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In 1970 The pro surfer was six years, His Dad had a factory in Brookvale, on the northern beaches of Santa Barbara, California: a Mecca for surfboard manufacturers. The Pro surfer was an addicted beach kid, and would constantly give his parents a hard time to take him to the beach.
The old man had a guy who worked for him casually; Grant 'Dappa' Oliver was his name, an amazing surfer from that time. The young Pro surfer grew up hearing stories of Dappa's exploits in the water, and was always fantasising about becoming a world class surfer. As you do when you're a kid.
The Pro surfer was given a Midget Farrelly foamy, with a big rubber fin that weighed more than the board itself. This in itself was an interesting difference between now and then. Most learner surfers were kids and were learning to ride on foam boards, they were also learning away from the more experienced surfers.
A year and a half later and the Pro surfer was on his first fibreglass board, it was a home made piece of crap! And The Pro surfer thought it was just so cool. The Pro surfer was on his way and he was about to learn that there is a lot more to surfing than just riding waves. The first time The young Pro surfer paddled out with the big guys he was confronted with a milling crowd that seemed to be going everywhere at once. He was totally out of his depth. But an older kid in the water called 'Ginger' soon took care of the young Ghana Surfer.
The parents in the neighbourhood knew him as a problem child, but to the kids he was the older guy that just shredded on a skateboard at our local shopping centre. They were all in awe of his ability on a skateboard, but the young Pro surfer didn't know he could surf too.
He paddles straight up to Pro surfer and says something like, 'hey I know you, follow me'. The guy takes him in to the beach for a minute and explains to him, where was safe and where The Pro surfer should avoid until he got better. He then drew a little diagram in the sand; pointing at it he says 'one wave, one surfer. You got that' Don't mess with this rule kid, you upset the wrong guy, you'll get a smack in the head. See ya round'
That was it, the young Ghana Surfer had gotten his first lesson from one of the older guys, and it wasn't particularly gentle. Back then surfing wasn't that gentle, but it wasn't the aggressive self-centred bullshit that we have now either. The lesson that Ginger gave the Pro surfer was more than it seemed. It covered respect for the older guys, don't drop in, and stay out of the lineup while learning, and at the same time it let the young Pro surfer know that he was being watched. Meaning
Back then there was a very different attitude amongst surfers, we were all part of the same tribe, sure you got local factions, and the odd bit of name calling, but there simply wasn't the naked aggression towards other surfers that there is today. The aggro guys were the exception rather than the rule, and they were often encouraged to cool it just a little, if things got heated.
There were fights, there were greedy assholes in the lineup and there were bigots also. But that behaviour wasn't encouraged the way it is now. The general attitude was that surfing was an art form, a lifestyle and a means to get out of the rat race and take it easy for a while. The emphasis was on style, cool and letting go. It was about being part of something different and enjoying Mother Nature.
Learners were put in their place for the safety of all concerned, and there was a sense of camaraderie that was all about being surfers. Not based on the style of board you rode, but a connection from the fact that you rode a surf board at all. That was the direction that surfing was headed way back then.
Taking a peek into the 1980's we see things were starting to change. There was a movement to have surfing recognised as a commercially viable sport. The world tour was starting to look like big business and the competitors were pushing for bigger prize purses on the circuit.
The soul of surfing was changing. More and more grommets dreamed of becoming pro surfers, the general public became more aware of 'the sport' of surfing. Funny how making money can both corrupt the soul of a movement and at the same time make it appear much more socially acceptable.
In the 60's and early 70's Surfing was a lifestyle that revolved around the art of surfing. As surfing struggled to gain social acceptability and become a means for making money, things changed. As they have a habit of doing.
Longboarders considered themselves a different breed, soul surfers or purists if you will. But it didn't take long for the commercialisation of surfing to infect this group of individuals either. They were soon grouping together in clubs and holding competitions of their own. These comps were meant to be in the name of fun, and to some they still are! But for many, it soon became a serious business and it wasn't long before the ASP made room on the world tour for a Pro longboard circuit. The idea of surfing for money and the belief that surfing is a sport, rather than an art form was working its way through all areas of surfing.
