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”.


Author: Glen Thompson

Surfer and academic historian

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