Recently The Inertia posted a piece about the link between surfing and hunting. The article was accompanied by a picture of noted surfer/hunter, Shane Dorian, beaming over some magnificent dead thing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rage that ensued on The Inertia’s social media channels was significant in both volume and vitriol. So significant, in fact, that Dorian requested that the photo be removed.
Shane Dorian’s hunting mantra is: “if you kill it, you eat it.” I can’t help thinking he might pay heed to his own philosophy. If you are prepared to kill an animal and grin widely as you pose with the corpse, then perhaps you might be prepared to swallow the criticism that inevitably comes with it. Dorian is hardly shy when it comes to promoting his passion for hunting. A quick Google image search for “Shane Dorian hunting” is proof of that. Actually, the more I looked into it, the more convinced I became that Shane Dorian is afflicted by bloodlust, rather than a desire to put sustainable, ethically sourced food on the table for his family.
Despite not being entirely convinced that Dorian’s urge to hunt is entirely as he claims, he is factually accurate in his statements that hunting is a necessity in order to control problematic animal populations, in Hawaii and elsewhere.
In Scotland, we have problematic populations of red deer. Shooting and killing a percentage of these animals is necessary, just as it is on Maui. I reached out to another well known surfer/hunter–Maui local Matt Meola–to get his perspective. He told me that there are problematic populations of certain species of pig, deer and goat. “They are invasive species that are extremely over populated,” he said. “They wreak havoc on all the indigenous plants and wildlife. They are also notorious for destroying farm crops and wrecking cattle fences. There are no seasons or tags because the problem is that bad.”
I was also interested to discover the attraction of hunting using a bow. If killing was the primary objective, then why not just use a gun? Hunting with a bow is never going to involve indiscriminate, large scale killing. It takes skill, timing, patience, and nerve–all requisite traits for successful surfing, incidentally. It’s the dedication and adventure that seems to appeal to Meola. “Anybody can go out and shoot something with a gun,” he explains. “Bow hunting takes so much patience, practice, and time. For me, it’s time well spent. Nothing makes me happier than hiking through the wilderness with my bow for hours and hours.” You can see why surfers are attracted to it. You don’t need to have a deep understanding of the figurative to draw comparisons between the hunters of our ancestry and the culture of chasing waves.
But regardless of Dorian or Meola’s personal motivations to go out and kill animals, or the manner in which they do it, I can’t help bristling at some of the comments on social media condemning them, and the narrow-minded hypocrisy of city-dwelling rural activists. The late Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote: “’Prevention of cruelty’ talk cuts ice in town/Where they consider death unnatural…” Death is an unavoidable and necessary part of living, particularly in the country. Anyone who doesn’t understand this lacks either brain cells or perspective, and more than likely both.
Matt Meola was lucid when I asked him what he might say to the haters online who think that hunting is wrong. He says he finds a lot of it funny because “it just shows how uneducated people can be.” He reckons that “unless you eat absolutely zero animal products and grow all your own food, there is nothing you can say.” I might be inclined to agree with him.
There is a breed of hunter who prefers to stalk social media channels, primed for outrage, but happy to let some ethically debatable farmer slaughter animals on his or her behalf. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that.
Meola suggests that some of the evidence of animal mistreatment in the meat industry found online would “make you cry and never want to eat meat from a grocery store again.” It’s hard to argue with his sentiment. “I can’t see a better way to harvest meat than hunting,” he says. “The animal lives a happy, healthy life in its natural habitat, then out of nowhere, it drops dead. Seems a lot less cruel to me.”
The fact is, hunting integrates us with the environment far more than buying shrink-wrapped products in a store that have been shipped thousands of miles. And isn’t this the sort of ethically and environmentally conscious behavior that many surfers subscribe to?
As surfers, we are nothing if not hypocritical. We love to bore people with hippy-dippy ideas surrounding our connections to the natural world, and other trite notions about riding waves. What is more natural than killing and eating something? Without this process our species–or any species, for that matter–wouldn’t exist. If you have never killed an animal yourself, how can you possibly say that it isn’t a transcendent experience that trumps any dumb little lump of water you’ve ever caught?
It’s not even hard to argue that hunting is a more useful hobby that riding waves, and possibly less destructive. Does the surfer who has raped his or her way through some dirt-poor tropical archipelago to catch a few waves really occupy a moral vantage point over the hunter who hangs the antlers of some great, big bloody deer in the hallway?
I asked Meola if he kept trophies from his hunts. He doesn’t come across as someone who hunts purely for the thrill of the kill, though I think it would be remiss to deny this part of it. While it is clear that the trophy collection aspect is a motivating factor for some hunters, I know it isn’t the case for all of them. “Every rack on the wall has a story,” says Meola. “Every time I look at them, it reminds me of the challenge and many hours spent to catch this animal.” Is this so different from seeking out the perfect image of ourselves surfing as evidence of the many hours and sacrifices we have made to get there? In one way or another, we’re all trophy hunters.
When it comes down to it, no matter how hard we try, maybe we just can’t deny our blood. Genetic memory is a powerful and undeniable urge. The desire to be destructive may well be in all of us. There are some theorists who suggest that modern civilization is so tepid, so swaddled in safety, that we should actively seek challenge, danger, and adrenaline. We simply need to stimulate our lingering genetic urges. I’m sure hunting fulfills this role in some people’s lives, just as surfing does for others.