The sport of surfing has received considerable attention throughout the world since it became popular during the early 1960’s.
Surfers, those who ride the surf on a surfboard, can be observed along nearly every coast of the continental United States.
The media, through television, movies, and magazines, has made it possible for people throughout the nation to observe this sport and its enthusiasts.
With all of this exposure, however, a very little sociological study has been done of those who actively participate in surfing.
For purposes of sociological preciseness, a clear definition, of what is meant in this paper by the term “surfing” is necessary. Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1963) defines “surfriding” as “the sport of riding the surf on a surfboard” (P. 885).
This is not a particularly enlightening description.
More specifically, surfing is the act in which an individual slides across the surface of a cresting wave standing on a surfboard.
Within this definition are several technical elements of the sport which require additional elaboration.
Finney and Houston (1966) provide an excellent description of the technical process of surfing in their anthropological study of ancient Hawaiian surfing:
“A man surfs today in much the same way as did the Hawaiian kings of old. The most arduous part, of course, is paddling through rushing surf to the take-off point.
The ideal place to catch a wave is where its face is steepest, so the surfer gets in position just beyond the breaking place and waits for a set to build.
As the wave he chooses humps up to cover the horizon, he points his board toward shore and, to gain speed, digs his arms in and starts paddling…When the board is moving fast enough, he feels the wave’s power suddenly take hold.
Speed increases as he begins sliding freely down the slope. Then he jumps to his feet in the center of the board. …Today, except while learning or under unusual circumstances, standing is still the most popular position.
Once on the wave there are two places, to ride. One can ride “straight off” in front of the bouncing white water. This is the more amateur and often the most dangerous way to ride, especially in big surf where the foam itself may be a wall six feet high. It is more exhilarating to angle the board to the right or left immediately after take-off and cross the wave’s as-yet-unbroken face with the white water leaping and roaring behind you. The resulting speed is a combination of the wave’s forward motion and the board’s “across” motion. The surfer then is skimming down a bottomless incline that continues building below him as the wave-form carries him shoreward.
When the ride is underway, success depends on the surfer’s grace and balance and his ability to judge when and where the wave will break.
The surfer can’t allow his board to tip too far forward or water will grab the nose and he will “pearl-dive” while his board bounces to shore.
Neither can he stand too far back on the trail, or the board rears up, loses its grip on the wave, and stalls.
Stalling, however, works to the rider’s advantage if he wants to slow down until the break catches up with him, thus maneuvering again into the faster part of the wave.
He controls his ledge-like position in the wave with foot movement and shifts in body weight.
By leaning one edge into the wave in the direction he wants to turn the guides his board smoothly across the curling wall.
Near shore, he may turn into the break and ride “soup” to the beach, or he may whip his board over the wave top and paddle back to the take-off point.
If a wave breaks on him he may leap off the board, grab its, nose if he can, and dive under to ride clear of the wave on its seaward side. If he falls off or is knocked off, the board usually gets to the beach by itself, and the surfer, of course, has to swim for it (pp. 18-20).”
Surfers utilize two major categories describing the way in which one fulfills the technical goals of surfing.
The size of the wave ridden is one distinguishing characteristic. “Small wave” surfers are those who prefer to ride waves from 0.3 m to 2.4 m in height, “medium wave” surfers are those who prefer to ride waves from 2.4 m to 3.6 m in height, and “big wave” surfers are those who prefer to ride waves from 3.6 m in height up to the largest waves ridden, which are 9.0 m in height.
A second characteristic that distinguishes surfers is the way in which they “perform” or ride the waves. There are three basic “styles” of surfing. Briefly, they are “hot-dogging,” functional riding, and big wave surfing.
“Hot-dogging” refers to a stunt riding style of surfing, characterized by many trick positions and acrobatic stances. It is a dramatic style meant to “show-off” and demonstrates control in the surf.
Functional riding is a style that focuses on riding the steepest and fastest, most difficult portion of the wave without a lot of unnecessary movement. The emphasis in this style is on speed and maneuverability on the wave.
The big wave style of surfing is very similar to functional riding, except for the added danger that very large waves impose. The focus in this type of surfing is survival while overcoming both the wave and one’s fears.
A second technical element within surfing is the equipment used while riding a wave. Without the proper equipment the entire nature of a sport is altered. An example of this principle is sliding down a snow-covered slope in a sled.
This cannot correctly be considered skiing.
The goal (sliding down the mountain) and the location (the snow-covered slope) may be the same, but the equipment clearly changes the nature of the activity.
In surfing the most elementary piece of equipment is the surfboard. Modern surfboards usually range in size from 1.5 m to 3.0 m in length, and weight between 2.5 kg to 5.5 kg.
They are most commonly constructed of a carefully designed polyurethane foam core and covered with fiberglass and resin.
The board also has one or two foiled fins laminated to-the underside at the rear for directional stability.
The length, width, thickness, and contours of a surfboard vary according to the size of the surfer, his experience, the type of wave he expects to ride, and the style in which he does so.
There are five major factors intrinsic to Santa Cruz that have earned it the title “surf city” in northern California.
Many of these factors are applicable to major surfing areas throughout the world, and these similarities, as well as the differences, will be noted in reference to the Santa Cruz area.
Surfing is not new to the Santa Cruz area, it has long been considered the surfing capital of northern California. Surfing was introduced to Californians in 1907 (Finney & Houston, 1966, p. 90), and demonstrated in Santa Cruz soon after.
However, it was not until a second demonstration in 1938 that surfing remained there as a popular recreation (Rudnicki, 1975, p. 4)..
This period of time is an indication that a surfing tradition has had an opportunity to become established.Read More