Inside surfing: Surfing’s upscale status a step down?


According to a front-page story in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, surfing has emerged from a counter-culture activity for beach bums and bohemians into an upscale, high-status sport like skiing and golf.

Interestingly enough, Matt Higgins, the author, writes about surfing, but says nothing about stoke, heart or soul. What he does write about are high-priced surf trips, new building development at old surf spots and yuppies with expensive SUV’s, new surfboards and all the latest technical gear getting into the water. In a nutshell: “The surfing business is booming.”

Higgins’ article appeared to be about surfing, but in reality it was about the business of surfing - perfect for a newspaper such as the N.Y. Times. Higgins had a valuable chance to write something long-lasting, informative and insightful on surfing. Too bad he missed the wave, as did the surfers he writes about and quotes. Obviously, he’s a well-meaning writer writing about something he knows little or nothing about. Real surfing is not about business. It’s about soul.

Right from the start, Higgins informs readers of expensive surfing trips such as one aboard a huge yacht in Indonesia for $10,000 a day. Of course, three square meals are included - with wine, no less - and the ability to be taxied out to the waves without even paddling.

Sadly, the surfers that catch this boat are really missing the boat of what the surfing experience is really about. Surfing isn’t about being in luxury. It’s about getting away from it. Surfing is being close to nature and the wild, not removing yourself from it.

Higgins refers to rumors of a well-known remote surfing spot in Mexico, Scorpion Bay, possibly becoming a luxury resort development appealing to wave riders. While the upscale super chic surfers Higgins writes about may think this is a progressive step forward, many “heart core” surfers feel this would be crazy and the demise of a sacred surfing spot.

Real surfers always have been, and will be, environmentally friendly. Fresh water, a few basic supplies, a good surfboard and a tent are more than enough for a surfer. The waves themselves are the real luxury.

One surf school owner from La Jolla interviewed in the Higgins piece had the audacity to say something about surfing losing its “dirt bag” image. Surfing never had a dirt bag image, at least to surfers. Anyone who would even think or say surfers had a dirt bag image certainly never spent any time at the beach.

For starters, there is no dirt at the beach, only sand. Surfing is clean and refreshing, many consider it sacred. Heart core surfers sometimes think some surf school owners, surf clothing corporations like Quicksilver, and marketing agencies including Surfer and Surfing magazines that usurp surfing are the real dirt baggers for exploiting and making a business out of surfing.

Real surfers respect the surfers who came before them. Without the so-called beach bums and bohemian surfers of the past, there would be no surfing in the present - At least not how the upscale surfer knows surfing today.

Real surfers respect that somebody first put a fin on a surfboard, pioneered new surfboard materials and experimented with surfboard design to a science. The good surfboards we ride today are built on the heart, and hard work, of yesterday’s surfers. Of course, being “bohemian surfboard shapers” was less for profit and more for love-what a concept.

Talk about past surfers being beach bums? Would a beach bum get in a small boat, travel across dangerous waters with little supplies and a lot of faith just to find a better wave or new surfing spot? Get to a distant uninhabited land, hike for miles over parched terrain and through thick lush jungles blazing a trail only with a small machete and a large amount of pioneer spirit?

No. The past surfers were not beach bums. They were explorers who came, saw, and pointed the way for all future surfers without leaving much more than a few temporary tracks in the sand. Like the bohemians of the past, surfers were never beach bums. They just heard a different beat of the drum and followed it. Now, we follow them.

Higgins goes on to write about surfing being a great place to do business. He relates in San Diego the surfer next to you could be a millionaire, a judge or an executive. One San Diego real estate consultant/surfer he uses as an example “trolls” the lineups for new business, and “it pays off.” A heart core surfer surfs to free his mind from business, to purify, clean and give it a rest. By relaxing, the mind has time to rejuvenate, become stronger and think have clearly about life, including business, once back on shore. It could be said if you’re thinking about business while surfing, perhaps you have no business surfing.

While surfing may be a billion-dollar business, its real value comes not from money but rather from the soul on which no price can be placed. Suffice it to say upscale surfers of today would be wise to learn from the so called counter-culture, beach bum, bohemian surfers of the past; for he who thinks all that glitters is diamonds and gold has yet to truly see the dazzling sparkle of the ocean waves.