Tag Archives: surfing

"Fragments of surfing pasts" art nstallation, Casa Labia

“Fragments of Surfing Pasts” art installation, Casa Labia Gallery, Muizenberg, 21 September 2014. Photo: Cobus Joubert

The Beyond the Beach Exhibition opened opposite from the waves at Muizenberg’s Surfer’s Corner at the Casa Labia Gallery on Sunday, 21 September and ran to 21 October 2014. Curated by Paul Weinberg, the exhibition features several photographers whose work re-imagined the beach and shoreline of False Bay as space for ways of seeing the fluidity of identities, emotions, spaces and aesthetics associated, evoked or juxtaposed to the “beach” as place and concept. I was invited to participate in the exhibition and create an art installation that critically explored South African surfing histories (see note below for more details).

Exhibition summary

BTB email banner

Paul Weinberg talks to the exhibition themes at the Walkabout on 12 October 2014

Paul Weinberg talks to the exhibition themes at the Walkabout on 12 October 2014. Photo: Casa Labia


Exhibitors on display: HUMA hosted panel discussion on the Beyond the Beach Exhibition, Muizenberg and the raising questions about the beach as a space opening the possibility of inclusivity and belonging in post-apartheid South Africa. Held in at the Casa Labia ballroom, 12 October 2014. (L to R: Rodger Bosch, Sean Wilson, Paul Weinberg, Robert Hamblin, Jenny Altschuler and Glen Thompson. Not pictured, Sandy Worm, who is based in Germany). Photo: Casa Labia.

A note on the “Fragments of Surfing Pasts” art installation

Surfing pasts becomes somewhat knowable through traces, found fragments providing a view of what happens beyond the beach in the waves. This art installation was a reflexive review of my place within my studies of South African surfing history. Part summation of my doctoral dissertation in History (the exhibition run during the final month of my writing up of my dissertation), part visual representation of some of the key sources and themes informing that historical study, this installation was a becoming for me as a surfer and historian, a space for me to speak as a cultural practitioner to my interpretations of the beach and surfing’s historical place therein. The selections from the magazines on display come from independent South African surfing magazines no longer in print, South African Surfer (1965-68), Offshore (1987-89), and Liquid Girls (2005-6), or in the case of Amaza (2012 – ), currently in print but not widely available. All found a publishing home in Cape Town; South African Surfer moved from Durban for its last issue. The earlier magazines folded due to market pressures, Amaza is published by Waves for Change, a local non-profit organisation that uses surfing for leadership training and social development for at-risk youth from Masiphumelele and Khayelitsha townships in Cape Town. Each magazine reflects turning points in South African surfing history and points to the shaping of the diversity of surfing identities in the present. South African Surfer provides a record of the Sixties surf boom in the longboard era, Offshore reported on non-racial surfing under apartheid, Liquid Girls made girl and women surfers visible in a market over-determined as youthful males, and Amaza brings to the fore the lives of black surfers and emergence of township surfing. Framing the surf magazines, the broken surfboard speaks of the how the shortboard is no longer the only way of finding pleasure when riding waves. It was provided by Share the Stoke Foundation South Africa, which repairs and re-deploys surfboards into local surfing development programmes. This surfboard was beyond repair and was last used at the Surfshack Surf Outreach Project in Muizenberg.  The wooden Alaia Needle surfboard, shaped by Muizenberg based WAWA Wooden Surfboards, guides the chronology of the installation, from the Sixties to the present. It also references surfing’s precolonial Hawaiian past, that surfing has traveled the globe in the modern era, and gestures to the future of surfboard shaping in seeking alternative and environmentally-friendly materials to surfboards made out of petrochemical based epoxy, polystyrene, polyester and polyurethane products. The UCT documentary film, Berg Boys (2013), brings Muizenberg into focus as a space for passing on surfing styles and know-how from a surf coach to a young grom in keeping the surfing stoke alive. The film brings to the fore the role of surf tourism in providing employment to black surfers and provides a view of how surfing keeps youth off the streets and in the waves.


Reading surfing histories during the exhibition Walkabout. Photo: Paul Weinberg

My installation shared a room with Sandy Worm’s portraits of some of Muizenberg’s black surfers, titled: Black People Don’t Surf. The details of this photographic project, and the others that were on display at the Beyond the Beach Exhibition are detailed in the catalogue archived on the Casa Labia Gallery website.

Sandy Worm's portraits

Black surfers at Muizenberg: some of Sandy Worm’s portraits. Photo: Paul Weinberg


I presented a research in progress paper entitled “Transforming Surfer Boys: A Cultural History of Zulu Surfers in South Africa, 1965 to 2013” in the panel on Conflict and Leisure at the Historical Association of South Africa (HASA) Biennial Conference in Durban on Friday, 27 June 2014. This working paper on black surfing histories in South African forms part of my doctoral study on gender and politics in the history of South African surfing culture.

