions of fluid mechanics.

At this moment I’m waiting at Gate D-6 of Louis Armstrong International. My thoughts are so submerged in surfing and flying that my actual movement through the airport hardly registers in my consciousness.

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing…

I’m waiting for my plane. Bulbous clouds rise in the heat and bubble out like boiling water. Sitting here looking at the clouds is no different than waiting in the line-up, really. My chair isn’t rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean. But whether I’m here or out passed the breaks, I’d still just be sitting and waiting and watching the clouds bubble up in the sky. I’d catch snippets of strangers’ conversations. I’d rub the back of my neck or tap my fingers against my armrest or the giving surface of the sea.The airport’s meticulous system of tickets, lines and gates is the same as a surfers’ unspoken etiquette: If a surfer doesn’t wait his turn in the line-up, he may as well be walking through security without taking off his shoes.

I am in waiting. The most common state for today’s traveller/surfer. But in an hour or so I will board my flight and the aircraft will take off down the runway, just as I might paddle beneath the crest of a glassy wave.

The plane’s lilting bounce as it rolls onto the runway will imitate an ocean’s unsettling surface. My seat, adjusted to the upright and locked position will make me feel like I’m in between sets, the nose of my board aimed up at the sky, waiting for the next ripple to trickle over the horizon. And then it will form.The captain will ask the flight attendants to prepare for take off, and the engines will start to rumble like the wave crashing beside me as I hustle into position. Then as the airplane ascends, my stomach will get that same feeling it gets when I drop in, and the wave takes over, and it feels like flying. Hydroplaning across the water as if it were wind.

Brendon Thomas Chickens Out

The October 2011 issue of Surfer is titled FEAR. The word is superimposed over a speck of a human trying to glide across the surface of a wallowing tube. The guts of this ‘zine will inevitably be stories of monster waves and rocky breaks, but the first article tackles the often uneasy to mention possibility of facing your fear: chickening out.

In his editorial, The Fear Compass, Brendon Thomas doesn’t rehash a story of his own own heart-stopping drop off the face of a skyscraper-sized wave, but rather with an “admittedly modest day” at Mavericks. One where he admits to being “a lowly cubicle dweller…not an athlete.”

In a nutshell, Thomas gets a text one Christmas morning while on a drive to San Francisco. It’s from Grant Baker, and he wants to go surfing. Thomas realizes that surfing with Grant Baker isn’t surfing. It’s suicide. There’s a swell coming in at Maverick’s and Baker wants him to be in on it.

               Half-Moon Bay from Above

From there we get the rarely written perspective of a surfer who gets butterflies in his stomach, looks into the tempest sea, and decides that he’d rather drive home.

What I like about this article—and what I think makes it possibly one of my favorite pieces that I’ve read in this publication—is how Thomas juxtaposes the pristine conditions of a sunny, peaceful day in Half-Moon Bay with the imminent ferocity of the swell. If you’ve never been there, by the way, this is the location’s natural state.

                 During the Maverick’s Surf Competition

This Summer I spent four days visiting a writer friend of mine who lives in Moss Beach. I had brought another friend with me. She was from Mobile Alabama, a place where a beach is a place to float around on paddleboats. Her only experience of the Pacific Ocean had been a couple flat days in San Diego and some beach-breaks in my hometown, Ventura. So one evening I took her down to a seal sanctuary in Half-Moon Bay that stands out as a crooked point. It was a full moon, accentuating the jagged crisscrossing of waves coming together at inflection points from the northeast and the southeast. They weren’t big. Just a few feet high, and the sky and the view from the beach was incredible, but from that little point, as with most any in that alcove of the Pacific, we felt the immensity of the whole ocean. I had tried to explain to her all Summer what it feels like to drop into the surface of a wave, even one just a fraction taller than you, and how it’s not just that ripple of water you’re on, but the pulse of the whole sea beneath it. Sitting on that bench on that beach, she said, “I get it.”

So there stands Brendon Thomas, at the much more imposing Maverick’s, feeling its “icy chill.” Until he stood there he was ready to paddle out, to face his fear and maybe die in the process. When Grant arrives and coaxes everyone but Thomas to get in the water, Thomas speculates why they would do it:

“To me, it seemed more out of valor than volition, something I understood only because somewhere deep inside me I felt my pride trying to eek out a possibly ill-fated win over common sense.”

As a surfer who’s never paddled out for a double-overhead wave, I found comfort in someone like Thomas having just enough common sense to chicken out. I’m tired of tales of overcoming fear. I want to thank Brendon Thomas for embracing his sanity.    

