Cultural appropriation has become a bit of a buzz phrase lately as it relates to what is seen as the unauthorized and often unacceptable use of a certain heritage.
There’s a long dead Mexican fisherman that rolls over in his grave just a bit every time a Corona beer ad runs, depicting yet another horribly contrived “beach scene”. You see Mexican beer, among many other things, indeed has it’s own cultural heritage. A real authenticity to which probably had much to do with what made it special to begin with. Here in the US we love to “borrow” from other cultures and we have no problem absolutely destroying the little details that made us want it in the first place. To that point, there was a time not long ago that to drink an actual Corona beer it was most likely going to happen during a surf trip down the coast of Baja, and the beer quickly became synonymous with good times and good friends. Truth be told, it was always just another cold beer in the cooler but it’s association with a real and authentic moment or experience just made it taste better is some way. It wasn’t long before an ad agency got hold of it and the mystic and charm were quickly lost.
Surfing has long faced this same dilemma: that being the appropriation of an authentic culture of which is then abused in effort to sell stuff to a wider audience. The 60’s had a good swing at it. The late 80’s/early 90’s had a go and it would appear that we are again off and running as our “culture” is once more being maligned by yet another corporate master. In most cases there is zero care or concern for maintaining even a semblance of the heritage, it’s just a simple grab at something that is seen as usable marketing leverage. Be damned for what actual surfers might think, but then again we’re pretty sure it’s not us they’re after.
Today, we need to look no further than to competitive surfing to find the latest perpetrators. Professional surfing’s global governing body, the World Surfing League, has been selling our little secret as hard as it’s ever been sold and their amateur counterpart, the International Surfing Association, has set us up for what will surely be an embarrassing failure as an Olympic sport in Tokyo/2020. As usual, this new marketing push is focused on attracting a mainstream audience that needs a baby steps introduction to what many of us just head to the beach and do everyday. And once again, the charade is being brought to the masses through an attempted presentation of surfing as a bonafide sport. The simple reality being that a general interest audience is assumed as unable to truly get the esoteric lifestyle stuff. Thus, the need for points, scores, results and champions. Everyone gets those, right? However, as history has shown us, time and again this approach ends up being it’s ultimate downfall as the core consumer goes running in horror and this new mainstream audience suddenly has nobody “cool” to emulate. Let us break this down one more time: any lasting appeal of surfing to a wider audience will always be in the lifestyle, not the activity.
OK Fernando, we ask you: Why does surfing need to be bigger? Why not just let people find it organically, at whatever age, so the actual participants that do get involved can learn the important heritage, the time-honored traditions and in the water etiquette so as to be welcomed into the line up when that day comes? Instead, we seem hell bent on filling up surf schools and offering ease-of-use craft so as to entice every last man, women and child out into the surf. To hell with the impacts this is having on lineups around the world as these newly enlightened, but mostly inexperienced, “surfers” are now floating through the impact zone in an ignorant bliss. A dangerous and troubling ignorance of which is all being encouraged by surfing’s latest masters, and their singular goal to sell more meaningless bullshit.
Oh we get it. The need to sell more stuff is a powerful motivator but as we have seen with brands and products not authentic to our heritage, the core is quick to show them the door. Discount stores full of off-price product has flooded the market and cheapened the commodity beyond repair while the geniuses running these companies are scratching their heads wondering what happened to their brand. Just have a look around next time you’re down at the local and see who’s wearing what. It would seem authenticity has long left most of the surf industry and real surfers are well beyond turning their collective backs.
There’s a landfill full of soft-tops and flip-flops coming to a town near you.