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Surfers have a very strange relationship with the idea of “new.” Despite common stereotypes, we tend to be a conservative group when it comes to accepting change.


The Inertia

Surfers have a very strange relationship with the idea of “new.” Despite common stereotypes, we tend to be a conservative group when it comes to accepting change. We like things the way they are, and rightfully so. We have a good thing going for us. However, in a rapidly changing global environment, it’s important to develop a healthy relationship with new technology in order to ensure a bright future.

The Red Queen’s Hypothesis, an idea originally applied to the evolution of species, states that one must progress equally as fast as his/her surroundings in order to survive. Species that cannot adapt as quickly as their predators or prey will find themselves helpless. The culture of surfing faces a similar dilemma.

Presently, surfing is under attack from all sides. The first assault comes from the continuous mainstreaming of our culture. The world is fascinated by surfing, and global brands with no connection to our past have begun taking advantage of this. On the other side, our most valuable resource is under attack as well. We face wave-threatening construction projects, blackball beach, and the constant threat of poor water quality.

In order to maintain the status quo, we must adapt.

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Marketing campaigns like to tell us that their new technology is revolutionary. Whether it’s a new boardshort material, surfboard construction, fin design or wave pool, we are told that new is better. As surfers we usually react in one of two ways.

The first group throws caution to the wind and shells out whatever money it takes to acquire the new technology. This group spends thousands of dollars on a new space age wetsuit, government alloy infused surfboard, or NASA developed fin systems. Whether it improves their surfing is separate question altogether.

The second group is distrustful. They label marketing campaigns as hype and stick to what they know. They take the approach of “if it works, it will become popular, and I will consider it then.”  Or they take it a step further and boycott anything new.

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Neither of these is the right approach. New technology is intrinsically neither good nor evil. It is simply new. It deserves to be evaluated based on its own individual merits.

As surfers, we need to develop a healthy relationship with “new.” We need to treat technology as a work in progress and approach it openly. We need to be critical and honest.

Progress happens one step at a time, and an invention in Southern California might be the missing piece that allows a shaper in Western Australia to make his major breakthrough. This is a global conversation, and each contribution serves to benefit us all.

Let’s consider the surfboard leash. When it was first invented it was regarded as a kook cord. Early versions were primitive, and often caused injury to the surfers using them. The first appearances of the leash were simply medical tubing tied around a surfer’s wrist and attached to the board by a suction cup. That was better than the alternative, which required swimming to shore to retrieve a potentially fracture board.

Leashes diminished the consequences associated with losing your board. This allowed surfers to push the limits of the maneuvers they were performing. Without the invention of the leash, it is unlikely that high performance and aerial maneuvers would be as popular and prolific as they are today.

Not to mention the increased risk resulting from dodging leashless boards while paddling out.

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A new technology that offers a slight improvement now might precipitate a revolutionary change in the future.

The next step in our evolution might be artificial reefs, wave pools, night surfing or new boards designs that open up previously un-surfable spots. By developing a healthy relationship with new ideas and technologies we can ensure that we can continue surfing.

Here are a few steps you can take to develop a healthy relationship with new.

1. First, be willing to approach the situation with an open mind.

2. Next, develop as sense of critical appreciation. Learn about the new technology and the benefits it claims, and then try it for yourself. Most new hard good companies are more than willing to arrange demos at your local beach. Get a few friends together and try it out. Give it a fair chance, compare it to your present technology, and provide honest feedback. Maybe your feedback will inspire the final functional tweaks.

3. Finally, participate in the conversation. There are plenty of ways to do this. You might go to a conference or seminar on a surfing related topic such as the International Surfing Reef Symposium.

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There are also plenty of blog posts, videos, and articles about new ideas that are a work in progress. Leave a comment of support and share your feedback.

Be open to new; it is how we advance as a sport and find new ways to enjoy the ocean. But at the same time, act critically, and evaluate each item on its individual merits. By developing a healthier relationship with new technology we can ensure that surfing remains an accessible pastime for years to come.

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