The first time I heard the term used was in the early 60’s at Windan’sea in La Jolla. It was used by Butch VanArtsdalen as a derogatory euphemism meaning “little asshole”.
I questioned some of the old timers (70+years) that I surf with and they recall hearing the expression used in the mid 40’s to refer to anyone who was acting like a jerk, not just a youth. A retired navy captain recalls hearing it used during WWII, in the same manner, i.e. as an euhemism for asshole.
It makes sense that it would originate with the navy, as a ‘grommet’ is:
- a brass ring used in canvas work.
- a thick walled rubber washer.
- a ring made of one strand of rope laid around itself three times.
The last goes back to the days of the large sailing vessels. It’s speculation, but I have to wonder if the ol’salts would refer to the cabin boy as ‘grommet’?
Another interesting piece of slang that was on the beach in the 40’s was beasel, beach+weasel, meaning a beach thief.
The sociological study of sports has been very slow in being realized. It is still wrought with controversy over many of its most basic concepts and terms, not to mention its methodology.
The sociology of sports has also suffered from a curious lack of interest by sociologists, both in this country and throughout the world–curious in the sense that sport has received so much media coverage and represents a significant amount of this society’s interest.
The past twenty years have shown an increase in recognition and development in this field, but an organized body of theory or data has not yet clearly emerged. For general purposes, A. S. Daniels (1966) has provided a tentative definition which concludes that:
“Sports sociology is concerned with the study of sport in society as it affects man’s development, his forms of expression, his value systems, and the interrelationships of sport with other elements of the culture (p. 157).”
The general consensus among the sociologists of sports seems to indicate that this new study includes two basic, descriptive approaches: The first includes the study of the culture and social structure within “sport” or a specific sport; the second is directed to the study of sports or a specific sport’s relationship with the larger society and its institutions.
This paper focuses primarily on these two descriptive approaches to the sport of surfing; however, it includes a third approach as well.
The subcultural perspective comprises this third dimension.
The study of a sport from a subcultural perspective is not new, and has precedence both in theoretical discussions and in actual research. John W. Loy, Jr. (1969) suggests that:
“Within the sociological study of sport, studies are needed: (1) which place greater emphasis on culture and social structure rather than personality; (2) which examine small groups as micro-social systems or subsystems; and (3) which consider “real” rather than “contrived” groups. . . . One manner of getting sport out of the laboratory and to correct the three oversights . . . is to study sport groups as subcultures (p. 67).”
Thorough published research related to the subcultural perspective of sports are relatively rare, but special note should be given to several papers using such an approach (Aronson, 1952; Polsky, 1967; Scott, 1968; Stone & Oldenburg, 1967).
A review of these studies has proven very helpful in facilitating this research. Even with these previous models of research to refer to, however, it has been necessary to create a new format for what the author believes to be an accurate and complete view of the surfing subculture.
The sociological term “subculture” has become a widely used concept in recent years; yet with all of this usage it has received very little critical attention. It has often been construed as synonymous with deviants and their activities, or the “sub” has somehow been interpreted to mean inferior. Neither of these versions are accurate in reference to a surfing subculture.
Throughout this thesis terms like surfing scene,” “surfing world,” and “surfing way-of-life” are used in an effort to avoid such connotations. There is no denying that the subculture concept is applicable to the study of deviance.
What is meant here is that “subculture” refers to any group of people within a culture, who formulate a way of behaving that includes some of the dominant features of this culture, and also includes certain features of this culture, not found elsewhere in the society. A quote by Etzioni (Arnold, 1970) presents a similar view:
“The American society is not a…universal melting pot, into which all ethnic groups “blend” sooner or later, by accepting the dominant culture of the real American tradition. It is, as has often been pointed out, a pluralistic society, with many subcultures and subgroups. All integrated groups accept some values of American society, but at the same time hold their own particularistic tradition and values (p. 85).”
Many sociological studies of subcultures have been based on the view that “descriptions of these subcultures must be stated in terms of the fully indoctrinated member rather than the average member . . . (Arnold, 1970, p. 86).”
Within the subcultural study of sports, this has been the most common form.
This is perhaps the best way of describing a sport in which there is a large and clear proportion of the group’s members who are professional (i.e., totally committed). In a sport like surfing, which has so few professional participants, this view is not considered the most appropriate.
Subcultures are usually characterized by the fact that an individual can function within more than one subculture at one time, with varying degrees of commitment and sometimes pass through several stages as he grows older or his attitudes change.
By including this concept of peripheral marginality (Arnold, 1970, pp. 81-89), by accepting the blurred borders which most subcultures have, an important dimension of the surfing subculture has been added.
In the surfing subculture, patterned interaction is characterized by a process that includes the beginner as well as the professional.
The study of subcultures has many times been limited to a description of the group.
This is a necessary first step in any study of a subculture. It is vital to define the subculture, its norms, and values; it is important to describe the subculture’s relation to the larger society, but something more is necessary for a study to truly contribute to sociological knowledge.
There must be some effort to explain the phenomenon. In his article titled “A Process Model of Subcultures,” David Arnold (1970) proposes the use of a “structural-interactionist model” approach to the study of subcultures. He describes such a model in this way:
“In examining and working with the structural-interactionist subculture model it is important to view subcultures as systems of norms, not as groups of concrete individuals. The model looks at the people involved in order to explain how the subculture develops.
The first element of the structural-interactionist model is structural position, that is, specification and description of the population segment under consideration. The second element is differential interaction…The third element of the model is the segment-related subculture, that is, the subculture that results from the differential interaction of people sharing the same structural position…Finally, as the fourth element…we have the individual manifestations of subcultural membership, i.e., individual variations in behavior, attitudes, beliefs, etc. (pp. 114-115).”
This model serves as a basis for the presentation of the surfing subculture in four different parts.
Chapter two will consist of the technical and mechanical aspects of surfing which contribute to the character of the population segment who surf.
Chapter three will be a description of the population segment under consideration, through the use of various demographic data and some tests of correlation.
Chapter four will consist of a description of the process of becoming a surfer.
It is an attempt to synthesize the nature of the central activity, the population segment who participates, the social structure that exists, the socialization process that occurs, the norms that are expressed, and the values that are imparted.
Chapter five is primarily concerned with an analysis of the surfing subculture’s relationship with the general culture in order to demonstrate the surfing subculture’s central tendencies and its variations of marginality.