By Giancarlo Guardascione
Truth stranger than fiction etc.
The New Jersey Meadowlands, located nine miles from Manhattan, is a gloriously notorious swamp where one can loose, with intent, anything from overestimated, unused Union concrete to overdue gambling debts with lips and tongues.
Old rumors from Houston street to Hoboken say there are enough pistols with duct tape on the handle at the bottom of the marshes to arm a Caribbean island. It is also said there are enough human bones that skulk the bottom, weighted with sandbags, to make the catacombs in the basements of France look like a pop-up Halloween store.
Atop the meadowlands, runs the NJ Transit lines, connecting gritty, shitty New Jersey to the sparkling Big Apple. And it is on these trains that commuters have watched, for nearly five years, a solitary surfboard floating on a marsh. The board remained isolated and unmoved by tide, current and wind.
Until NEWS 12 The Bronx decided to conduct an investigation.
Reporter Brain Donohue used kayak and machete to make his way through the marsh in order to get to the surfboard and figure out the story behind it.
Brian’s kayak becomes stuck in a shallow section and he has to hack through the tall grass that seems like a Walmart version of the Amazon jungle. The end scene and the reason to why the surfboard is there is eerily reminiscent of some perverse version of the Wizard of Oz at the end of the yellow brick and swamp green road.
And there is little doubt that environmentalists may twitch just a tinge when they hear the wild and endangered snapping turtles are being fed Cheeze Doodles off a foam core and polyurethane floating coffee table.
By Derek Hynds Missing Fins
Understanding surfing through a postcolonial and de-colonial lens.
With the 2022 WSL season now behind us, it is an opportune time to revisit an emergent theme on this august site: that of understanding surfing through a postcolonial and de-colonial lens.
DR and Chas have created space for our collective to educate ourselves on this needed vocabulary and analytical frame.
Given the edification I received therein, I want to apply a critical theory lens, informed by decolonial and postcolonial thinking, to the 1987 surf camp classic, North Shore. This movie captured a gestalt within modern surfing and deserves to be excavated, to see how colonial tropes (and heteropatriarchal ones, but that’s another article that someone else can give us) are deeply embedded at the very core of surf culture.
We begin with the setting: an overachieving, eager to please young white man, from a broken home.
This is a statement on emerging family dynamics in white middle class America from the 1980s, as divorce was still stigmatized, and the Spicoli surfer stereotype in full effect. Rick Kane breaks the stoner stereotype with his work ethic and “wear your heart on your shoulder” approach to being an upstanding member of the community, where these character traits grant sympathies for his coming from a broken home.
This background allows Rick Kane to stand in for US entrepreneurial spirit and the naturalness of exporting this benign (on the surface) spirit to the rest of the world, via his impending trip to Hawaii to surf the North Shore.
Kane arrives on the North Shore, naive to local customs, immediately accosted by the savage temptress and seductress in a house of ill repute. Kane’s coded bourgeoisie puritanism makes the correct play and holds out against such seduction, thus arming our colonial protagonist with the moral uprightness needed to justify the exploits to follow.
Kane catches a ride with fellow colonizers, Occy and Alex Rodgers, who goad Kane into stealing sugar cane en route to the North Shore. This stands in for a classist metaphor that belies a central dynamic of colonial expansion: that of the educated, materially abundant and resource rich post-agricultural white empire, belittling and then taking the resource base of the agricultural-based dominated non-white other.
Kane continues his colonial trajectory where his whiteness appeals to the exotic Hawaiian princess, Kiani. Kiani acts out her own Oedipal desires on the groomed white body of Kane, fantasizing of rubbing his back with aloe, as she has done to her own family and fellow subaltern community members. The horse upon which Kiani rides is also a metaphor of her desire to advance her own mobility and social standing, benefitting from white capital (the owner of the horse) to escape the limitations of her own backward, uncivilized upbringing.
Kane, now bereft of his property and with no money, meets Turtle, the classic white-who-has-gone native.
Notice, though, that a turtle is a mammal with the strongest heart. Here Turtle’s nomenclature is a subversive statement that white privilege is long lived, solid, patient, stable, and able to conquer in any environment.
