These days, probably due to a lack of courage around concrete, I consider myself more a surfer than a skateboarder. But I still get out for a roll from time to time, pop a few ollies, and read as many skateboarding magazines as possible.
However, like many of you reading this, when I was growing up, I was obsessed with skateboarding. It was the sort of obsession that quickly became depression in winter months, when pouring rain would prevent skating for days on end.
On these stormy days my brothers and I would watch Fulfill the Dream, Misled Youth and The End over and over again, in hope that some of the riders’ talent would be passed on to us. Sadly, the extent of this hope was limited, but it did impact how we rode. I can remember my younger brother took on a style of skating almost comically similar to Adrian Lopez’s. He, for a large chunk of time, would practice only the backside 5-0, trying to pull off the replication of his hero. My favorite (and greatest) inspiration was always Andrew Reynolds. We certainly weren’t the best skaters, but because of our repetitive viewing and idolization of some the greats, we all skated with decent style.
The other thing that was ingrained in us – and this, in my opinion, is one of the greatest aspects of skateboarding culture – is art. Every board is covered in it, all skating magazines are filled with it, video parts are works of it, and many pro skaters create it. I would argue that you’re not a skateboarder if you haven’t been immersed in creativity and picked up an interest in art along the way.
In becoming a skateboarder you are drawn into world where you think about what types of art you like, develop a fashion style to represent yourself, become a part time artist (writing on your board or in school books), take photos, and even get into filming and editing.
There is an element of all of this in surfing, but it’s certainly not the same. When compared the skateboarding culture, there is a definite lack of originality in both art and style. The most glaring example of this is the blank board phenomenon. Other than branded stickers, the vast majority of surfboards are devoid of art. Why? It is the perfect place for it, either glassed on in the creation of the board, or later when the purchaser can do whatever they like with this blank canvas. Why are pro model surfboards all about the dimensions but not about a style? The only example of a pro surfer pushing art on boards that I can think of is Ozzy Wright, and he also skates. His connection with the skateboarding culture is likely the cause of this.
So why the difference? It could be that skaters typically come from cities which are generally more culturally diverse environments. You can get away with more in the city; you can dress however you want while no one pays the slightest bit of notice; artists can create anything they like knowing that there will always be a niche of people who enjoy what they are putting out, even if others hate it.
Surfers, on the other hand, tend to come from coastal communities that have smaller numbers of people. There’s often an unspoken dress code, almost threatening you to dare try wearing those red skinny jeans. There’s less individualism, and the creativity, while definitely there, isn’t anywhere near as diverse.
With skateboarding, the whole creative spectrum is encouraged in the way professionals make their money. Skate contests don’t really matter, and if you’re a professional on the X-Games circuit, you’re often deemed as not “core” enough to be liked. Take a glimpse at “Skater of the Year” and it’s determined by video parts, where style and creativity are the key factors. Surfing still places so much emphasis on the World Tour. And while I love it with a passion, it doesn’t ooze creativity. It has become all about the surfing, and more importantly, the sponsorship. Sponsors want their brand shown and they don’t want it missed because of too much art on boards and clothing.
Lately I have been wondering whether or not this can change. I think the answer is yes. Surfing will naturally become more creative and rewarding of individuality over time. We have already started to see certain brands giving team riders more freedom; we are also certainly seeing a new acceptance of different types of surfboard craft in the water. Fishes are in, and riding singles and quads is increasingly common. Even the big brands seem to be slowly starting to see that creativity could be a seller. Quiksilver have given Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson free reign to do as they please, and look at the results: these two probably sell more product than any of the World Tour surfers. An exception might be John John Florence, who is such a freak that he can do whatever he wants and he’ll still be popular, making whatever he’s riding, wearing, and doing popular in the process.
I can foresee a future where brands cater to the different types (or however you want to term it) of people out there, the way they do in skateboarding. Unlike the current situation, where all the big brands are almost identical in what they offer.
I hope that the change comes from the top. We’ve seen glimpses of it with riders like Reynolds. The more these companies encourage their riders to express themselves creatively, the more it will flow through the entire realm of surfing. It’s good to be creative, and it’s great to be individuals. To all be the same would be incredibly boring.
So I look forward to a time when punks, hip-hop kids, and hippies are all out sharing waves together. I also eagerly await the time when a blank surfboard is seen as a waste of space.
This was previously posted on gosurf.co.nz