Recently, an article by Sarah Gold came out on the bubble-gum leftist web page, Slate, entitled Hipsters are Ruining Surfing. Gold is relatively new to surfing, and like your average adolescent, is nursing a certain faux-ennui with the state of a sport she has spent about six years involved with. The piece has no clear, central argument–such a thing would plainly reveal that the writer has no idea what she’s talking about–but the heart of it is that most surf spots are too crowded and this is hurting the “spirit of surfing.” Naturally, she defines the spirit of surfing with a quote from Barbarian Days–a book that East Coast pseudo-intellectuals have gobbled up quicker than the latest food allergy: “Committed surfing is a deep immersion, literal and philosophical, in the ocean. The goal, if there is a goal, is a certain drenching experience of beauty. It’s quite possible to surf for decades without laying eyes on a surf contest.”
This is, like much of Finnegan’s writing, is a sort of nice, soft-focus sentiment. But it’s completely untrue as a general rule. It’s certainly how Finnegan seems to interpret surfing, but there is a vast swathe of the “committed” surfing population that has no dedication, literal, philosophical or otherwise to the aesthetics or wider experiences of the ocean, at least not a conscious one. In fact, you can surf your entire life without ever actually leaving the surf zone, meaning your “commitment” to the ocean effectively limits you to experiencing about 1% of it. This is more true today than it was in the barbarian days of the ’60s and ’70s, but even a close inspection of those years will show much less overlap than is generally implied by the people who truly lived sea-bound lifestyles–sailors, fishermen, commercial divers, to name a few–and the young, middle-to-upper class young men who took their twenties off to play at hippiedom before returning to the affluent, nine-to-five fold in their later years.