Co-Founder, Hi-Fi, The Mobile Lifestyle Network

The Inertia

Growing up, pictures and movies about surfing were rare. The only photos were in Surfer and Surfing and the only place to see footage was in the latest surf video. To get gear (from new brands no one heard of), you went to the local surf shop. Surfing was for surfers. Fast-forward to waves crowded by boards purchased at WalMart and landlocked states where everybody’s mom wears Billabong. What happened? Social Media. Social Media is threatening the authenticity of surf culture. The ability for anyone to broadcast themselves is altering who surfs and why. Houston, we have a problem.

Surfing has always been about something other than being seen. More art than sport from the beginning, Polynesian kings were the most skilled at a non-competitive pass-time that kept their people close to the oceans on which their lives depended. Modern surf culture evolved, in part, as a reaction to the Cold War and consumerism following WW ll. Surfing was a way to maintain a connection to the natural world, escape modernity, and reconnect with the source from which we came.

As an outsider culture and a meritocracy, skill, heart, and nerve earned respect among surfers. It was Man vs. Nature at its most pure. A solitary pursuit to harness nature’s energy, propelled atop waves that traveled across hundreds of miles of open ocean. Danger limited spectators and media, and most surfers were fine with that.

Increasingly, social media’s culture of self-admiration and mass exposure is causing a cultural shift, and a new participant is emerging. Surfing used to be about going on trips with your buddies, exploring new breaks, breaking into the newfound lifestyle – all without a worry in the world. Whether it’s the Caribbean, Central America or California, adventuring to new places has migrated to showcasing it for others, rather than experiencing it for your self.

Short attention spans, fueled by social media’s always-on access, have enabled ambitious individuals (some who don’t even surf) to infringe on surfing’s well-known calm and collected lifestyle, co-opting surf culture for profit in six and 15-second increments. There’s more concern about Views and Likes than experiencing the stoke, the rush, and the oh so rare thrill of “entering the greenroom.” Before kids paddle out, they’ve got to take a selfie.

With all the exposure, new sponsors and brands are showing up to participate. There’s a lot that’s good about athletes getting paid, but some less discerning brands care more about being associated with surfing than with promoting the best of the sport. Is surfing doomed to exploitation and overexposure?

No. All is not lost. The stoke will survive. Surfing’s soul remains pure despite distractions from kooks and money. True surfers still surf for the experience. They wake up earlier, paddle out farther, endure colder water, go where no one else dares, and confront nature in a way no other sport or athlete can match.

Despite the social onslaught, signs of resiliency abound. The independent surf shop endures as the temple of culture, indoctrinating and equipping future generations. Science is making it easier to find the best waves worldwide, and the return of fin-less boards shows a reverence for the purity of surfing and a deep respect for tradition, even as data fuels innovation in board technology as never before.




  • freerider

    Umm–science is making it easier to find waves worldwide?- Is that good or bad? Before–you had to explore–endure some hardships to get there and then, maybe, score. I would prefer the latter–

    • Josh

      Ya, it has its positives and negatives that come with it for sure. But growing up, I remember having to do work! Watching the weather channel, call other surf shops further south to hear what they thought, or simply take the journey – hit or miss. It made memories, rooted our passion for travel and surfing deep into our souls. Not sure if waking up, staring at a glowing computer screen, and not even having to getting out of bed to do a surf check could produce the same growth.

      • Bampster

        You too apparently experienced the lifestyle of surfing CA 40 years ago when we only had the lifeguard recorded weather/surf conditions to call or could contact a friend who had already checked the surf near his house that morning if you could actually reach him on his house phone line.
        Yup, I spent a lot of time driving around Orange Co. hunting for some decent surf to ride when the local surf sucked and I had a few hours before having to head off to work my afternoon job.
        I’m retired now and it gets me when I drive to my local spots to check the surf and see someone pull in an begin speed dialing all his friends to come on over for a surf!
        Instant crowd within an hour!

        • Josh

          I kinda miss it. I liked the hunt. The phrase “shoulda been here yesterday” was slapped in peoples face a whole lot more back then. Like you said, everyone and their grandma has a phone and instantly knows if theres surf or not.

          Don’t get me wrong, Im all for tech that saves us time and effort. But, we all still get that urge to just “go” without touching a keyboard or screen. Hit or miss, either way, its worth it every time.

