SURFER Magazine Editor at Large

Comparing American and Australian surf culture.

I find it surprising that Australians tend to be quite a well-behaved lot in their native country. They seem to lose that brash, chesty swagger and big nationalist chip on their shoulder and become, dare I say, English. But the good, friendly chatty English—not the evil, hostilely polite bastard English.

Australia, despite (or because) of their convict past, has become a nation of genial nonconformists, ruddy-faced law abiders, eccentric get-alongers. In this country there are laws and councils and a million municipal codes of conduct. Random surreal violence is for the footy field, not the streets. Children are taught from an early age to put their trash in bins, not out the car window or on the beach.

Australians are social people. They like each other’s company and seek it out constantly through their clubs and pub culture. Americans tend to be isolated and surly towards strangers. We hate anybody telling us what to do, even if it’s for the best.

There’s a huge difference between a bar and pub. A pub is a place to be with your mates and throw back a few pints. A bar is where you go to get drunk. In America you enter from harsh daylight into the dim confines of the bar, and the regulars check you out in the time-honored fashion of the Old West. They’re sizing you up, checking to see what hardware you’re packing. Look at somebody the wrong way and you might be called on to draw. Otherwise, finish your drink and get moving, pardner

Aussies evolved in a parallel universe to Americans. We both had our scoundrel beginnings, our epic frontier, our land grabs and gold rushes, our government-sanctioned genocides. But where the Yanks had a bloody Civil War that’s still being fought in many parts of the country, the Aussies – forced into exiled detention together – had each other.

America was based on the myth of the individual—the maverick, the Lone Ranger. We are a restless dissatisfied nation of big dreamers constantly searching for the next frontier until we finally ended up stranded on the western edge of North America looking east again. There’s a certain bad craziness here, something that spawns Wacos and serial-rape killers who work day gigs as children’s’ party clowns. Some say it’s a curse left by murdered red men, who, if truth were known, were no sweethearts themselves.

But as Burroughs once said: “America is not a young land. It is old. And dirty and evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil was there. Waiting.”


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