Chasing Mavericks: The Techne of Jay Moriarty



Poster for Chasing Mavericks (2012), the ninth lowest grossing box-office mass released film in history

While I watched the latest big-budget story of Jay Moriarty I thought about David Foster Wallace’s essay How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart. The essay is his reaction to and review of tennis legend Tracy Austin’s sports memoir. Summing up his supreme disappointment with the book, he examines why we as readers continue to go back to the shelves and pick up these sports memoirs knowing that they will be full of nothing but flat, dead PR prose. He asks how the athlete can “shut off the Iago-like voice of the self” and simply perform their techne, that one thing a person does so well that, like the Homeric heroes, it “facilitate[s] a communion with the gods themselves.” Is such a person “an idiot or mystic or both and/or neither?” 

Chasing Mavericks is not a sports memoir, but it shares a number of aspects with Wallace’s thoughts on Tracy Austin. In neither story, memoir nor biopic, does the reader/audience come any closer to understanding the feeling of the athlete. On winning the US Open, Austin describes the experience, saying, “I immediately knew what I had done, which was to win the US Open, and I was thrilled.” Compare this to the various platitudes that pepper the dialogue in CM:

It’s about finding the one thing in life that sets you free.

It’s the reason you were put on this earth.

It’s about something bigger than you are.

Actual lines from the movie, from various sections. The rest of the dialogue is just as canned, and there were times when I thought that the movie would be better off with no dialogue at all. And if the dialogue were all that was problematic, then it would be okay.


Jay Moriarty, legendary big wave surfer, who died free-diving at 23

The problem, in both cases, is that the people creating the book/film have chosen specific aspects to be loyal to, at the sacrifice of what makes compelling story. In both cases, the perspective lens is focused someplace other than where one would find what Wallace describes as the “almost classically greek” trajectory of both athletes’ lives. For CM, the concern of the creative parties involved seems to be making sure that their film accurately portrays surfing as a sport. To this end, the film exceeds expectations. From teenagers down at the subtle breaks of Santa Cruz carving the glassy waves, up to the immense feeling of inferiority and the seeming impossibility of the task that one feels when confronted with facing one of the largest walls of water in the world. Frosty, Jay’s neighbor, mentor, and father figure shines as an instructor, laying out point by point what it takes to accomplish this task. We understand the challenge of paddling across Morro Bay, the death-like stillness of holding your breath for four minutes. Even the complex nature of triangulation between guide-points to find your place on the wave seems understandable to the audience. But all of this care and precision is for nothing because we feel nothing for Jay.


Jay Moriarty at Mavericks

And we should fucking ache for Jay. His story is an extraordinary bildungsroman, his family life broken and desperate. His father abandoned him and his mother seems to be a barely held together alcoholic trying to scrape by in a job at Target. Jay seeks out a role-model on his own, works after school to pay for the radio receiver he needs to track storms, achieves the impossible, faces his fears, and marries the sexy blonde. All before he turns twenty-three. 

Jay Moriarty on the cover of Surfer Magazine

Moriarty on the cover of Surfer


And then there’s Frosty. The man is a Homeric Nestor without the digressions. He is Jack London’s wet dream. He chases storms early in the morning, risking his life against his wife’s pleas, and upon her death, swears off surfing Mavericks to keep a promise to his wife that he never could in his lifetime. He gives up the thing he loves to raise his daughters. 

The film does not prep the audience for any of this. Frosty comes off at times like a surf-bum version of Gerard Butler’s higher grossing Spartan character; Jay seems sensitive to, but ultimately disaffected by, his family struggles up until the last ten minutes of the film; and when Frosty’s wife dies of a sudden seizure, people in the theater actually laughed, completely disconnected from the reality we were supposed to be living. 

So too with Tracy Austin we boil down the tragedy of heroic rises to fortune and Shakespearean falls from grace. No more does Austin’s book consider her tragic trajectory than does our biopic of Jay Moriarty.


Tracy Austin


True, in the last moments of the film we hear Frosty in voice-over reading the essay Jay wrote to Frosty about fear. In that letter we hear everything we need to hear about Jay: his fear about opening the letter from his father, the inner demons he confronted, and most interestingly his acknowledgement that life is ultimately short and fast. But it’s too little too late. After we see Jay succeed at Maverick’s, we cut to Jay floating in some other sea, where he is about to drown in a deep sea diving accident. Cut back to Frosty and a myriad other surfers in the ocean scattering his ashes. I felt nothing, though I felt obliged to feel otherwise.

