Almost four years ago, an article from a gay surfer named Thomas arrived in my inbox. The piece detailed his experience navigating the nuanced and often-hypocritical norms of surf culture as a homosexual man. His experience was so lopsided – weighted by generally homophobic behavior – that he was honestly unsure if any other gay surfers existed in the world. His doubt inspired him to build a website, gaysurfers.net, and, sure enough, he found plenty of gay surfers. Thousands, actually. That should come as no surprise. Gallup estimates that between 10% – 20% of America’s population is gay. Gallup also acknowledges how difficult that data is to ascertain, considering, as they put it: “Many people have trouble admitting their homosexuality to themselves, much less to a researcher.”
But that’s besides the point. When I first heard from Thomas, I was excited about the opportunity for The Inertia to provide a platform – one that might play a role, however small, in catalyzing a constructive discussion that might lead to social change in surfing, a culture I care deeply about. Historically, whether out of fear, discomfort, or sheer ignorance, surfing had avoided addressing progressive social issues. But with his courageous note, a dialog could begin. To my knowledge, homosexuality had never been breached in surf media aside from a rather groundbreaking article by Fred Pawle about Matt Branson in Stab Magazine several years ago.
I was also scared. I distinctly remember cautioning him that his innocuous note could spawn ugly, homophobic blowback that might endanger him. At the time, words like “fag” and general homophobic banter and behavior were a lot more common, and I was spooked. Rather than using his full name, he signed his post Thomas C. He remains the only contributor approved to use an abbreviation of his/her full name on The Inertia.
Times have changed.
Today, Thomas Castets is an award-winning filmmaker. He recently won Best Action Sports Film at the Newport Beach Film Festival for producing Out In the Lineup, a documentary that examines homosexuality in surfing and causes the viewer to ask a simple question:
To what extent is homophobia an issue in surfing today?
Out In The Lineup makes a case that it’s very much an issue. And it’s not as obvious as surfers maliciously spraying homophobic slurs across lineups around the world. Non-acceptance isn’t always so ostentatious. It can be subtle. A coercive web. And with cautious optimism the film asserts that we are behind the times.