          • Steve Yanovsky

            Do you remember the Wide World of Sports? I relished watching coverage of surfing championships on ABC, one of the biggest sports networks in the world at the time. Some said it was heracy for the sport. I was involved with the launch of the X Games in 1995, which was considered a sell-out to the history of skateboard, BMX culture, etc. Now, so-called ‘action sports’ is mainstream. Does being mainstream take anything away from the history or enjoyment of those who continue to hold their sport near and dear. I can say the same thing about the music business, which has been my professional focus. I abhor people who complain about concert ticket prices but when they go to the show, they spend all their time filming the show or talking to friends rather than listening to the music. Technology made it easy for everyone to publish and share content they created, but it does not insure that what they created is meaningful to the masses. What is meaningful is that we continue to share our experiences in the hope that someone will find them meaningful enough to experience it themselves.

    • Todd Ames

      I think the point here was to say that you can get a greater success rate of surfing, which is the point. Wherever the waves are, you still have to get yourself, your gear, and your friends there. The journey is undiminished, while the is goal achieved. Technology is widely used in surfing equipment, products, and the chronicling of the sport, so why not use it to actually surf?

      • freerider

        Ya the goal is achieved–and you find yourself in the line-up with a hundred of your best friends–who all saw the same thing on line with the click of a button…….

  • Jonjon Taka

    Tired of reading the cliché “man against nature” applied to surfing. It’s man in harmony with nature, not against.
    Man against nature, is man building break waters, sea walls, river dams, or spraying pesticides and herbicides etc…

    • Josh

      100% agree with you. Harmony is key and a vital thing to learn… Its in the very core of surfing. This article was meant to simply focus on social media and its status with new generations of surfers.

      • Jonjon Taka

        Yes I understand the focus was social media and I should probably discuss this on a Broke Little thread.

        Popularity on Social Media especially among the young rising stars has become the new measure of “coolitude”, but there’s the added pressure to show sponsors your worth and get more “likes” and “followers” than your pals.

        I don’t think this culture of narcissism has significantly changed in the last 30 years, but the means have. In my opinion, that doesn’t mean surfing doesn’t attract the same kind of unsung heroes we have all come to appreciate in the past. Surfing will always be surfing.

        • Josh

          Stated this earlier: But lets keep our focus here only about social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat) and posing this question: “Is it threatening the authenticity of surfing?” At a ground level view, when there are groms on the beach, with a cell phone in one hand and board in the other taking selfies before they paddle out at critical spots, to then paddle out on the back half of their board, nose up in the air, finally get into the lineup, snake an old man on a longboard to barely stand up and pearl; only to come in and see their “surfing selfie” get over 8k likes on instagram. He’s now been “validated” on social media to go back out and do it again, cockier than ever. OR to see a girl sitting on the beach with a shiny new longboard (no wax) next to her when the waves are up, a friend snapchatting photos of her posing telling everyone she’s “going surfing,” then get up and leave, never to even get her feet wet.

          Where’s the authenticity in this?

          • Jonjon Taka

            There are surfers and there are posers, like there’s always been and will always be. The one thing technology has allowed, especially social media, is to help posers get a lot more attention. However they’ve always been there.

            In fact some early tech investors in facebook based the soundness of their investment on the world view that anything that helps people artificially enhance their status in society, will prosper. Facebook accordingly was the ideal investment choice as it parallels real life, where one’s likability is directly correlated to one’s success, be it financial or having more fun than others.

            I would argue however that social media is not in any way threatening the authenticity of surfing. Surfing is surfing, posing is posing. Both can be mixed to various degrees, and for young kids who want to belong or look cool, they will use all the tools at their fingertips.

            Oh and let’s not forget, some of the big wave riders who tow-in at places like Nazaré would not do it without a camera crew. What does that tell you?

    • Todd Ames

      Can I argue that big wave surfing is about taking on nature? True, most people are surfing more modest waves, but that adversarial challenge is at least part of of what drives that specialty, no?

      • Jonjon Taka

        As big wave legend Derrick Downer says in the book “North Shore Chronicles”, big wave riding is not an “all aggressive kind of deal”. You have to flow with the waves, not fight them. It has more to do with making nature your ally than taking on nature. I would add there’s a more spiritual dimension to big wave riding, and it’s not so much about an adversarial challenge like mainstream media would like us to believe.

        (Jeff Clark 15 years of surfing Mavericks alone and feeling one with the place is a good example)

        Stuff like the Billabong XXL prices try to build on this lie (adversarial challenge) and create a form of pre-packaged hero worship/gladiator show accessible to the masses for mainstream consumption.

        As someone who also rides big waves, or at least used to, I never felt I was taking on nature, even if the metaphor used by old timers, that it’s like a war zone out there, sometimes hold true.