Perhaps if the whole story started with that sense of fatalism. If it opened with the voice-over of the first half of the letter laying out just what it is that truly effects Jay, then the tragedy of the events to come would be foreshadowed. But without this foreshadowing, the film is nothing more than sports memoir.


 Legends Start, and Flop, Somewhere


Wallace sums up his essay like this:

“Such a person does not produce a very good prose memoir… [Tracy Austin’s history] may also, in addressing the difference in communicability between thinking and doing and between doing and being, yield the key to why top athletes autobiographies are at once so seductive and so disappointing for us readers. As is so often SOP [standard operating procedure] with the truth, there’s a cruel paradox involved. It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able to see, articulate, and animate the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but they are its essence.”

The closer Chasing Macericks comes to portraying the sport, the farther it gets from describing the essence. Perhaps there is something of the athletes’ techne that will remain forever secret in that communion between the athlete and whatever god to whom they wish to pray.

Surfing, a California sport par excellence if there ever was one. No longer a sport of self-control and domination directed towards some goal, it is just a practice of inserting oneself into a wave and letting oneself be carried by it.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Ongoing Soft Revolution. Critical Inquiry (Winter, 2004).

rosedarlingdesign: 5 min Tea break :) I thought this photo, from Cornwall, was interesting not just aesthetically, but for it’s caption “5 min Tea break :).” The phrase is at once intrinsically relates to the notion of surfer as not just at play, but completely outside of the work environment. In this photo and description, […]

The Virtual Surfer’s Ecology: an Introduction



                      Screenshot from Hironobu Sakaguchi’s iOS game Party Wave

Any research into surfing video games will likely yield one of two results: a history of surf games, or the mystery of their disappearance from the market. Regarding the former, several people have created informative and entertaining chronicles that can be found here and here. Within these articles, and likely with most others you will find, the conclusion will likely be the lamentation of the lack of new surf games. There aren’t many adequate explanations for the failure of this sports sub-genre. After all, titles like California Games from the 1980’s were highly successful, spawning sequels and eventually gaining multi-platform releases.


Further, games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Shaun White’s snowboarding game franchise suggested the viability of the niche-sport market in the world of commercial gaming. In fact, most any set of data points you can find suggests that a surfing game should sell.

 So why haven’t they?

This question is harder to answer than it would seem. Obviously, there is no one reason, but some of the answers that seem sound take on water under scrutiny. For instance, it could be assumed that surfing simply does not have a a very broad real world audience, and therefore touches on nothing of the universal aspect of play. What fun is a sport you don’t understand? Most of us have played football, basketball, or baseball as children, and we maintain exposure to those sports and their inner-dramas throughout most of our lives. In a sense, skateboarding possesses that same universal accessibility. Yes, skateboarders are weighed down by certain stigmas and laws, but the world is your skatepark. But then we look at the success of snowboarding video games. The Shaun White Snowboarding franchise would by any marker be considered a success. The first game in the series sold over three million copies, hardly something to laugh at. 


Does anyone seriously want to say that snowboarding is more accessible than surfing? Perhaps there are more white-bosomed slopes than surfable beaches (and if so, probably not for long), and maybe a surfboard costs more than a snowboard. But factor in lift-tickets, snow gear, and anything else that may be involved, and I promise the price will invariably level out, or more likely tip on the side of the snowboard. Still, if it is not the immediate accessibility, maybe there is some x-factor that alters a gamer’s view of snowboarding. Does its place in the winter olympics lend snowboarding enough momentum to propel it into the HD displays of American kids? If that were the case we’d all be playing Russ Howard’s Pro Curler.


                                                 Your child’s next obsession  

The X-Factor exists in surfing. Unlike Snowboarding and Skateboarding, the human being on a surfboard is placed in a situation that is subordinate to nature. Rather than constructing wooden skate parks or “carving” mountain slopes, the surfer is instead at all times reading the ocean, and trying to estimate what it is going to do. This act of reading and studying implies a certain level of work that a sports gamer might not like to associate with the experience. 

It once again sets the focus on the more seemingly mundane aspects of surfing, and paddling in particular. To paddle out for a wave is to work, and to work without the aspect of intermittent play. Think about Tony Hawk. The way to really rack up points is to perform tricks in between tricks—to manual all the way to the half-pipe.



                                                  In Transit

In later incarnations of Tony Hawk it is possible even to dismount from the board and run and climb. Paddling allows for none of this. The natural conditions inside the break-zone mandate expediency. One of the reasons surfers hug close to jetties is because they create natural rip-tides that pull you out past the breaks, minimizing the effort to paddle into the line-up. 

