I am a surfer (riding all manner of surf craft and bodysurfing), academic historian and sometime poet writing from Cape Town, South Africa. I go by the name Glen Thompson – but was known as “Bobby Feet” in some aquatic circles.
The initial postings on this blog come from content published originally to an earlier personal blog between September 2006 and December 2009. While that blog ranged wider than my musings on surf culture – it also talked to my cultural activism in regard to cellphones – I have felt a need to document my writings and work-in-progress focused on surfing culture. My interest is specifically on how South African surfing as a sporting and leisure activity is shaped by – and shapes – identity, society, culture and the environment over time. Race and gender analyses features prominently in my writings on surfing’s history in coming to understand the changing nature of masculinities and femininities at the apartheid and post-apartheid beach. While my main focus is on surfing under apartheid (1948 – 1990) and the years of transition to a democratic society (1990 – 2000s), I reflect on surfing as a history of the present – how social issues and sporting lifestyle trends within contemporary surf culture are historically constituted as well as their global/local interconnections.
This blog is part academic, part journalistic, and part reflexive of my own locatedness within South African surf culture. It hopes to be a resource documenting the writing I have done on the history of surfing in South Africa .
A little more about me
I have worked in academia, government and the commercial sector. I wear two hats now: I work in the mobile messaging company, BulkSMS.com as the regulatory compliance officer, and am a research fellow in the History Department at Stellenbosch University.
I have a PhD in History from Stellenbosch University. My dissertation focused on gender and politics in the history of South African surf culture. I have published several academic articles on the history of surfing, for these see my Histories page of this blog.
Beside surfing history, I have published in academic journal on changing social and political discourses in charismatic Christianity in Durban, South Africa during the late apartheid era (which drew on my 1995 MA thesis in History), for example, see my “‘Tripping on Jesus’: the social dynamics and psychedelic religiosity of the Invisible Church in Durban, 1973–1983,” African Historical Review (1998) and “‘Transported away’: The spirituality and piety of charismatic Christianity in South Africa (1976-1994),” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa (2004).
I have also done some initial work the cultural histories of blood, HIV/AIDS and vampire narratives in southern Africa. On this latter theme I have presented a paper at local and international conferences entitled: “The Metonymic Irony of Blood: Tracing the Vampire and HIV/AIDS in the Postcolonial History of Southern Africa” (2008).
Outside of academia, I co-wrote a stage play with Naren Sewpaul called: “Txt Me – A Cell Phone Affair”, which was staged at Fringe Festival, part of the 2006 National Arts Festival. We then went on to co-produce “Txt Me: A reading … filmed with cellphone camera” (2008), under Those Productions, as an avant-garde short film of the stage production.
I have also written some surf journalism, published on Wavescape.co.za, SUPHQ.com and in Gust Magazine. For these writing see the Practices page of this blog.
Part of my research methodology for my doctoral studies was to surf competitively to better understanding how the cultural context of surfing as a sport. I was placed 3th in the Grandmasters age division at the 2009 South African Longboarding Championships, my inaugural longboard contest surfing for the Southern Cape team. I have also competed in local and national championships for stand-up paddle board (SUP) surfing as well as participated SUP racing events, and won the Legends Division at the 2015 South African Standup Paddleboard Wave Riding Championships. In 2013, I won the Ballies Retro Division at the Ross Taylor Surf Classic riding a 1970s Lightning Bolt single fin.
I have been involved in organised surfing. As a co-founder of the organisation, I was elected in late 2010 as Vice-President of Stand-Up Paddling South Africa (SUPSA) (2010-2011), the national sports association for stand-up paddling, and then held the position of SUPSA Treasure (2012 – 2013). I was a founding member of Surfing Heritage South Africa, where I provided input on how to represent the past in surfing heritage projects. My initial interest in surf heritage was developed while assisting Baron Stander Snr at the Timewarp Surfing Museum in Durban in 1997. In October 2013, I was involved in co-founding, and then was elected Secretary of, the Earthwave Tandem Surfing Club.
More recently, my interests in surf culture have opened up the documentation of the surfboard-as-art in South Africa and engagements with underground comix art. I headed up the jury panel for the 2012, 2013 and 2018 Wavescape Surf Film Festival. I am a Trustee on the Board of Waves for Change, an NGO which “aims to turn previously disused township beaches into hubs for skills training and social justice.” I am Director on the board of Better Tourism Africa, an organisation lobbying for responsible tourism on the African continent, where I pursue my interests in the past and present of surf tourism and beach tourism. I am also a committee member for the beach safety and shark conservation non-profit Shark Spotters.
Email: beachstudies [at] gmail [dot] com