This is echoed when Kane meets Chandler, the latter who has achieved the colonizer’s dream: a native wife, a house on the beach, and credibility with the locals, all who defer to him in the lineup and want to buy the products of his labor. Chandler evidences total appropriation of native Hawaiian knowledge, using folk expertise and colonized traditional ecological knowledge to groom Kane in following in his footsteps to continue the colonization of the North Shore breaks via a variety of superior technologies crafted by Chandler through his industrious work ethic and his copious colonized knowledge of the various surf breaks therein.
Note there is even tension with the alpha-male, Burkhart, the uber-capitalist playing out escapist fantasies on the same colonized landscapes. Chandler opines his products are only made “the right way,” yet Chandler and Kane work together to create a logo that further will allow for the appropriation and subjugation of colonized surf knowledge and crafts, while the veneer of “authentic” stoke allays any capitalist-colonialist guilt, making Burkhart the fall guy.
This move presages the onset of greenwashing within the surf industry as a whole.
Note, too, the etymology of the word “chandler”: Middle English (denoting a candle maker or candle seller): from Old French chandelier, from chandelle. Here Chandler is lighting the way for the appropriate way to colonize the North Shore–it is not via brawn and muscles, a la Burkhart, as that is not a long-term solution to colonization. Rather, it is through charisma and ingratiating oneself into the local populace that colonization is most effective.
This dynamic is on full display as Kane battles Da Hui and the titular leader of this group, Vince Moaloka.
The character arc of Vince is Edward Said’s archetypal “Orientalist gaze” in a nutshell: the dark, exotic other, full of violence and danger, steadily pacified by the grit, superior work ethic, and rational, secularized, democratic knowledge of the West, as embodied here archetypally by Kane.
We see this, too, in the reverse arc of Rocky, the uneducated local thief and thug, who stole Kane’s property. Kane, local beauty in hand, encounters Vince and Rocky amongst the sacred fields of Hawai’i. Here Kiani had already begun the process of freely giving native secrets to the white colonizer, with her body and heart to soon follow; Kane notices his belt buckle on Rocky and challenges Rocky to get it back.
Rocky recognizes the superior military might of the West and tries to create solidarity amongst his brethren, only to be denied by the father figure and leader, Vince. The colonial project is now almost complete, and the pole is part of the metropole.
Only one last transaction is needed: the full taking of the resources from the latter, to fully benefit the former. This occurs symbolically in two ways: the first is Kane taking back his belt buckle. Note here the silver clasp is a metaphor for minerals, which were subsumed by colonial powers on the back of enslaved labor–such is the unavoidable fate of Hawai’i.
The other resource, of course, are the waves–and here again, Kane becomes the conqueror.
But unlike the transparent aggressive colonialism of Burkhart, it is by appropriating Hawaiian soul, as taught by his colonial mentor, Chandler, that allows Kane to emerge as the white victor, overseeing a now conquered empire.
Lest we be remiss and think fiction does not influence lived reality, let us remember that Makua Rothman is the child of Chandler. Here the hybrid figure of Makua, as an innocent real-life child born of a white father who helped form Da Hui, cannot be lost on viewers of surf culture.
There is a direct line from that scene to Nathan Florence and Koa Rothman sitting at a table at Turtle Bay, discussing their new podcast in 2022, further cementing the colonization of the North Shore by white descended peoples.
To add insult to colonized injury, Koa is drinking a Coors Light–Coors is of course the business run at one point by Peter Coors, a well known supporter of far-right, conservative politics, which of course target critical theory and decolonial approaches to understanding structural and racialized inequalities.
So where does this leave us?
I must confess, it brings me no joy to undertake this analysis of such a pivotal movie in surf culture; a movie that many have enjoyed from its release in 1987 through today, myself included.
Sadly, I think it leaves us with one major question that the industry must answer, to atone for its laggardness on this front:
When the fuck are we finally getting the god damn sequel?!?!
By Chas Smith
Where’s our number 1?
Some of the world’s very best surfers are either in, or headed to, Huntington Beach, California this very moment as the thrilling ISA World Surfing Games are set to kick off in mere hours. Megastars Kolohe Andino, Sally Fitzgibbons, Italo Ferreira will all be there, trying to punch their ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympiad.
As you know, the two best surfers from each country, on the World Surf League rankings, qualify for their teams, though, I think, participation in a certain amount of ISA World Surfing Games is required.
