Surfing is full of paradoxes. For example, the surfing community is filled with staunch defenders of the world’s oceans, yet the very act of surfing is detrimental to the environment. We sometimes consider ourselves part of a collective “surfing tribe,” yet we despise crowds and seek solitude whenever we are in the water. We cling to the “core” values of surf culture and the traditional styles of past legends, yet we go bonkers for anything that the surf industry labels as “progressive.” For me, this constant push for progression in surfing is particularly interesting, especially in contrast to the retro movement that has been growing in popularity over the last several years.
A lot has been said about surfing’s retro movement both in support of riding alternative, non-thruster designs and against what some consider to be the unnecessary handicapping of surf performance. Those who rally against the proliferation of “outdated” and “inferior” surf designs in today’s line-ups often claim that above the lip maneuvers and ultra-thin thrusters are the new standard of performance surfing. Maybe so. But what about talented surfers who are riding those “outdated” and “inferior” surf designs in ways that push the envelope of what was once considered possible on those types of boards? Shouldn’t that be considered progression in its own right, or perhaps, “regressing forward?”
I find myself drawn to this notion of forward regression. Aesthetically, I favor a smooth, flowing style over quick, jerky directional changes and air reverses. I’d rather watch a vintage surf film from the 70’s set to Jimi Hendrix than another electro-pop, neon-infused promo clip featuring the hottest 13-year-old grom coming out of San Clemente this month. For me, Lewis Samuels describes the feeling perfectly:
“The cool kids are focusing on the past. Groping at our velvia roots, trying to reconstruct surfing’s age of innocence. Groms on retro boards, re-imagining the romantic moments that preceded their conception. Viewing life through celluloid instead of pixels. It’s a process akin to re-virginizing whores. They’re looking back because something about ‘surfing’ today just doesn’t feel right. The magic has been drained out, leaving a pale corpse. As the body decomposes, and the stench sinks in, it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Whether you’re a bitter walrus in the lineup, a cynical PostSurf bastard on a laptop, or a Luddite surf hipster on an alaia.”