The Inertia

As Beyoncé says in “Blow,” the music video to which shows her with her badass crew of roller-skating, low-rider-cruiser-bike-riding friends, “This is for all my grown women out there — I’m about to get into this, girls!” Beyoncé then sings about cherries. Yes, that’s a sexual reference. But I digress. This isn’t about “Blow.” This is about something else: her surfboard.

Ever since Beyoncé released “Drunk in Love,” surfers have been pondering what that reference means. It’s obviously something! It’s not just surfing, guys!

As huge Bey fans, my friends and I have been throwing around this surfboard line pretty regularly. It can be fun to watch people try to figure this song out. Then there are the fun spoofs, like “Dunkin’ Love,” about the lack of Dunkin’ Donuts on the West Coast, filmed at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Generally, it’s been a lot of fun.

However, what has not been fun are the responses to this song from surfers, comments that range from “who cares” to “fuck her.” And one comment has been particularly depressing: a lovely little meme that read, “Thanks Beyonce but real surfers don’t want to see this shit.” What “this shit” was referring to was then clarified by a cartoon of a black man penetrating a black woman from behind in a bathtub, with the partial caption of “fat nigga fuck.” Helpfully juxtaposed with a “real” surfboard, we presume it is then expected that we “real” surfers can clearly distinguish between what is part of the surfing world and what isn’t.

Now, for a few thoughts on this. First, Beyoncé isn’t talking to or about you. She doesn’t care how mad or confused you are that she used the word surfboard as wordplay. But it is just as nonsensical to be so bothered and angered by Beyoncé’s surfboard reference. No one, to my knowledge, has ever freaked out on people for using the phrase “surf the internet.” The explanation for these different reactions is that “real” surfers are so obsessed and befuddled by Beyoncé’s song because it’s a black woman, owning her sexuality, and making a sexual innuendo to something outside of her immediate and so-thought “proper” domain.

This insider-outsider chest puffing always strikes me as one of the lowest forms of human pitifulness. I, like many surfers, switch from longboards to shortboards to paipo boards to no boards at all. It always amazes me to get a “fucking shortboarder!” from a dude, always a dude, who will no doubt see me at the same break in three days on a longboard. Cyclists do this to each other, too — I’ve been heckled for being on my road bike, then later heckled for being on my mountain bike. I don’t have a nuanced psychological or sociological explanation for why people need to plant their angry little flag on their itty bitty territory in this way, but it’s fascinating.

But the biggest problem with the Beyoncé obsessions are the racial overtones of these complaints.

The biggest problem is when “real surfer” actually means “white (straight male) surfer.” It’s the same kind of vibe that led my partner’s brother, who’s 16 and black, to say rather nervously the first time I took him surfing, “Black people don’t surf.” It’s the same ugliness that so many black surfers talk about in the documentary White Wash. Racism isn’t limited to deliberate acts of verbal or physical violence and more obvious discrimination. It’s not just conscious feelings of superiority or hatred. It is also taking part, consciously or not, in larger systems that have held people down, made human beings feel like they’re not welcome, not good enough, not part of the “real” people who should go to college, become our President, get married — or surf.

There are those, of course, who believe that all references in pop culture are meaningless fluff. These kinds of responses — “Who even cares about Beyoncé?” — have been plentiful, as well. With or without your approval, though, Beyoncé is a cultural force. Future historians are going to be writing about this woman, not just because she’s immensely popular, but also because she sang at our first black president’s inauguration. And then his second swearing-in ceremony. And she’s made a fascinating, complex, and generally epic album about black women’s power and sexuality.

And even if you’re not a Beyoncé fan, if you think she’s a dumb, talentless blip on the radar that has nothing to do with your life, this doesn’t make you the center of some purer, more authentic culture. None of us have the final say on what a “real” surfer is.


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