This upcoming festival will be extra exciting as, for the first time in history, one extra Olympic slot is being given to the country whose teams win on both the men’s and the women’s side.
While powerhouse Brazil is an odds-on favorite, newly-minted World Surf League champion Filipe Toledo is notably missing. Miggy and Sammy Pupo, anchored by sitting Olympic gold medalist Italo Ferreira, will paddle out for the green and gold on the quest for a historic repeat.
Toledo would, of course, make the team that much stronger, especially in Huntington Beach’s knee-high dribblers, but emotional surf fans to wonder if the “Teahupo’o Tremors” are still keeping the world’s best small wave surfer up at night. The “end of the road” is where the surfing portion of Paris ’24 will be hosted, colonialism etc., and Toledo’s reprisal of his “brave act of cowardice” there just weeks ago is still very fresh in minds.
The haunting perfect scary. The moving images of two very old bald men dancing in menacing maws flickering.
Do you think he will forego the Olympic dream altogether?
Or is this just a scheduling snafu and he will be at the next ISA World Games pride and confidence roaring?
The only approach to take is of the “wait and see” varietal, I suppose.
By Chas Smith
Sean Harrington, a longtime Topanga Canyon surfer, happened to be out in the water over the weekend, enjoying wildly warm water and generous south swell with a friend. A fine time indeed though little did he know that while he was pumping down the line thieves were at a Beverly Hills Cartier racking up $37,000 on his credit cards.
As he tells Los Angeles’s ABC affiliate, “Parking my car in my usual spot and I hid my key in my usual spot. I’ve been doing it for years. My buddy put his key in the back of my car as well. We got back from surfing and I noticed my key was not there. My car was locked. I was able to borrow a phone and call my wife to bring a spare key not knowing I had been robbed.”
Once inside, he realized his and pal’s wallets and phones gone so went to the sheriff station only to learn that his session cost that $37k plus money transferred from card as cash plus thousands more spent at the Apple Store. His friend dinged for $40,000 at retail and entertainment complex The Grove.
Now, this sort of nightmare crosses my consciousness every so often and I recoil in horror though don’t change my own behavior as a result. I’ll leave wallet stuffed in shoe on beach, key hanging on tree branch with post-it note instructions to finding car, ATM card with PIN number writing in Sharpie on back under windshield wiper.
$37,000 at Cartier may alter me though. I’d be wondering what glories the thieves had adored themselves in and be extremely jealous.
By Chas Smith
On the horns of a dilemma.
This modern world, man, sure is a tough one to navigate. And excuse me for using the thoroughly gendered and un-chill “man” in the previous sentence but, boy, there are ethical pitfalls just about everywhere. Like, used to be whistling at a leggy dame when she walked down the street was a compliment. Now it’s assault. Or taking a surf trip to Mexico an appropriate, relatively easy adventure. Now it’s violent act of cultural imperialism.
Very popular outdoor enthusiast magazine, Outside, wrestled with the issue in a recent advice column with a mother, Wanting Waves writing in to the sage Sundog describing how she used drive to Mexico, surf a beach and eat tacos. Now the town is marked with “upscale sushi bars” and “yoga studios” and instead of driving down, she flies, renting a casita online, giving her the feeling “that just by being here, I’m fueling the gentrification and globalization I oppose in other elements of my life. Do I have to give up my favorite place and stop coming here?”
Sundog, declares he “feels her pain” as he, or she, too used to drive to Mexico, surf and eat tacos. His town has also changed getting fancier every year and “even though I didn’t necessarily long for a guy with a man bun to serenade me by playing ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ on his trombone while I eat my plate of shrimp, I can’t seem to quit this place. Turns out I like buying half a kilo of freshly roasted organic coffee from the señor pushing a wheelbarrow down the cobblestones. Yet it raises ethical questions about cultural imperialism and the power we yield with the money we spend.”
A sticky morass, as it turns out, with various ethical responsibilities being explored and different sorts of ways to maneuver but, in the end, Sundog informs Wanting Waves, “if you’re committed to dismantling capitalist structures that perpetuate class inequity, then I’m afraid the vacation you’ve described does not make the grade. With more research—and patience—you might find locally owned accommodations.”
So, to summarize, apparently un-chill to fly to Mexico, use Airbnb and look at Japanese cuisine.
There you go.
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By Giancarlo Guardascione