The other day I was Skyping with one of the producers of the Documentary being made by the gaysurfers.net, and he ask me a question. “…(in the context of homosexuality and surfing) what you would like to achieve…?”
It seemed a relatively easy question to answer. But, it kept niggling away at me. On the surface surfing seems fairly straightforward. Get a board, wetsuit, towel, head to the beach, splash around, almost drown, dry off, get on with your life.
But there is an underlying homophobia in surfing. I’m not talking about the average guy that takes up surfing. I’m talking about the culture of surfing.
As an LGBT adult if you had a child and took him to what equates for surfing’s little league, you would find a pretty uncomfortable environment. If you were a LGBT youth and want to participate it would be down right hostile. If you wanted to, go to the North Shore with your partner hangout and surf Pipe, you’d risk a beating, at the very least. If you tried to get sponsors to compete you would find all doors closed.
Surfing culture overwhelmingly is conservative, homophobic and out of touch with the realities of sexuality and civil rights. Not only do they not understand they don’t want too.
The problem is and has been, no discussion of sexuality other than derogatorily. The closest the surfing media comes to discussing sexuality in surfing is exploitive articles like the Paul Sargeant, “Where Is Sarge” article (originally published in Stab Magazine).
This article, in particular, helped reinforce surfings ignorant and homophobic beliefs regarding the LBGT community. What make’s it exploitive is the lack of sensitivity and effort to differentiate between Sarges “alleged behavior”, from normal behavior -gay or straight.
Hardcore surfers, professionals, and the industry don’t want to think about this topic. By offering up “Sarge” as a standard, the surfing community feels justified in their homophobia.
If you ask people in the industry they’ll say there is no homophobia in the surfing world. What you’d find is polite disinterest and doors closed. This is not a topic anyone wants to discuss- for obvious reasons.
The surfing industry has pursued a policy of tight control over the cultural image of surfing over the surfers in the industry, the magazines, etc… “Only A Surfer Knows The Feeling.” Companies like Nike had tried multiple times to break in to the market to no avail, and have given up. There is very little room for anything that strays from their narrow ideals.
But surfing is moving beyond the tight grip of the “Surfing Industry.” People are pursuing surfing without need to be a part of the inner culture of surfing, and if the homegrown companies want to survive they are going to need the embrace the realities of a world culture.
Homophobia is alive and well in surfing. It is institutionalized, and frankly the track record of the sport on racism isn’t that great either.
So what would I like to see? Dialogue. The surfing community cannot continue to hide behind a wall of silence. It has to look at the damage it is doing to kids and adults who have every right to be apart of surfing, but are insidiously ostracized because of their sexuality.
It has to realize that Sarges like catholic priest that molest are in part created by a repressive system.
The surfing industry, magazines and professionals, those who profit by selling surfing have a responsibility to us, and we shouldn’t let them shirk by denial.