Surf Culture in Australia

Surfing is to Australia what cricket is to Pakistan; it’s not the national sports, but people think of it as a sacred way to temporarily rid themselves of the worries of life. Although cricket is a dry sport and is known as ‘the gentlemen’s game’, surfing might be the opposite; it is adventurous and spiritual. Some surfers call surfing as their religion. According to them, it helps them ‘meditate through adventure’. They might be wrong in the former part, but not in the latter; surfing does meditate you through adventure – the serenity of the ocean, the colors, the sound of crashing waves, the beautiful scenes of the beach, the spectacular sight of the ocean merging with the sky – all combine to the perks of surfing. The word ‘adventurous’ describes perfectly a surf-loving Aussie, or should I only say ‘an Aussie’?

Surf culture peaked during the 1950s and the 1960s in Australia (it had been there for some time during the 1940s) and influenced music, fashion and art in a strong way. Musicians composed music by merging the sound of electric guitars with the sound of crashing waves, producing the famous subgenre of rock music known as surf music. The Denvermen, the famous Australian surf-instrumental group, produced their famous hit ‘Surfside’ while another famous band called Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs took to producing much famous vocal-surf music. The Sunnyboys were surfers themselves and went on to make famous surf music in the 1980s; they made fast music which perfectly matched with the surfer’s desire to adventure. ‘You Need a Friend’ became their famous hit.

‘The Fantastic Time Machine’ is a sport/documentary produced by Lowell Blum and Eric Blum in 1969 narrates the joys and adventures of a group of surfers. Alby Falzon produced the surf film ‘Morning of the Earth’ in 1972 – a combination of Australian surf music and nature. Since surfers think of spirituality as a major component behind the act (the ocean, the sound of the waves, the weather etc), surf films gain a lot of viewers from Australia and thus, surf film became an important and well known film genre.

This sort of shirt is popular in surf culture

Apart from films and music, the surf-culture introduced changes in fashion, such as bikini popularized in its current form during the peak of surf-culture. Shorts and printed shirts became the trademark style for surfers, obviously as time went on, we saw changes in surf fashions; the surfers became more careful regarding the hygiene and thus full body clothes were introduced. As the surf culture was promoted in Australia, we saw that it produced many big industries including the iconic surf shop. Of course, during the 1930s and the 1940s, surfing might have been considered a fad, but it went on to become a trend. The Australian company Kuta Lines, found by Tony Brown, is famous since the 1970s for its surf clothing and accessories. Rip Curl is another major Australian designer and manufacturer of surf equipment. Other known Australian companies include Billabong International Ltd, Von Zipper etc. Other than clothing, the Pontiac Woodie car became a famous symbol of surfing. The Beach Boys, an American band, produced the instrumental ‘Boogie Woodie’ and Jan and Dean, also Americans, produced the famous hit “I bought a ’34 wagon and we call it a woodie”.

Surf visuals and surf arts, which are rather colorful and give a sense of relaxation to the mind, became very common during the 1900s. However, according to some art historians, the connection between art and surfing goes back 3000 years ago, where they have found bas-reliefs of surfers in Peru. ‘Art of the ocean’ or ‘Wave art’ etc also fall into the same genre as ‘Surf Art’, displaying the beauty of nature and colors of the ocean and the sky. Furthermore, ‘surf graphics’ became common, which describes the artwork related to surfing on T-shirts, logos, posters etc. Photography is an another aspect that surfers find intriguing since it shows the surfers of what feats they have achieved, once they are captured through the lens of the camera. Famous photographers took beautiful photos of the surfers and the ocean; tourists come to coastal regions especially for the purpose of capturing this act in their cameras. People would also spray paint waves and surfers on the walls with different colors and soon this act became common as well.

An interesting thing about the surf culture is surf gangs. The concept of ‘locals only’ on many beaches is due to the territorialism which arises during seasons when great surfable waves arise on coasts and thus the area is packed with outsiders. This causes local surfers to form gangs, who then try to protect their territory, in many cases, through violence. Surf gangs, also known as ‘surf punks’ or ‘surf nazis’, believe in honor, respecting other’s property and protecting the beaches from disorganization and chaos. The ‘Bra Boys’ are a popular surf gang in Australia. Some of the surf gangs actually embraced Nazism and marked this act peculiar to their gangs.

Captain Goodvibes might possibly be an icon for the Australian surfers – he’s a hard-drinking, drug-taking, straight-talking pig with a tunnel-shaped snout, as The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes him. His lifestyle depicts an ideal way of living for an Aussie who likes to surf; it is full of adventures, it is a worriless life, there are female barpigs who serve the Captain drinks and food, and to put it in a nutshell, he is what his name suggests. This cartoon was produced Tony Edwards and made its first appearance in 1975. Captain Goodvibes was named as one of ‘Australia’s 50 Most Influential Surfers’ by the Australia’s Surfing Life magazine in 1992.

Surf contests are organized in Australia every now and then and surfers from all over the country participate in them. Major surfing events include Rip Curl Pro, Surfest and Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast etc. These events are often backed and sponsored by companies which make surfing equipments such as surf boards and clothing. There are large crowds at the beaches to enjoy the contests and it has been a proper sport in Australia for some time now.