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Breaking the lie: Not all Californians are surfers

When it comes to California, the first things that come to mind for many people across the United States are images of beautiful beaches, tanned surfers and colorful surfboards.

The fact is, California’s wonderful beaches separate it from other fine states, and a lot of Californians do surf, but that doesn’t mean everybody in California is a surfer. But that doesn’t stop the rest of the country from thinking so.

A recent fast-food television commercial features Bostonians imploring, “Get off your surfboards, you Californians!” In the inspiring movie “Invincible,” the true story of football player Vince Papele, there is a scene where coach Dick Vermeil has just moved to Philadelphia from California and the first thing the other coaches want to know is if he brought his surfboard.

Accurate or not, in movies, television, music, books and more, when it comes to California, the stereotype is often centered around surfing and surfers.

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Stereotyping Californians as surfers is easy. But when it comes to stereotyping California surfers, it’s not as easy. In the past, one may have thought all surfers were like the Sean Penn character Jeff Spicoli in “Fast times at Ridgemont High” - young, male, with long blond hair and not much on the mind except tasty waves and a good time. That’s how the media mainly portrayed surfers, as young, rebellious and basically care free.

Fast-forward to the present, and it’s a bit more difficult to picture a surfer’s image or just who the average surfer is supposed to be or look like. With people of every age, race, religion, economic background and profession surfing, it’s hard to define just what or who the stereotypical California surfer actually is.

These days, magazine ads and television commercials feature sharp-looking surfers holding down successful careers and being responsible leaders in our community. This positive and broader portrayal of California surfers is much more accurate than the negative stereotyping of the past.

So who is the stereotypical California surfer? Is the California surfer a man or woman? While the lineup is still predominantly male, the percentage of women surfers has dramatically increased. Anyone who has witnessed Peru’s Sophia Mulanovich, Australia’s Layne Beechly or California’s Daisy Swayne surfing knows that saying “girls can surf” is a vast understatement.

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Girl surfers are the same as the guys, each special and ripping in their own way. Girl surfers grow up to be women surfers who, like Deloitte and Touche CEO Teresa Regan or former professional world surfing champion Debbie Beacham, go on to become mother surfers. In fact, a recent television commercial selling cars features a mother happily taking her three daughters surfing in California. Soon the rest of the world’s image of California surfers could be a spry group of adventurous grandmothers taking their grandkids surfing!

One might wonder about the age of the typical California surfer. Look at a billboard or magazine ad promoting beer by featuring professional surfers Rob Machado or Andy Irons ripping the waves, and you might begin to think California surfers are young men between 21 and 30. Look across the street at another billboard or turn the magazine to a different page and you could come across an ad promoting financial security and peace of mind to aging baby boomers by picturing an elderly banker just coming in from surfing.

In truth, California surfers come in all ages, from 4 to 84 and everything in between. Rabbit Kekai, a famous surfer from Hawaii in his 70s, can be seen in advertising promoting everything from sunglasses to bed sheets. Today, media and marketing accurately and refreshingly portray surfers of all ages equally.

When all is said and done, if there is a California stereotype it’s more about character. The typical California surfer is someone who, regardless of age or gender, has a zest for life, is independent and self-assured. He or she maintains a positive outlook and is not afraid to accept challenges or face adversity, and, in fact, needs them to learn and advance.

A surfer is the kind of person who will reach for his dreams, weather the wipeouts, and always strive to do his/her best. Someone who thinks freely and without fear and is courageous but humble.

Surfers recognize the negative but strive to promote the positive. Most importantly, a surfer is someone who appreciates and enjoys life, someone who likes to have a little fun along the wave! Fun could be as simple as spending quality time alone, with special family and friends or out in nature. Heck, the typical California surfer stereotype could fit or be just about anyone that has these powerful characteristics, even you. Until next week... Aloha.