Attempts at mass market beach and surf culture have led to the rewriting of surfing history, especially putting aside the true role Hawaiians play as shortboard pioneers, writes Scott Levi.
There has been a movement to commodify surf and surf culture since the first wave of sun-seeking tourists came to Waikiki at the turn of the 20th century.
As with most indigenous cultural practices, the invaders failed to understand the cultural complexity and technical advancements of Hawaiian surfing, despite the evidence before their own eyes.
And when the first mainstream surf movies hit theaters in the early 1960s, this Hawaiian surf culture was largely overlooked by the camera lens as well.
The same way as Fiona Jordan argues that the “beach or bikini body” in women’s magazines sets a cultural agenda by determining what the acceptable female form should be, so The Endless Summer writer and director Bruce Brown describes a surf culture in Hawaii, undoubtedly the birthplace of surfing, as dominated by young rebellious American men.
There is an under-representation of the Native Hawaiians seen surfing in the film, and none are filmed surfing the short, hand-made “alaia” boards that were still in use at the time.
Tom Wegener, traditional Hawaiian board shaper on the Sunshine Coast, offers his take on Greg Noll – the most famous big wave surfer of the 1960s and one of the members of the American team that introduced the Malibu board in Australia in the 1950s.
When Greg Noll and these guys paddled their big boards, their big elephant cannons, there was always a handful of Hawaiians on the shorter alaia boards on those giant waves, and the westerners didn’t even see them. They didn’t even recognize them, they just ignored them. They just asked them to step aside, they didn’t want them to be in the movie. They haven’t seen what Hawaiians have always been doing.
The images of big waves from Waimea Bay in Endless Summer were used repeatedly in mainstream Hollywood movies of the 1960s to depict big wave surfing. This film created the staging of Hawaiian surfing for the time.
This idea of ââthe beach as a place dominated by a predominantly white male surfing culture was also played out during the Cronulla riots in Australia.
The violence revolved around racial control of the sand, and as in the case of Hawaii, surfers were blind to the beach culture they were moving.
The surfers of Cronulla were adorned with their body painting slogan “we grew up here, you flew here”, which was designed to exclude people of Middle Eastern culture, and saw no evidence of it. mounds of seashells on the sand dunes indicating thousands of years of indigenous beach ownership tradition before them.
Any Australian surfer will tell you that shaper Bob McTavish, California knee boarder George Greenough and long board champion Nat Young were among the first to start cutting old logs into smaller and smaller shapes, inventing thus the short board. And I’m sure they thought they did. Wegener and most surfers and shapers believed him. It was a widely held belief that Hawaiians only surfed long boards on slow, fat waves.
But as Wegener delved deeper into history, he discovered radical surf spots with ancient ruins towering above them – places Hawaiians said were traditional surfing spots. The very maneuverable alaia that Wegener fashioned from the old and original models could handle those fast waves and create sections that were impossible on long boards.
So, as Hawaiian royalty rode the giant 16-foot olo board, many more ripped off on the short boards, perhaps 1,000 years before the so-called short board revolution.
In the SAGE dictionary of cultural studies Chris Baker writes that “cultural imperialism implies the domination of one culture over another”, in part through consumer capitalism. He argues that Herbert Schiller, “one of the main proponents of the cultural imperialism thesis,” believed that the US-controlled mass media played an important role in this process.
More than any other, Hawaiian culture has been overwhelmed by this giant wave of American cultural imperialism. People have been nearly wiped out by infectious and lifestyle-related diseases, and since missionary days the religious and social importance of surfing has been suppressed, replaced by Hollywood’s superficial portrayal of Hawaiians as people. happy in necklaces playing ukulele.
Attempts to appropriate the beach and the mass market for beach and surf culture have led to the rewriting of surfing history. However, in a way, Wegener’s work, as told by surf filmmaker Nathan Oldfield, is slowly setting the record straight and elevating Hawaiians as the true innovators of short and long board surfing.
Tom Wegener will participate in Duke’s Day event at Freshwater Beach January 9-10.
Scott Levi is a presenter on ABC Central Coast Radio. See his full profile here.