        The adversarial part is not about taking on nature, because you can’t, but on pushing oneself to the edge, being brave, sometimes a little crazy, or being able to put one’s faith in the hands of a higher force, but also knowing and managing oneself in order to be ready for the worst.

        Ultimately it comes down to tasting an exhilarating experience one wants to repeat regardless of the sacrifices. It may not be suitable for all personality types, as the desire to overcome one’s own fear and weaknesses must be there to begin with. That in a way could be called the adversarial part, but the adversary is yourself, not nature.

        • Todd Ames

          Thanks. Good note and insights. I appreciate the references and the respect the first-hand experience.

  • Graham Matthew

    I don’t worry about it, as chances are those who are more concerned with wetsuit clad selfies are not likely to be in the lineup in the winter months, unless of course they catch the surf bug, and when that happens taking photos and video of yourself surfing has ceased to be important to you.

    Win-win really!

    • Josh

      Hahaha true. Speed bumps in the lineup.

    • Todd Ames

      That’s a great way to think about it and rise above.

  • Bampster

    Josh is too young and too ignorant to understand the history of surf culture in the US.
    During the times of the Hawaiian royalty, the common Hawaiian was not allowed to surf anywhere near the Royals, nor were they allowed to associate or look upon the Royals or even walk upon the Kings Highway along the coast.
    The penalty… was death by clubbing!
    Thank God the Hawaiian brutality and Authoritarian culture under the Royals evolved under the Territory of the US.

    • Josh

      @Bampster:disqus You are correct sir. Hat tip and a shaka to you. Glad someone is up on their Polynesian history. You dont know me of course, and thats ok. But coming from 3 generations of an entire family of surfers; riding my dads back body surfing when I was 3 yrs old, getting my first board at 5, training beach lifeguards, going out in 25 ft swells, brutal hurricane surf, unforgettable trips to chase the dream, Ive been surfing for 30 years now… salt water runs through my veins. Growing up on both the north shore of Oahu and Florida, learning the currents, studying the ocean floor and wind patterns, learning the ropes from many people who love the sea. All of my family reside on the Hawaiian islands. With multiple well known Hawaiian pro surfer cousins, a Hawaiian brother-in-law and an Uncle who’s been shaping for over 40 years, Hawaii and surfing goes deep in my family. I was taught to respect the ocean with your life. I consider myself very blessed and fortunate to have grown up this way… I don’t take any of it for granted.

      BUT all that is beside the point, so back to the main focus of the entire article above; its not about me or Hawaiian culture/history at all. Its about social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat) and posing this question: “Is it threatening the authenticity of surfing?” At a ground level view, when there are groms on the beach, with a cell phone in one hand and board in the other taking selfies before they paddle out at critical spots, to then paddle out on the back half of their board, nose up in the air, finally get into the lineup, snake an old man on a longboard to barely stand up and pearl; only to come in and see their “surfing selfie” get over 8k likes on instagram. He’s now been “validated” on social media to go back out and do it again, cockier than ever. OR to see a girl sitting on the beach with a shiny new longboard (no wax) next to her when the waves are up, a friend snapchatting photos of her posing telling everyone she’s “going surfing,” then get up and leave, never to even get her feet wet.

      Where’s the authenticity in this?

  • Josh

    Unfortunately you missed the point. The Inertia is not “social media” ie. facebook, instagram, snapchat, etc.

    • freerider

      Only true surfing enthusiasts? You forgot–bubble-gummers–newbies–wannabes–yuppies–star struck teenie bopper surf star groupies–etc…..

      • Josh

        This article was aimed at those who care about the future of the authentic surf lifestyle and culture.

  • TheSavvyAdvocate

    Ya, I definitely dig the days of Wayne Lynch, Mike Doyle, Nat Young, and Corky Carroll, they were the real deal.

    • freerider

      Wayne Lynch was by far more radical than anyone from that time period….

  • Carter McCoy

    Kind of ironic that we are reading an article bemoaning social media’s impact on surfing from a website that uses social media as it’s bread and butter……

    • Josh

      The Inertia isnt remotely part of the problem. If you read the entire article, there is a silver lining. Of course, The Inertia uses social media. It’s not a new concept. Everyone uses social media… its feeds are cluttered mess of posts and family photos next to irrelevant ads and spam. But thats what we’ve got to deal with out there in the digital ecosystem.

      • Carter McCoy

        I understand that the role of the inertia plays is more benign than most anything else. I was simply commenting on the irony that most of us used facebook to find the article. I see the gopros and the wavestorms as the problem. In fact my local lineup is clogged with them (Santa Cruz). I hope that there continues to be an independent streak in surfing and know that the backbone of surf innovation is the local shop/local shaper.

