Sean Doherty On... De-evolution (Hipsterism In Surfing)

30 Jul 2014 46 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Sean Doherty illustrated by Corbin Nash. Wayfarer glasses and loose button-up added by the SW editorial team.

Sean Doherty illustrated by Corbin Nash. Wayfarer glasses and loose button-up added by the SW editorial team.

By Sean Doherty

“Go back, we stuffed it up.”

You’ve seen the meme, the evolution of man from Australopithecus to smartphone user, the latter turning back around and informing his simian ancestors that the future ain’t so bright after all and they’re better off climbing back up the tree. Now put an evolving surfboard under the arm of each evolving monkey, put a hipster beard on the guy doing the U-turn and you’ve got yourself a perfect metaphor for surfing today.

Okay, before we get going, I’ve got to state outright for the record that I’m not hipsterist, and I’m going to invoke the “some of my best friends are hipsters” defence before going any further. I, like most of you, have hipster tendencies. I own retro-twins, I surf a fish, I own a front-zip long arm wetsuit jacket although I never surf it unzipped. I do however refuse to grow a beard, as in combination with a bald head it comes across more meth cook than cool 70s throwback.

The hipster surfer is a popular whipping boy. Between the oh-so faux retro, the irony of self-parody, the analogue-this and the artisan-bullshit-that, the all-consuming quest for pointless cool they’re easy targets. With so many cultural reference points being drawn from eras other than their own, hipsterism has been labeled the “dead end of Western civilisation”. Since we came down from the trees we’ve been engineered to go forward. No generation is born to be more useless than the last. That’s Darwinism. That’s life. But hipsterism in its purest form has turned its back on their evolutionary duty to progress the species. Their generation will be remembered in time for being someone else’s generation.

But you gotta ask yourself why the hipster mentality seems to be so over-represented in surfing today? And I’m not just talking a clichéd core sample taken from The Pass at Byron on a two-foot day. Looking widely at surfing right now, we’ve become a largely backwards-facing culture. It seems there’s a little bit o’ hipster in all of us. We’ve emerged from decades where everything new in surfing was good and cool and right. Where surfing moved forward in quantum leaps, where you actively tried to surf harder than everyone else, where you actively tried to surf differently to everyone else. Where surfing was bigger, faster, deeper, higher, and everything was calibrated to achieve that. So why now does “cooler” seem to be the dominant measure, and why are we so obsessed with where surfing has already been?

Maybe we’ve hit a natural progress plateau. Maybe we’ve jumped so quickly in the past 30 years that all progress from here is incremental, and in the absence of big leaps forward we’re simply getting bored and looking backwards for ways to keep us entertained. The thruster is 35 years old, and the most significant challenger to it as a performance vehicle – the quad – has been around in various forms for most of that time. There’s also an argument that the most progressive surfer today – certainly the guy trying hardest at it – is 42 years old. Programmed in another time, Kelly Slater is genuinely perplexed why people would jump on a board that wouldn’t allow you to surf your best. But Kelly is an exceptional case on several levels, and certainly not a part of a generation conditioned on thinking looking good and surfing good are the same thing.

Maybe it’s simple demographics driving this obsession. If you believe the cultural parable surfing has always been the domain of youth, yet a snap poll conducted during my surf at Winkipop this morning had three quarters of the line-up north of 30 years of age, and a quarter of the line-up without their own teeth or hair. They all grew up in eras that are now being treated as holy, and these guys are now of an age where early onset “all-timers disease” kicks in and they start taking a nostalgic interest in everything from their youth.

Or maybe, as our friend in the meme puts it so succinctly, we’ve just fucked surfing up, and fucked it up royally. The Jaded Index, if there were one, would be off the charts right now. In the post-surf industry boom there’s been a huge correction back to soul and roots. If you use pro surfing as a barometer it’s never divided surfers the way it does right now. We’ve farmed surfing out to whoever wanted to buy a piece of it, and from coast to coast the resultant rabble little resembles what surfing once was when it was a secret society.

But yet is looking back such a dead end? Maybe in fact we’re hurtling forward through evolutionary time, just looking backwards while doing so. If you’re using fins as your measure, then Derek Hynd’s de-evolution, riding without any fins at all, might yet be the most evolutionary act of our time. He’s taken a concept as old as surfing time itself – a plank – and fused it deftly with a hundred years of shaping evolution. Then you look at a guy like Craig Anderson, who better than anyone alive blends 70s style and great 70s hair with modern limitlessness.

Through all this we’ve been remiss to chicane around that other defining trait of the surfing hipster, probably the most defining one… just how goddamn nauseatingly happy they seem to be. Incredibly good-natured, inhabiting a place beyond irony, my hipster friends will laugh at this column that’s laughing at them. Cruising along a wave, their mind free and unburdened by the pressing need to turn, simply soaking it all in, these guys wouldn’t be anywhere else on Earth. To them that is going forward, and who’s to say they’re not right? For what exactly constitutes progress? Is it higher, faster, further, or is it enlightenment and looking impossibly cool?

More Features by Sean Doherty

You can call Ellis Ericson a hipster if you want, 'cause by the looks of things he couldn't care less. Photo: Hawkins

You can call Ellis Ericson a hipster if you want, 'cause by the looks of things he couldn't care less. Photo: Hawkins

From current issue of Surfing World – In shops right now

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