Guns, Germs, and Surfboards
Twenty years ago anthropologist Jared Diamond wrote ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, a book that explained why cultures advance at different rates. It has nothing to do with superior intelligence, argued Diamond, but with access to resources and environmental opportunities.
Diamond’s book cut across many disciplines and created a new framework for viewing and comparing different cultures. Last week, a small slice of Diamond’s work presented itself in the surfing world.
To wit, on Friday it was revealed that Surfing Western Australia floated the idea of a contest at either Jake’s Point or Gnaraloo. The reaction to said news was mostly negative, and by a fair majority. This included Kalbarri Boardriders whose president stated unequivocally that they don’t want the contest.
“No, the boys don't want it,” said Kit Rayner, “We'll leave it at that.”
Meanwhile, over the weekend the WSL announced QS contests at both Nias and West Sumbawa yet not a word has been said in protest, not on the WSL’s own story - where every comment was favourable - and not when doing the rounds of the hashtag search. Nothing in English, nothing in Indonesian.
From a surfing point of view, each of the three regions are similar: isolated coasts with seasonal waves of especially high quality, yet the difference, and it’s a crucial one, is that Australia and Indonesia have contrasting surf cultures.
Comparing cultures is a fraught business, but that’s what I’ve begun here so allow me to see it through...
Surfing has existed in Oz for over a century, it’s deeply ingrained in our culture, crossing social strata and the generations. Australian surfing has a lot of history, a complexity borne from experience, it’s been through enough iterations that we’re able to look back to project forward. It’s a mature culture, for want of a better word. It’s both cynical and wise.
Indonesian surfing, on the other hand, has existed for less than half that, and most of that time it was driven by foreigners. On Bali, a second generation of surfers are coming through, elsewhere the first generation of surfers are eagerly taking root, grasping at everything new.
Much as Australian surfers once welcomed early contests - 65,000 attended the ‘64 World Championships at Manly - Indonesian surfers appear to be doing so now. There’s much to be gained by a contest in town: notoriety, sponsorship, and of course tourism dollars.
Yet it’s not impossible to imagine a day when a later generation of Indonesian surfers reject the offer from the big top. When the contest baubles lose their shine, weighed up against increasing crowds and lineup restrictions.
You may say that Indonesian corruption will keep local surfers down, and I’d possibly agree, however it doesn’t change the overall debate: surfing cultures, all of them, not just Australia and Indonesia, are advancing at different rates. So what’s accepted in one country, gets rejected in another.
But also, what’s accepted in one country, may, given time, be rejected in the same country. That’s what’s happened here in Australia on a number of coastlines, and it has the potential to happen in other countries as their domestic surf cultures develop.
This process puts the squeeze on Dream Tour potential, and for that matter the Big Wave Tour too. They can cross off Raglan, Lennox, a number of Australian waves that shan't be named, shortly Gnaraloo and Jake’s too, and in time watch the same process repeat itself across South America, the Canary Islands, and a few European strongholds.
Wavepools have never looked so promising.