        • Josh

          I agree with you Carter!

    • Bobby Rydell

      I think the author here is merely noting observations from this societal shift everyone has become apart of and is shedding light on the downfalls of the current major networks – an abundance of irrelevant content. If you did any further research, you would also see that the author is trying to resolve this with his product that the Inertia happens to be a partner with. Bringing authenticity to the forefront of social… makes sense.

  • freerider

    Is this piece ironic or what–isn’t the Inertia social media?–When some one does a trip these days– to Mainland Mex.– Panama (Sean Murphy)—to Baja–(A.Haro)–and boom-they have their pictures and article from the trip-here- on the Inertia–with usually ‘a link’-no less–to some cheesy surf camp or surf tour guide-who will exploit these surf spots to you for a price……..

    • Josh

      To your initial question… no, I would not consider The Inertia as “social media” to compare to what we’re talking about ie. twitter, facebook, instagram, snapchat, etc. IMO its not even close to the same thing as those networks.

  • Rested Durrow

    The author’s memory must be hazy. The decline started nearly 20 years ago when the industry itself marketed to Joe Consumer. Boards have been sold at Costco, Walmart etc. long before Facebook or Instagram. The lineups were crowded with newcomers long before Twitter. Social Media has accelerated an already dim future for surfing. Man, you are a writer?!

    • Josh

      It’s 2016, so we’re just focused on one current relevant issue, which as you stated, is accelerating a problem.

    • Bobby Rydell

      If you actually read the author’s article, you would see that everything you just stated makes the author’s memory the exact opposite of hazy; In fact, crystal clear.

      • Rested Durrow

        I did, and I disagree with it. There is no “new” participant because of social media. It’s the same people with just new devices and new technology. It’s been happening for close to two decades and there is always a new generation. This generation just happens to have a new technology.

    • Graham Matthew

      I’m not an owner of a costco board or the like but i did start on a pop out NSP so maybe I’m lumped in with that group. The real reason for this was I had hired some equipment (soft tops) and really enjoyed attempting to surf so then I wanted to own my own gear and opted for something robust, good for beginners and “relatively” cheap. I realise now that a real handshaped board opens up surfing in a complete new world of surf, it feels so different and you actually progress past the basics.
      But it has to be said that buying your first board, especially when you are new to the hobby and only have limited funds these boards are ideal. Ultimately does it matter what you are riding if you are having fun? because those surfers who catch the bug will eventually move to a shaped board and start supporting the true heart of the surf economy (shapers), and it was all because of that cheap pop out board……

      Sorry to go off on a tangent.

  • theKook

    Why did any of us enter the water with a board we did not build in the first place? I grew up playing in the surf-zone and loved being there in the energy! Some older member of the family left a big old yellow “islander” in granny’s garage. I found surfing and surfing on a board went naturally from there to become an important focus in life to this day. I have boards in my shed from six to ten feet. Dose the process by which I came to the practice make me “authentic”? I think not. I can count on my fellow enthusiasts to be consistent in only one practice: ridicule. Ever time I hit the water I can bet the farm that some clucking gaggle of rippers will immediately, and vociferously, identifi my as a kook simply because I don’t fit the mold: I.e. Look like them. They usually shut up after I catch a fue waves. This concept of what is authentic is a social construct shaped by everything from advertising to the tribe we identifi with. As we look out a cross that ever expanding line up its easy to feel encroached on, but none of us is the first, so expect not to be the last.

    • Graham Matthew

      well said sir!

  • Todd Ames

    Vimeo does seem to attract the real core in many sports in a way Youtube does not.

  • Todd Ames

    Some good debate here. Lots of knowledge. Lots of passion for surfing. That’s the point after all.

  • DrunkenAngel

    oh ffs. there hasn’t been anything ‘authentic’ about surfing since it was colonised. you are confusing authenticity with simply being keener or more enthusiastic than others. romantic hogwash.

  • http://www.fysiologik.com/ fysiologik

    I can’t surf well without a proper selfie before paddling out

  • http://www.nicolegrodesky.com/ Nicole Grodesky

    There will always be people who surf for the wrong reasons. They will surf becasue they think it’s “cool” or makes them look cool. They surf because it’s “spiritual.” While there are a lot of rewarding aspects to surfing, the truth is surfing can be mentally frustrating and physically demanding. Physical side effects include sunburn, rashes, ear infections, burning eyes, stiff neck, stiff back, and extremely sore muscles. Mental side effects include low wave count, crowds, close outs, and underperformance. Yeah it might look cool, but if you do it becasue you love it, you will come to know the not so glamorous side of surfing.

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