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Would surfing’s ancestors like what surfing has become?

Today I asked myself a question that I don’t yet know the answer to.

Would the surfers of early 18th century Polynesia be more proud or ashamed of what the surfing community has become today? 

My instinct is they would lean towards the latter.

Like most Asian cultures, the ancient Polynesians were a collectivist one. They worked together to survive and they lived off the earth. They shared waves and the joys of their sacred sport.

As surfing spread like wildfire around the world, it found new epicenters in California and Australia. The people that embraced surfing in these locations were primarily of European descent, and therefore identified more with individualism than collectivism.

Over the years we sensationalized, industrialized, commercialized and globalized. Companies that represent surf culture and operate sustainably are in the minority as opposed to the majority. Board builders making the use of sustainable materials a priority are a minority as opposed to a majority.

And how about us, the individual surfers?

We use surfing to get ahead in the world. We use it for image crafting and looking cool to our peers on Instagram. We don’t think twice before driving our big trucks back and forth to the beach as they spew out carbon into our atmosphere. Aggressive, competitive vibes fill our waters. Fights break out in our beach parking lots.

Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of what we stand for. It became about me, not us. And about us, not them.

There is a global climate crisis, yet there’s no clear indication that surfing, not just the industry but our community as a whole, is coming together to do anything about it. We’re more concerned with capturing our next GoPro surf-selfie.

Sure, there are surfers out there leading NGO’s and trying to serve the greater good. But take a look around your local beach parking lot on a given Saturday, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one.

So when I think about how our surfing ancestors would feel about our community today, I can’t help but think they’d be disappointed.


Founder and president at My Wave Addiction. Believes our own actions on a grand scale have the potential to make a huge difference. On a mission to inspire.

  • Chantae

    I think one main contributor to this is groupthink.

    On one side, you have surfers building small activism communities of beach cleanups, foundations, and random individuals who try to help in small ways that they can. The other day I saw a video of a guy who attached a fishing net to his SUP paddle and a tied a crate to the front of his board. He goes around collecting trash while SUPing which I thought was innovative and a brilliant idea! Imagine if that were created on a large scale and people actually thought it was a cool thing to do? Fortunately in Perth these things are starting to happen and it’s a major difference to living in LA! An artsy “surf” market was put on last weekend that banned waste and heavily promoted a beach cleanup community (complete with trendy, stylish advertising campaign and all). Whether people want to do this for a new type of image crafting or b/c they care about the environment – I’m not sure – but it’s a small step in the right direction. Hopefully it’s a bandwagon that pulls many people and lasts a long time!

    But then if you look at mainstream surf media – and the type of people it attracts to the sport (usually people who are image crafters like you mention), that’s where all the localism/fast consumption begins to fester. Most mainstream surf companies are not sustainable – they promote constantly replacing surfboards, clothes, high frequency travel, and this is their entire business model.

    The best thing would be if the first group could leverage themselves as the ‘cooler group’ in a way and take advantage of the decline of mega surf brands (Quiksilver declaring bankruptcy, Billabong struggling as well). I really hope this happens and spreads.

    • Cameron Brown

      Hey Chantae :) I agree that there are a lot of people out there doing amazing things and representing our community well. I also think that certain regions like you’ve pointed out are more hip to the major issues of our time than others. So regionally it seems to change. For instance, NorCal is more aware than SoCal. What is most concerning to me is the extent to which we’re in the minority.

      But I very much agree that things seem to be moving forward, although it’s hard to tell at what pace. I’m a firm believer as you’ve pointed out that we the surfers have to drive the industry’s decisions through our own choices as conscious consumers. And in order for that idea to spread, we need to be the ‘cool group’ and conscious consumption needs to be thought of as cool.

      Great input and thoughts, thanks for sharing :)

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