Diversity In Surfing: We Need More of It

I’m not sure if it’s just a recent trend or the result of years of forced apathy on behalf of surf publications, but issues of diversity have meandered onto center stage of the surf journalism theater as a result of Mick Fanning’s regrettable use of the phrase “f–king Jew” in a controversial Stab Magazine feature, and I think it’s time we take a step back and consider this intersection in the dialog of diversity and surfing (especially with regard to the language we use to conduct those conversations) before surf culture stumbles in a direction it will later regret.

If you take a look at some of the media movements that have gained traction in recent years, you’ll find a climate dangerously inhospitable to…diversity. A few articles come to mind: “Tales of a F–king Jew.” “Do Jews Control Surfing?” “Surf Hipster or GayBro?” “Nazi Couture” – part of Stab’s Fascist issue which leads off with 500 words from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and “Super Breed Descends.” The latter article repeatedly uses the word “negro” when referencing Jamaican surfer Icah Wilmot, and the ensuing outrage prompted the author to write a formal apology to the Wilmot family.

When a list of surf articles could pass for a table of contents in a KKK leaflet, surfing has a problem.

While I don’t necessarily think those authors intended any serious malice towards Jews, gays, or blacks – and the title of an article certainly doesn’t tell the whole story – editorial of this variety and quotations like those of Fanning’s are complicit in cultivating an atmosphere of intolerance within the surf community, which is a viable concern considering the racial homogeneity within the surf industry’s epicenters. (Orange County isn’t exactly an American melting pot.) And it’s not cool. Not in an ironic way. Not in a hip way. It’s just irresponsible and destructive.

To discuss race and sport productively is one thing – something that I, for one, welcome in the world of surf. There are some really interesting stories to be told regarding racereligion, and surfing; it’s a shame we don’t hear them on a more regular basis. And although the ASP World Tour is comprised of mostly white faces, the DNA of the sport is anything but. With its spiritual roots in Polynesia, the sport now occupies waterways around the globe – from Israel to Africa to Asia; surfers come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and those who have traveled in search of waves can attest that surfing is the ultimate equalizer. It unifies the most unlike of people.

Why let it do anything less?

Publishing flippant references to Nazi Germany and casually throwing around racial epithets either just for shock value or to hint at a larger point (without actually making it) takes us four steps back for every baby step that SurfAid InternationalSurfing the NationsSurfers Without BordersOperation Amped, and other organizations that recognize and harness surfing’s connective powers take forward.

Surfers have never ranked at the top of the class when it comes to intelligence in the public eye, but we simply can’t allow ourselves to devolve from apathetic burnouts (Spicolli) to bigoted burnouts (American History X). Unfortunately, that might become our new identity if we don’t drastically veer the conversation from its current course.

That’s something we have a responsibility to do, because that’s not who we are.

And I think everyone can agree on that.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on SurferMag.com on March 23, 2010 and then removed two days later due to pressure from advertisers. Read thefollow-up story by Fred Pawle in The Australian.

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