The practice of riding waves, as all those who surf will attest, is capable of consuming individuals, of taking root so deeply that all human existence is subsumed in the pursuit of waveriding. Yet such a relationship between subject and practice far exceeds self-proclaimed identity or personal ludic pursuit as the culture, history, industry, and phenomenology of surfing each directly weave their way into much larger social phenomena and historical trends from colonialism to liberalism and globalization. The Critical Surf Studies Reader seeks to unite new interventions by several generations of scholars of waveriding within one volume, providing an avenue and point of entry into the emerging field of critical surf studies that unites scholars from divergent disciplines ranging from history, literature, film studies, and sociology to human geography, gender studies and postcolonial studies. With contributors from around the world working across nearly a dozen disciplines, this volume is the first of its kind to bring together scholarly authors engaged in critical surf studies research in light of surfing’s continued and intensified importance to scholarly and activist communities both within and parallel to the world’s surfing population.
Browsing the index of contributors, one might notice that there are no articles by surfing industry personalities, entrepreneurs, mainstream journalists or active professional athletes featured in this volume. The reason for this is simple: surfing’s deep history–from Anglo appropriation of the sport in late eighteenth-century Hawai’i to the sport’s resurrection as an ‘American’ beach pastime in postwar Southern California and its current reconfiguration alongside greenwashed private enterprise and misleading charitable foundations–often reflects the power of outside institutions and actors who manipulate the sport’s larger image in favor of private interests, coastal development, and the exploitation of coastal residents worldwide. Coupling scholarship with surfing necessitates a separation of critical inquiry from industry interests. In many ways, this volume repudiates the myth that industry figures and their spokespeople in media, academia, and the non-profit sectors are the sole, authoritative voices commenting on surfing culture by reflecting on the sport’s complex existence since its introduction to the imperial West in the eighteenth century. There are now countless academics examining surfing from serious critical perspectives, divorced from the neoliberal rhetoric and business practices of the global surfing industry and this volume seeks to amplify scholarly voices in the face of a surfing community bombarded with commercial discourses on the sport touting an absolute, exclusive, and often apolitical character.
We hope that the present volume serves many purposes. As critical reading for the reflective surfer, a textbook capable of supplementing university courses intersecting with related fields, source material for the scholarly community, and a point of departure for future research, our primary objective is to stimulate impassioned, critical conversations about the social life and deep history of surfing across the globe.
Coordinated by editors Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee (University of California, Berkeley) and Alexander Sotelo Eastman (Dartmouth College), the volume is under contract with Duke University Press. Please stay tuned to the site for additional details about the volume and detailed information about each of the contributors working from their respective universities around the globe!