Surfing is a culture, or rather a subculture, in the sense that it brings together a community with its own rituals, lingo, philosophy, fashion, music, literature and art. Surfers are creatures apart, living surf, eating surf, talking surf and waking up early in the morning to hit the waves. They have their own traditions, revere the elements, collect vintage objects, and worship their bodies in the same way they worship nature. Men or women, they are beautiful, fit, tanned all year long and spend most of their time in swimsuits. The sun and the salt give their hair a decidedly blond tint. Still hippies at heart, they are peaceful and live on love and salt water. Today, surfing has become an Olympic discipline and is one of the most popular sports in the world. But out of the twenty million people who practice it, the closed circle of true heroes numbers only a few hundred.
Looking the wave in the eyes
Behind these sweet dreamers hide great athletes who forge their body and their mind to face the biggest monsters of the seas: waves formed by distant swells which, approaching the coast, take on phenomenal dimensions. Some of them, off the coast of Portugal, in front of Nazarea where they collide with an underwater canyon, can reach more than 30 meters high. When they feel these mountains of the sea coming, the surfers are pulled into position by jet skis and launch themselves up onto a ridge which they descend while maintaining their balance, preparing themselves for the wave to roll up on itself as they go, and then continue to negotiate their way into the newly formed pipe and then escape without being thrown off their board. This impressive exercise, which may seem dangerous to you or I, requires intense physical preparation, but also a long association with the spirit of the waves, which allows those facing them to feel the sea, and to look them in the eyes.
Enormity, adrenalin and showmanship
That said, and when you know that some long boards can reach 9.6 feet in length (nearly 3 meters), you have to consider the size of the waves, the size of the board, the surfer’s bravery and the quantities of adrenaline poured out as much by the sportsman as by the viewer, to understand that this is one of the most spectacular sports ever practiced since its invention in Polynesia where it was an ancient rite of passage.
Surfing is a dream. This explains the success of clothing brands that have emerged from the sport and that have understood the aesthetics and philosophy of its community, such as Volcom, Stüssy, Hollister or Quicksilver. Films dedicated to surfing, such as the documentary The Endless summer by Bruce Brown (1966) or Point Break (1991) did the rest. Surfing is a cult, and the fashion industry is taking it over.