In fact, One recently developed game for iOS, Ripcurl Live, does away with paddling entirely. The entire game takes place on a breaking wave that you ride until you bail. This would seem to be the surfer’s wet-dream. Surfline reviewed it, claiming that it was a game for “regular old surfers looking for something relatively easy to keep them entertained while waiting for a flight, in the doctor’s office or in a boring class.”



                             Screenshots from RipCurl Live

But it received a lukewarm reception, in broader reviews, as simplified and repetitive. Meanwhile, a simultaneous and more immersive mobile release, Billabong Surf Trip, was a fully immersive surf experience taking the surfer from the shore to the breaks, with all the minutiae in between (except more technically complex maneuvers like duck-diving). However, the guys at Surfline found it less intuitive, and how many people do you know playing it on their phones?


                          From Billabong. An uncomfortable screenshot on many levels.


                                           Virtual Paddling is as fun as it sounds

When we consider this one small aspect, we jump directly to the strange place that the surfer occupies. There has yet to be a game where a person constructs a surf spot. This is not because it is impossible. Surf spots are destroyed and created all the time, both by natural forces and by human intervention. The creation of a jetty or the extinction of a reef will both immensely alter the nature of a break. But that is not how the audience perceives it. Rather than skating to the half-pipe, the surfer waits for the wave. The duration of the wave is determined not by a human clock but by a complex set of circumstances varying from the fetch of the wind in the Caribbean to the phase of the moon in that hour. We accept the boiled down versions of skateboarding and snowboarding. We appreciate the degree of freedom that these games give us, where even the worst skateboarder can, in a virtual world, surpass the best. But I don’t think that that feeling has ever been captured in a surfing game. Ian Bogost lists a number of games that place the player in a position of weakness, and suggests that this runs counter to the expected narrative of most video games.

One wonders if the surfer is inherently in a position of weakness, and that no one is willing to be subjected to that state. And further, one finds an uncomfortable position for the surf gamer, where the stronger agent is a virtual ecology, which in all current incarnations is unalterable, massive, and poorly rendered. 

Perhaps the savior of the genre is the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series. Years ago, Sakaguchi left Square Enix and founded his own studio Mistwalker in 2004. In June of last year, they released their first game for iOS, Party Wave.

In Party Wave you play in two modes: paddle and surf. Through swipping and touching the screen you control the movements of multiple surfers who must navigate water and waves, collecting objects and fighting bosses. The video beautifully lays out the nature of game play:

The game seems likely to gain traction in the mobile market, and though this is not synonymous with platform gaming, it would mark the first time since the nineties that any surf game gained serious attention. Sakaguchi accomplished this by abandoning the conventions of the form that people would have considered most crucial. The game does not play like a surfing simulator, but like an old-school strategy game with boss battles and reflex tests. Sakaguchi incorporates surfing in both literal and abstract waves. Yes, the characters are surfing, but the musical tone, the visual aesthetics are all incorporated to create a “surfer vibe.” As for the virtual ecology, in a sense nature is still overwhelming. In the surf setting the threat of a wipe-out is always eminent, and in the paddle setting sting-rays and jelly-fish are obstacles to avoid. But at the same time the incorporation of bosses like giant eels and jelly-fish provide the surfer with the opportunity to fight back against nature, proving that even while surfing, the person is the master of its domain. 


Party Wave re-imagines the genre rather than trying to confront the deeper issues that prevent the purer surf game from gaining some sort of prominence. It situates the surfer back in the man vs. nature binary that seems comfortable at some base level. But Sakaguchi has accomplished anything, it is a reintroduction of the surf game back into the conversation. This is something he should have an interest in. After all, he’s a surfer.


                                                    Hironobu Sakaguchi



Man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.

Jaque Cousteau

Tawny and Done to Look Undone: Beach Hair

The New York Times recently published an article by Bee-Shyuan Chang titled “Beach Hair is Riding the Wave” (May 23, 2013) that assessed the ever-popular hair style across the country; that “tousled, tawny and done to look undone” look that “has had staying power all year round.”


                      Source: New York Times

Chang seems aware of the ironies of beach hair. That people pay eighty-five dollars to have their hair professionally styled to get that “I was surfing in Costa Rica for a month look.” But even if he possesses this self-awareness, the focus of the article is the industry that has developed around beach hair. He tracks the trend back to model Gisele Bündchen, who’s hair apparently naturally possesses such a sexy, tousled quality. For those who don’t naturally possess such follicular magnificence but still want the Gisele or the Gidget look, one need only look into buying Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray, Organix Moroccan Surf Paste or Sachajuan Ocean Mist.


