Surfing Havana

Clifton Evers's recent post on Kurungabaa, 'A Provocation: Detonate 'surfing as marketing', has had me thinking a lot. It's had me thinking about the ways I think about and know surfing, and about the ways that I often feel corralled into acting like an 'authentic' surfer, with comments by others in the water curtailing certain ways of surfing waves that I find pretty fun (like riding my longboard on my knees). But it's also had me thinking as I come across different stories and articles and posts in my online journeying. This NY Times article about surfing in Cuba, 'Cubans Face Hurdles Before Catching Waves', was particularly interesting in terms of the ideas and critiques presented in Clif's provocation, especially the quote about learning by intuition (which Clif will love) and the final paragraphs (which I'm quite sure will make Clif's heart drop).
The waves will come, up to six feet the next day, but for Cuba’s surfers the other staples of the sport are hard to come by. Surf wax, new boards or simple online surf reports are scarce. Cuban policies, combined with the American blockade, have made surfing in this country a complicated endeavor, at best...
Still, without access to information like videos or surf magazines (“We fight over a single page,” Valdes said), surfers in Cuba make their progress in the sport on a separate path from the rest of the world...
I started surfing by intuition,” said Frank Gonz├ílez, 26, who speaks in the slow, spaced, colloquial manner of a Californian surfer, if that surfer spoke the Cuban dialect of Spanish. “And my tricks were unlike anything modern. Then, after surfing for four years, I saw my first surf video. Wow, I was impressed, because it wasn’t anything like they do here. So I started learning the new tricks”...
“The government struggles with the idea of surfing,” said Cording, who works with Cuba’s sports ministry to negotiate the flow of donations. “It is such a new idea to them. If we tell them what we’re doing, they’ve pretty much said they are very in favor of having surfing grow on the island. But they don’t want to support it financially. So, they said do it underground and we’ll turn a blind eye”...
As much as Cuban intuition and determination help to advance the sport, cultural and social issues threaten its development.
“For a woman surfing in Cuba, the men are very macho,” said Yaya Guerrero, 29, who is one of the few female surfers in the country. “So because of that it is difficult for women to do the same things as the men do. They are a little territorial when it comes time to surf. Sometimes, since we are just learning and don’t know much, if we are paddling for a good wave that they want, they’ll say, ‘Get off!’ They demand that we bail right in the middle of it, and start arguing with us”...

For Valdes, all of the problems facing Cuba’s surfers could be helped exponentially with one change: a modern surf shop.
“I just want someone to come and make a surf shop here, at least with wax and leashes and maybe rashguards. We could be sustainable. That would be enough.”

(Note: Article via Joni Sternbach and Surfland)


  1. it's not surprising to me that the 'society of the spectacle' would capture some of the cuban surfer imaginations (surf shop, surf magazines, etc), it captured ours (well, mine). The question for me then is how equipment and semiotics are put to use and are produced, and what creative lines this can lead to new connections and movements and relationships - an opening up, a proliferation (a la Benedict Spinoza ... the surfer's philosopher) - rather than homogenisation and standardisation and the containment of movement or blocking of new relationships :-p

    I do philosophise about these thigns too much haha

  2. Haha. Clif so totally hearts theory.

    I find that there are lots of new lines and connections, but they are quiet and hidden away. As soon as they emerge or are noticed, they get picked up by someone with an agenda, and the creativity is, unsurprisingly, embraced. The thing is, I suppose, it's nice to feel acknowledged and validated, right?

    As ever, complexities and contradictions.


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