“Me and My Board” was a discussion session hosted by the 2016 Open Book Festival in Cape Town on Saturday, 10 September 2016. The panel included: Capetonian big-wave surfer and SUP adventurer Chris Bertis, with his autobiographical account of his 2010 Mavericks Big Wave Invitational win in Stoked! (Zebra Press, 2015), and Andy Martin, University of Cambridge French literature and philosophy academic and surfer with his Stealing the Wave (Bloomsbury, 2008), subtitled “the epic struggle between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo”, about their big wave surfing rivalry in the 1980s and 1990s. I was asked to chair the session.
The session was captured by surfer, SUP’er and writer Melissa Volker for Wavescape.co.za as “Talk About Waves“, noting who else came to listen: “It was as much a weird blend of academia and aloha on stage as it was in the audience. There was a mix of readers who surf (or surfers who read?) and literati, those bookworms and mind surfers who never have (and never will) get on a surfboard.” Read the full article, with photographs and the podcast of the session (it runs for about 1 hour).
Among her reflections, Melissa captured the contradiction of speaking about a big-wave brotherhood that emerged during the conversation – it “does not refer to gender, but rather to the connection with people in the ocean” (Bertish) and “strikes a patriarchal note” (Martin). These views are poles apart, the former an example of a hegemonic surfing masculinity at work and the latter a pro-feminist reading of surfing’s male domination. This raised the question of naming women surfers as girls from the a member of the audience, and my reply that in surfing culture the representation of the “surfer girl” has a history of subordinating women surfers to the male surfing imaginary. However, while that cultural history is acknowledged, some recent third-wave feminist sports scholars have seen girl surfers as advocates of stealth feminism empowering women as athletes within the sport of surfing. It was here that the “Me and My Board” session connected with the broader currents within contemporary surfing culture and its changing gender order – pointing to the continued need to interrogate why we create myths out of big wave surfing and how those myths reinforce the masculine within surfing and society.