A Sociological Study Of The Surfing Subculture In The Santa Cruz Area
It has been over twenty years since I originally conducted this study, and as a result of continued requests for copies I have finally had the original manuscript converted into an electronic version.
I hope that it provides readers with a useful reference point for future sociological work on related subjects.
This version of the thesis is almost identical to the original and no effort has been made to update or “modernize” the concepts, language, or cultural references.
Readers should be reminded that this research was conducted as a scholarly effort and had to conform to specific academic standards for organization, method, content, and writing style. It is not a natural narrative form for surfers who prefer to “talk story”, and I had to pay a professional typist a lot of ’70’s dollars to type four different versions before the academicians were satisfied.
In retrospect, the emotional effort it took to “objectify” the activity, culture, and social fabric of an experience that I was so passionately involved with, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
As I defended the paper to my sociological colleagues, I received the usual compliments and several suggestions that I “publish” it. I was understandably flattered, but as a surfer, I felt that sending the work as a whole or in parts to surfing publications would have been suicidal.
As a sociologist, I believed that in general surfers had an “unprofessional” reputation in academic circles and submission to professional journals was pointless.
Life went on and in the end, I was perfectly content to put the book on the shelf and get back to the luxury of totally subjective surfing expression.
As I read this study again after all these years, I was gratified that much of what I had written still offers useful insights. There are certain details that are totally outdated, but overall I have concluded that it is still worth sharing.
Many of the names and faces in the lineup have changed significantly, but much of the structure remains.
There were a few phenomena in surfing that I failed to anticipate: the return of longboarding, the “graying” of the sport, increased female participation, and the development of local/regional surfing family “dynasties.” I probably could have seen them coming if I had been paying closer attention to Hawaii’s modern surfing culture evolution. Oh well.
I still surf regularly, along with many of the “locals” I grew up with. It is almost unprecedented in my experience to see a social bond created so early in our lives continue to keep us close.
In many cases, it has outlasted families, marriages, and serious chemical addictions. While surfing has not always fit easily into the rest of my life, I have always made room for it. It has become a profound part of who I am and how I define my “self.”
In a world of flux, career changes, crisis, and relocation; surfing has been one of the very few consistent threads in the fabric of my life that have provided my existence with some sense of continuity.
If you are not academically inclined and surfed twenty years ago, maybe a few sections will bring back some memories.
If your introduction to the sport has been more recent, have a few good laughs on me. In any case, keep the stoke.
This thesis is an attempt to describe, and to a lesser degree, analyze the surfing subculture in Santa Cruz, California. This paper is intended to provide sociologically relevant information about the surfing phenomenon, much in the tradition of the “Chicago School” of sociological study.
In addition to a description of the Santa Cruz surfer’s world, it is meant to test an instrument designed to measure the actor’s degree of involvement in the surfing subculture, and to explore the meanings that surfing has for its members within the Santa Cruz surfing “scene.”
This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of surfing in Santa Cruz, nor to represent strictly empirical research. It is meant to establish a theoretically-cohesive sociological description of the surfing phenomenon and some of its relationships to the larger society.
The content of this report has relevance for several fields of study, including the sociology of sport, the study of subcultures, the study of deviance, the study of leisure, and the sociology of youth. Because of the multi-dimensional nature of this report, relevant theoretical information will be introduced where it is required or appropriate throughout the thesis.
The methods of data collection used for this study are primarily of the participant-observer type.
The primary source consists of the writer’s own active participation within the surfing subculture in the Santa Cruz area, and among a specific group of surfers at a Santa Cruz County beach, over a 13-year period extending from 1963 to the present.
A brief autobiography is included in the appendix, describing the extent of the author’s involvement in surfing. The second source of information is the interviews, both formal and informal, conducted during the past 18 months.
The third source of information is the subcultural literature, consisting of several surfing periodicals and information provided by the Western Surfing Association. The fourth important source of information is a senior thesis written by a fellow surfer who attended the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The fifth source of information is a survey of surfers in the Santa Cruz area, conducted during the month of July, 1974, and which is described in more detail in a subsequent section of this thesis.
Unfortunately, information regarding surfing in the Santa Cruz area, be it of a statistical nature or otherwise, is practically nonexistent. For this reason it must be made perfectly clear that this is strictly an exploratory study. There is much more work that can be done in this field.