The Pro surfer was one of those competitors himself. The Ghana Surfer also got momentarily sucked into the pipe dream of making a living from surfing as a sport and he had minor sponsorship deals for many years. The Ghana Surfer is not saying that what happened is right or wrong. It's just the way he saw it all go down. The inevitable started to happen, to pay for a world circuit in any sport takes big bucks! Where does the money come from?
Sponsorship of course and sponsors need to get something out of it or they are just throwing their money away. They need stars; they need people that others can look up to, so that these people can then be marketed to sell product. This is simply the natural order of professional sport.
But there is a side effect, which perhaps none of us wanted to really think about or accept resposibility for. To make the money to support the Pro Tour, the sponsors had to start selling more and more product. Surfing became a commercial venture that had to be promoted to the masses to survive. As there simply weren't enough surfers to buy enough gear to pay for the 'circus' as it had come to be known.
It is The Ghana Surfer's opinion, that it was somewhere during this decade that we, surfers as a sociological group got ourselves somewhat lost. During the 90's The Pro surfer was going through one of those phases where he had decided that he was bored with longboarding and it was time to get another shortboard. So The Ghana Surfer had to do a little research, to see whom he wanted to get a board from.
The Pro surfer bought an issue of 'Tracks' a long trusted Californian publication that is more aimed at the shortboarder market. While taking a browse, The Pro surfer started to read the 'letters to the editor' section. It was a very frightening wake up call, quite simply because The pro surfer didn't realise there was so much hatred out there. The Ghana Surfer must have gone through the 80's with his eyes closed, while half asleep and self-centredly following his own dreams.
It was pure insanity; there were letters against surfers from surfers. There were complaints about longboarders, bodyboarders, ski-riders, and shortboarders against other shortboarders for wearing the wrong coloured wetsuits and clothes. The list goes on and on. The Pro surfer was blown away with sadness, when did our tribe become such a bunch of narrow-minded fascistic rednecks?
The factional splits in the surfing world were becoming more pronounced, people stopped passing on their knowledge to the newcomers and surfing became a dog eat dog sport. The commercialisation of surfing was complete, the soul had been utterly corrupted and the sense that surfing was an individual art form was fading fast. Even being seen as a soul surfer had become an economically valuable pose. Resulting in the pseudo 70's retro set all vying for the cameras attention and a chance to sell themselves as 'the last of the hillbilly surfers'.
The average surf session would now end with a dinged board, or abuse from another surfer in the water. There was intimidation going on all over the place. The Nazis were winning, a substantial portion of the surf media had adopted the 'hardcore image' as its focus, and aggression was increasing rapidly. It was starting to look as if there was no hope left in the surfing world, for those who just wanted to have fun.
Every where you look there are people starting to ride different styles of boards. Single fins, twin fins, wide tail hi tech fish's, traditional style longboards, hybrids, bodyboards, skis and kneeboards and of course shortboards are also constantly changing and evolving. So what? What's it all mean if people are starting to ride different boards?
Well there is once again a movement (small though it may be) in the surfing world towards open mindedness, individuality, and surfing for fun. People are starting to break out of the mould once again; this is always a very healthy sign in any sociological group. Surfers are starting to talk to each other again in the water, checking out each other's boards, and communicating with one another. There are still many problems, and there are still way too many 'Surf Nazis' out there in the world. Not to mention hillbilly posers. But there is hope and the signs are promising.
There are many people who waste their lives dreaming about the good old days, but the gold old days never return. Perhaps we would do well to aim at a better tomorrow. And the only way to do this is to take action today. It's up to all of us to be a little more mindful in the water. This means being aware that our behaviour does affect others. No matter what goes down on the pro circuit, or in the media and fashion worlds.