posted on April 10, 2007 03:00
When Pearl Jam released their debut album 'Ten' in 1991, few realised that half the songs on the track listing had been composed in the water by Eddie Vedder during various surf sessions. Since then Vedder has been sure to punch up his surfer credentials and, to be fair, when his surf buddy is eight time ASP World Champion Kelly 'Because I'm worth it' Slater he is certainly entitled to, or is he? Recently "welcomed into the inner circle"
of the North Shore mafia during the 2006 winter season on Oahu, an iconic monochrome photograph of the pair, boards under arm, striding towards the ocean's edge was published in the March 2007 edition of Surfing Magazine.
So what's the big deal I hear you ask ? Well, as surfing has marched towards the mainstream two critical things have happened. Firstly, this movement has coincided with a shift by the big surf companies from focusing on their practical products such as boards, wetsuits and rashvests to focusing on their lifestyle products such as t-shirts, jackets and wallets; all by promoting the 'idea' of surfing as a sunkissed, beach based idyll populated by perfectly bronzed uber babes and dudes. The result is the rise of the 'Surfanista', a person who wears branded surfwear but does not practice the sport itself and may not even live anywhere near the ocean either. Nothing illustrates the rise and influence of the Surfanista better than the recently opened Quiksilver Outlet store just outside Kildare which is like a glorified TK Max. Here you can buy any array of clothing with the logo of Kelly Slater's main sponsor emblazoned on them but you cannot buy the surfboards that hang overhead from the ceiling since they are for decorative purposes only. It's as if the merchandise now had its own line of merchandise.
Secondly, as more people learn about the sport of surfing in Ireland and decide to have a go themselves, tensions have started to develop at the main breaks around the country, one particularly ugly example being the shortboarder out on the right hand side of The Dumps in Kerry last weekend snarling and shouting at other surfers, many of them veterans, who were out for a mellow session. I myself was surfing elsewhere so I avoided the grief but if you are reading this pal, I don't care how well you surf, you are still a bonafide asshole and you have no birthright to the waves.
All of which is to say that a tension is developing in surfing whereby people are encouraged to buy into the fantasy lifestyle of surfing through the purchase of expensive branded clothing but are then actively discouraged from practising the surprisingly cheap sport itself by the kind of knobheads who make Whelans such an unpleasant place to have a beer in. As Bruce Springsteen once put it, "You can look / But you better not touch"
. It's the direct opposite of the DIY punk mentality, Not U2, so to speak and it makes me sick to the core. I think Alex Garland really skewered that attitude in his novel, 'The Beach' in which backpackers are drawn to a mythical beach community hidden from the outside world and, when they find it, are then sworn to secrecy about its actual location.
Which is where that photo of Kelly Slater and Eddie Vedder on the North Shore comes in because if anything screams of a elitist, hierarchical, exclusive, aristocratic and corporate approach to surfing it's that image. The surfer as rockstar, the rockstar as surfer, the both of them as king. The crowd of unwashed fans held at bay as these two goliaths stride forward to play in an ocean that neither of them has any ownership of. Oh yeuch !More ...