Retails for over fifty dollars a bottle

While the look is as summer as flip flops and tanning beds, its main appeal is that it caters to the culture of “chill.” No matter where you are, you want to be the person who has been hanging out at the beach all day, sun kissed skin and lightly frayed locks. Beach hair falls into that same category as ripped jeans. You either live the lifestyle that frays your hair and tears your pants, or you spend exorbitant amounts of money to create that identity for yourself.

This, still, is nothing new. The fact that beach hair earned an article in the New York Times style section is not in and of itself something to waste words on. But it fits into this broader idea of the surf mythos (bear with me).

Full disclosure: here is a photo of me from the mid-2000’s, sporting my grunge flannel, ripped jeans, and my so-cal surf hair.


The distinction that I am interested is that between the product of a culture and the cultural product. In other words, what results as a natural bi-product of a way of life or a hobby, vs. how that bi-product is adopted and re-appropriated for mass consumption.

Everything you find on-line about beach hair will tell you how to get it without going to the beach. But how does Rob Machado come to look like Rob Machado? Or how does Mary Osborne get that gorgeous Mary Osborne hair?


Rob Machado


Mary Osborne

The science of hair and skin can be studied together (and relate to other studies of contrasts; i.e. the exoticization of dark skinned people with blue eyes, etc.). Under contact from the sun, skin darkens because of damage to layers of skin by ultraviolet rays. These UV rays trigger melanocytes to overproduce melanin in the epidermal, or top, layer of skin. Over time this alters the composition of the skin and darkens it (You are not, in fact, baking in the sun).

Hair, on the other hand, is given its color through the same process as skin, roughly. Melanocytes produce forms of melanin which create their own bi-products that give hair its color. But since the hair itself is actually dead, the melanocytes cannot replenish the melanin that was originally present in your lovely strands. As a result, the sun dries and fades the hair. It photolyses (breaks apart) the melanin and then bleaches the hair.

Ocean water then acts as a sort of rough soap the texturizes the hair, Add to that the natural tousling of wind and waves, and there you have your eighty-five dollar salon style.

This look comes in two varieties, which is fixed along gender lines. Type in “beach hair” into a google image search, and this is what you find:


Type in “surf hair” and this is the result:


It’s interesting how even in this seemingly minor representation of a sub-culture, the same stereotypes that pressure major discussions manifest themselves. Women are passive, observant and wafe-like “beach-goers,” watching the surfers and not participating. Men are the surfers, those being watched.

The market picks this up and pitches their products along these gender lines. Consider these two adds:

The notion of these gender differences is as contrived as the notion of beach hair itself. As the New York Times article wraps up, Change quotes Miami beach stylist Oribe, who says “When I’m at the beach, the moment I get out of the water, I want to take a shower.”

For me, personally, one of my favorite parts of surfing is running my fingers through my hair and feeling the grains of sand. My skin tastes saltier, and it feels softer, and I smell like the ocean. My hair is short now, but that feeling lies deep in the roots. Kelly Slater feels it, and he’s bald.

Virginia Woolf and Hemingway go Night Surfing

The European blog drift surfing recently posted a video created using by Will Hanke and Phil Young which juxtaposes footage of a Nike night surfing event at Fistral Beach in Newquay with the words of Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

You can check out the original post here:

Because the content so directly relates to many of the reasons I write this blog, I decided to repost the video.

Often, the relationship between a surfer and the ocean is depicted in a spiritual context. This is either represented in terms loosely derived from Western notions of eastern religion, or else it depicts the sea as a powerful god that ought to be treated with reverence and respect. In this context, the quote from Hemingway and the voice-over extracted from the prose of Virginia Woolf depict the relationship between the individual and the sea as at once existential and passionate.

Here and there people write short blips about writers who surfed, like Mark Twain or Agatha Christie. And indeed there is a modest body of surfing literature. I’d be interested to look into the way surfers depict surfing as compared to how writers depict the sport.

For a little fun, here’s a link to photos of writers playing sports, including Agatha Christie posing beside a Hawaiian board.

surf and fitness journey

Finding the confidence and fitness to surf

Erin Matson

Feminism, Reproductive Justice, Activism



Drift Surfing

Surfing's fictions, metaphysics and culture.

Hair Treatments

Surfing's fictions, metaphysics and culture.

Surfing's fictions, metaphysics and culture.

%d bloggers like this: