On December 12, 2009 on the North Shore of Oahu just a few hours after Mick Fanning cemented his second ASP World Title, Stab Magazine writer Chas Smith and the newly-crowned two-time World Champion shared an awkward and unpleasant exchange that resulted in Fanning calling Smith a “f—cking Jew” several times before Smith was escorted from Rip Curl’s beachside estate. While that exchange could have been filed into a bin full of awkward, unpleasant interactions in the history of testosterone-driven clashes on the North Shore, it went a much different route. It went to print. And that event, from its debated retelling to its controversial reception by purveyors and consumers of media inspired me to investigate bigotry in surfing more broadly. It needed to be done, if only because it hadn’t.
While surfing (like most sports) can be a transcendent unifier, it has also developed an astoundingly ironic and nuanced culture. We sell ourselves as inclusionists at every opportunity, yet we often conveniently forget to acknowledge that much of our world revolves around status signifiers, intricate hierarchies, and flat-out exclusivity. To a large extent, surf culture thrives on divisiveness. Haole. Kook. Grom. Seppo. Locals Only. Longboarders. SUPers, etc… In the surf world, Hawaiians aren’t considered Americans. And most Hawaiians like it that way; Surfing can be a parallel universe, and at times, we’ve excused some overtly bigoted behavior regarding race, religion, and sexuality. As a result, I think it’s in surf culture’s best interest to take a closer look at the blemishes we’re all too eager to Photoshop from the frame. Maybe then we’ll actually embrace the ideals we espouse, and I’m confident that surfing’s image – even with a smudge – will be just as inspiring.