Looking over the first chapters of the work of Nick Ford and David Brown in ‘Surfing and Social Theory: Experience, embodiment and narrative of the dream glide’...
An important part of exploring cultures includes examining the locations in which cultural relations take place. It could be a town, a café, a school, a village, a hut, a park. The location may set the context in which the rules, norms and relationships are understood and the ways in which they are conducted.
When we consider surfing as a culture, we must consider the ocean as a cultural location, which shapes and defines the ways that surfers relate to one another. However, the ocean itself is not necessarily ‘cultured’.
The beach has previously been discussed as a cultural location. It has mainly been framed as a place where nature meets culture; as a liminal space that is neither merely nature nor culture but somewhere in between. Liminal spaces have their own rules that do not belong to the world we exist in usually, but neither do they break down all barriers and allow us to move into a new cultural reality. The beach is urbanised nature, where we are able to engage with nature, without having to leave the comforts of the urban world. When we go to the beach we bring along towels, chairs, games, food, drinks and friends. We manipulate nature to be something more like the cultural world we already feel comfortable with.
For surfers, one of their cultural locations is the ocean, which is further distanced from culture than the beach is. Surfers go beyond the breaking waves and cannot bring urban comforts with them to their active space. They cannot impose limitless uses upon the ocean because the ocean is not passive and defines its own use by its natural realities; swell size, weather, currents, animals and more. The ocean dictates the way it can be used. Surfers have had to create parts of their culture to fit in with the moods and rhythms of the waves and currents. At a most practical level, cultural norms surrounding etiquette and knowledge are in place to make this location as safe as possible for all participants.
Surf culture in the ocean has different rules than the local culture experienced on the shore. The ocean is a new location for relating and communicating. It is the location for a culture that is alternate to the one that is the norm on the land. There are different ways, different rules, different realities that are applicable that are necessarily altered from those only metres away.
In this way, the ocean is interesting to examine as a location for cultural relations. If the rules and norms are dictated by the place itself, then participants begin all relations from a common starting point. The barriers and borders that existed on land have shifted and the relationships begin in a space that has been chosen as one of relevance and interest in the lives of participants. The borderwork that takes place in this location is carried out on new borders that may be varied from any normal definitions of identity (national, religious, etc). Moving the space in which cultural relations take place removes inherent power relations. Certainly, new ones will be established in the new location, the ocean, but they are more recognisable to all in this shared culture and its shared location.