The Hipster Cometh
The following article was written by blindboy
Older generations disapproving of younger ones is such a common theme throughout human history and across all cultures that it must be deeply built into our psychology. If it was not, a few moments reflection by those inclined to criticise would lead them to the obvious conclusion that they cannot win. The old grow weaker and less influential, the young get stronger and more influential. This is the remorseless logic of the human condition. Inter-generational conflict is not won by a battle of ideas so much as by siege. The young simply out last the old.
The period of intense cultural conflict in the sixties and seventies is a classic illustration of this. The culture we have now of racial and gender equality and open sexuality arose from the conflict between the generations that had survived depression and war and those who had grown up in times of peace and plenty. Those in power at the time overwhelmingly disapproved and opposed the changes but time and voter demographics won out. Interestingly, surfing at that time, in many ways, ran against the trend. The previous generations of surfers had been easy going, free wheeling characters much more interested in getting out there and enjoying themselves than in formal competition. It was the generation reaching maturity in the early seventies that established what would become the mainstream surfing culture for the next forty years.
Surfing has never been a single uniform entity, but for much of its history there has been a central culture around which the outlying groups arranged themselves. If you want to study it look no further than the surfing media. Styles, personalities and standards of performance have all changed over time but the constant has been an aggressive determination to move forward; ever faster, ever harder, ever bigger, ever deeper. And this has not just been at the elite level, that was the ethos most surfers took with them into the water, a clear determination to compete for the best waves and to surf them to the best of their ability.
But nothing lasts for ever. Different circumstances demand different responses, and so comes the hipster-surfer, a sub-tribe of the broader hipster movement, characterised by retro sensibilities and a non-competitive attitude. It might seem a strange transition that an urban culture arising from the trendiest sections of New York should resonate so strongly with surfers who, collectively, have never exactly been known for their interest in fashion, politics or art house films.
One factor has been the shift in the class structure of the main surfing areas. The beach side suburbs around the east coast urban areas were once dominated by blue collar workers and those with lower middle class white collar jobs. The talk in the surf was more likely to be about brick laying and which bands were playing the local pub than banking and Almodovar's latest film. As anyone who has sat around in a crowd waiting for a set recently knows, that is no longer true. Different classes have different values and the upwardly mobile classes that now inhabit these areas do not share the competitive macho attitudes that once dominated in the surf.
Crowding is another factor. Previous generations of surfers, in most of the centres of the sport, had access to plenty of waves. Even in the urban areas keen surfers could always find enough waves to satisfy the competitive drive so central to the culture. That has changed. Crowds have grown steadily over time but in the last decade they have reached levels that are a disincentive to serious surfing to all but the most committed. How can you take performance seriously when the reality is that you cannot obtain enough waves to develop your skills?
The hipster-surfer has solved the crowd problem by chilling out and being happy with what they can get and, in the process, attacked surfing's central cultural pillar. The retro low performance boards make a clear statement of intention - this is not about ripping and tearing, this is not about ever deeper, ever faster, ever harder. This is about style, about cool in that pure 1950s sense of detachment. This is jazz, not rock n roll.
Once this is appreciated the level of hostility they generate is easily understood. It is not the beards or the retro boards that annoy older surfers, or those of the younger generation who cling to surfing's traditional values. It is the psychological shift. Those who once may have considered themselves subversive are now themselves subverted. The notion that surfing is a competitive sport with an ever upward trajectory of performance is under question.
The implications of this are hard to predict. It may be a fashion that disappears as slowly as it has appeared but it could, just as easily, be a permanent cultural shift that threatens not just what has been the underlying ethos of surfing for several generations, but the whole concept of surfing as a competitive sport. ZoSea aim to make professional surfing a mainstream sport but it is hard to see them succeeding if future generations of surfers do not share that vision. Coloured t-shirts, point scores and hyper serious analysis of performance would not seem to fit the hipster-surfer style. It may even be that the dream tour ceases to be a dream and becomes a mere memory as competitive surfing slides into irrelevance.
Draw the battle lines if you must but take care to look which side you are on. The great siege engine of time will undo those who cling to the past. //blindboy