Surf Industry

Surf Industry

The Ended Summer — Finisterre's cold water surf call to arms and bursting the surf industry's sun-kissed bubble.

I’ve got this PR friend who sometimes hits me up to get publicity for projects he’s working on or to offer me small jobs on said projects. I usually turn my nose up and explain that I am a serious writer with a sacrosanct artistic code that cannot be purchased with advertising dollars, thank you very much. Unless I need money, then it’s me hitting him up for work writing PR copy for whoever will pay. We have a good relationship.

Recently, my friend shot me an add for a British surf company with the suspiciously French sounding name Finisterre. Until then, I knew them as well as I knew any of the other non-US or non-Australian surf companies: vaguely.

As someone who has written and will write this kind of thing again in the future, I can vouch for the fact that most if not all advertising copy is bullshit. I’m not using vulgarity for the sake of it, advertising often conforms almost exactly with the philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s academic definition of bullshit which, to paraphrase, is neither the truth nor a lie but a statement that ignores true and false entirely. For instance, when I turned on my computer this morning, the Apple start page greeted me with “iPhone 5 The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone”. This is bullshit – a statement with all of the intellectual and artistic depth of farting into a stiff wind. It’s also illustrative of 99.9 percent of all the info that we read from commercial sources every day.

But then, every so often, whether by dint of celestial alignment or forces more prosaic, a company does actually say something.Finisterre’s “task” [ inviting surf companies to cater their products to the majority of surfers who surf in cold water surfer] is not a revolution and probably not even as noble as they would like us to believe, but it is something that undoubtedly needed to be said. And that is a valuable thing in a hyper capitalist economy. Most of us do most of our surfing in shitty waves and cold water. If surfing is going to progress as a whole – and not just this trickle down, Reaganomics type of progression in which talented pros do things that we all copy to little or no avail – it is time for surfing companies to start selling us things that we need, not things that they tell us we need.

Why did Finisterre even feel the need to issue such a statement? Shouldn’t the need to create products that actually help every day surfers in every day situations be obvious? Apparently it’s not to many of the people in the surf industry. Here is my theory why: the surf industry is miniscule and by and large run by men with a worldview that isn’t much larger. They come from similar places like SydneyCoolangatta, Durban and anywhere between San Diego and Huntington Beach. They also have the same sense of fashion, similar music and literary interests, and similar styles of speech. They spend a lot of time together at industry events talking about how much they hate industry events. Many of them dislike each other but act like they love each other. It is not uncommon to see them wearing trucker hats. These are the people who are essentially creating surf culture. To put it another way, those of us who like to surf are willingly taking part in a culture that is dictated by grown men who wear trucker caps.

Years of industry inbreeding have made them unable to see the big picture. The global surfing population has exploded and scattered into almost every little corner of the world while the surf industry is still focused on creating goods for beach bums inhabiting a handful of classic surfing enclaves and selling soft goods to Walmarts in Idaho. This made sense when the surf industry was small scale, when it’s biggest concerns were making a quick buck off the kooks, getting gear to your bros then trying to figure out whether to spend the other four months of the year in Indo or South America. But those days are gone.

Surf culture, if it hopes to be anything more than an empty parody of it’s halcyon days needs to be more than the same rehashed images of tropical perfection and bikini babes. Those types of marketing images are often defended as showing people what the surfing ‘dream’ is. Bullshit. I love perfect waves, but I’d much rather surf a Scottish slab or a hairy Australian bomby than schlep a bunch of board bags through some Conradian, cholera-soaked, mosquito coast fever-dream. I don’t got the time, the money, nor the stomach to play out someone else’s neo-imperialist fantasies in a trademarked tropical archipelago.

I want to roam the countryside, splashing through puddles in the wind and rain, searching for secluded corners where fingers of anonymous, angry ocean tumble over uneven sea floor. I want to feel the land, breathe the sea, and romp like I did when I was a boy. I want to be my own adventurer, not a sponsor-laden simulacrum of over-training and corporate catch-phrases. I want surf companies to help with this. So let’s hope they respond to Finisterre’s little bit of brass-ball marketing and start a dialogue about the future of surfing that is long, long overdue.