Gender, Sex and Competitive Surfing in South Africa – comparing the late 1970s and early 1990s

I have a chapter published in a study that focuses on how sex/es, gender/s and sexuality/ies have shaped and re-shape surfing culture. The book, edited by lisahunter, is Surfing, Sex, Genders and Sexualities, (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), covers surfing’s pasts and its present. My historical lisahunte coverchapter is titled: “A tale of two surf contests: Gender, sex and competitive surfing in South Africa during the late 1970s and early 1990s.”

In summary, the chapter historicises two surf contests as formative moments in South African amateur surfing during apartheid and as South Africa began its transition to a democracy. The 1978 South African Surfing Championships illustrated the consolidation of surfing’s patriocolonial whiteness at a time when local amateur surfing was under pressure from the international boycott of apartheid sport and the ascendancy of professional surfing. The 1992 Wella for Women’s Surfing Contest was the first women’s only surf event in the country and foregrounded the representation and the ongoing struggle for recognition of female white surfers within a male dominated sporting arena as South Africa transitioned towards democracy and global surf brands began commercialising women’s surfing. These surf contests open up how political and socio-cultural events shaped surfing, how patriarchy was produced within local organised surfing, and how the intersectionality of gender, sex, and race is crucial in tracing the changing social construction of competitive surfing identities in South Africa.

As set out in the overview of book, Surfing, Sex, Genders and Sexualities “crosses new theoretical, empirical and methodological boundaries by exploring themes and issues such as indigenous histories, exploitation, the marginalized, race, ethnicity, disability, counter cultures, transgressions and queering. Offering original insights into surfing’s symbolism, postcolonialism, patriocolonial whiteness and heteronormativity, its chapters are connected by a collective aspiration to document sex/es, gender/s and sexuality/ies as they are shaped by surfing and, importantly, as they re-shape the many, possibly previously unknown, worlds of surfing”

lisahunter’s introduction to the book outlines this field of study and points to future directions in scholar-activist engagements in and with surf culture. The introduction is available here – click on “preview PDF”.


Race, Gender, Politics and Transnationalism in the Making of Surfing’s Sixties in South Africa

In a chapter titled “Pushing under the Whitewash: Revisiting the Making of South Africa’s Surfing Sixties” in Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee and Alexander Sotelo Eastman (eds), The Critical Surf Studies Reader, (Durham: Duke University  Press, 2017), I explores the making of the South African surfing lifestyle in Sixties.
CSSR_cover_front copia
The chapter historicizes how surfing in South Africa was raced, gendered and shaped by transnational surf culture. The socio-cultural determinations of racial exclusion and male privilege are examined through the intersectionality of a tanned whiteness fashioned through beach apartheid, lifestyle consumption and an imported “California dreaming.” In revisiting South African surfing’s emergence in the years from 1959 to 1968, this chapter seeks to push under the whitewash of that period and point to the persistence in the present of South African surfing’s founding mythologies.
From book’s blurb – “The Critical Surf Studies Reader brings together eighteen interdisciplinary essays that explore surfing’s history and development as a practice embedded in complex and sometimes oppositional social, political, economic, and cultural relations. Refocusing the history and culture of surfing, this volume pays particular attention to reclaiming the roles that women, indigenous peoples, and people of color have played in surfing.”
The introduction to the volume by Hough-Snee and Eastman, which provides a historiographic overview of surfing studies, can be downloaded here.

Review Essay: Surfing and Swimming Histories in the Radical History Review

My review essay “Disturbed Waters: New Currents in the History of Water Sport,” Radical History Review 125, (May 2016) appeared in a special issue of the journal edited by Peter Alegi and Brenda Elsey, focusing on the theme of “Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport”.

I review studies on swimming and surfing history which open up new perspectives on the relationship between politics, culture, and gender. The books under review are:RHR_125_cover.png

  • Lisa Bier, Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870 – 1926, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011).
  • Scott Laderman, Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).
  • Isaiah Helekunihi Walker, Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i, (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011).

These water sports can be seen historically as political and determined by local, national, and global conditions. Each study historicizes the politics of aquatic pleasure. Bier’s Fighting the Current foregrounds American women’s swimming challenge to the social order. Walker’s Waves of Resistance looks to the contested nature of the surf zone in reclaiming Hawaiian surfing “traditions” and masculinities marginalized by Western cultural appropriation. Laderman’s Empire in Waves documents the Americanization of surfing, how it expanded globally as a politically ambiguous cultural practice, and carried with it the seeds of US imperialism.

Alegi and Elsey’s introduction to this sports history issue of the journal can be downloaded from here.