Surf film: Zulu Surf Riders (2008)

Surf film: Zulu Surf Riders (2008)

Summary of the paper

A cultural history of black surfing disrupts the whiteness, but not the masculine ethos, of surfing in South Africa. For Durban, two films have foregrounded Zulu surfers, the feature film Otelo Burning (2011) and documentary film Kushaya Igagasi (2013), translated as “Hitting the Waves”. In seeking to contextualise these contemporary formations of youthful black, male surfing subjectivities, this paper sets out a genealogy of Zulu surfers in surfing magazines, surf industry advertising and films featuring surfing (surf films, documentaries and feature films) from 1965 to the present. These sources provide an archive for a postcolonial reading of established (mediated, commercialised and organised) surfing culture’s appropriation of Zuluness during years of beach apartheid to affirm white surfing’s cultural distinction and difference in terms of race, class and gender. In the post-apartheid era, a discourse of surfing development and national sports transformation re-shaped views of Zulu surfers from that of athletic tokenism to social inclusion in the waves. Nevertheless, race trouble (the presistance of racial inequality in the everyday despite a discourse of tolerance) and contested masculinities at the beach have remained a persistence of the past. From the early 1990s, the voices of Zulu surfers in KwaZulu Natal can also be found in the surfing archive. A changing cultural politics has made possible an agency for Zulu surfers to accommodate, subvert or re-appropriate established surfing’s representations of “the surfer”. While this self-fashioning may be driven by a desire for social mobility, they have emerged, especially in the 2000s, out of clubs or social development programmes, inclusion within surf teams, brand sponsorship and media attention. The Africanisation of South African surfing culture, expressed at times as township surfing culture, is addressed by exploring the local and global processes of surfing lifestyle consumption among Zulu surfers in Mzansi (the South).

I was in conversation with comix artist Andy Mason (aka  N.D. Mazin) at the launch of his graphic novel The Legend of Blue Mamba at the Homecoming Centre in Cape Town during the Comic Fest at the Open Book Festival, 8 September 2013.

ImageThe genesis of the graphic novel was in the comic work produced and published in various print, surfboard art and online since the mid-1990s. The first appearance of the Blue Mamba character was in the first issue of the now defunct African Soul Surfer in August/September 1995. This was my first encounter with the Blue Mamba’s subaltern surfing adventures.

My interest in The Legend of Blue Mamba is how Mason takes a countercultural and environmental activist surfing identity and creates an anti-brand through Blue Mamba in a surfing world where lifestyle consumption drives how the image of surfers, and surfing, is manufactured and maintained by the surf industry and surf media. The Legend of Blue Mamba is a cautionary tale of the commodification of the surfing dream.

Other themes addresses in conversation were: the character of Blue Mambas as “an empty signifier of meaning and identities”; how in the post-apartheid era progressive cartooning has taken to satirical critique of brands as they represent and determine lifestyles today; how surfing can be used to offer critique to consumer and highlight environmental injustices; why the Sixties is still politically and culturally relevant today; representation of the “author” in cartooning, especially as “a character is not the author”; the idea of parallel narratives in comics and how that can drive the storytelling; and how the graphic novel draws from the realism of the experienced world adds to the comic imagination.

I presented a research in progress paper entitled “From Femlins to Saltwater Girls: Sport, Lifestyle and Femininities in South African Surfing Culture, c.1965 to the present” at the Stellenbosch History Department Seminar Series on Wednesday, 24 April 2013. This paper was then presented on Saturday, 29 June 2013 at the 2013 Southern African Historical Society Conference held in Gaborone, Botswana. This working paper forms part of my doctoral study on gender and politics in the history of South African surfing culture.

A further iteration of this paper was presented at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape on Thursday, 28 August 2014. This work in progress paper was titled: From Femlins to Saltwater Girls: Surfer Girls and Lifestyle Sport Consumption in South African surfing magazines, 1965 – present.

Summary of the paper

Liquid Girls Surfing magazine, cover of March 2006 issue.

Liquid Girls Surfing Magazine, cover of March 2006 issue.

This paper seeks to make visible the histories of women’s surfing in South Africa as a counterpoint to the persistent discourse that the sport of surfing is a male activity. It attempts a pro-feminist, new cultural history reading of the surfing archive taking into consideration both textual and visual sources to recover the representations, voices, experiences and agency of girls and women who surfed or continue to surf in Cape Town, Durban or elsewhere along the South African coastline from the mid-1960s to the present. This paper seeks to document how South African surfing femininities negotiated complicity within the gender order or, through a surfing identity, challenged the gendered nature of power in society and within surfing culture itself. It explores both the local and global iterations of surfing femininities as shaped by or shaping cultural, social and commercial processes. In particular, the role of surf magazine advertising is examined for how it maintained a youthful, sexy, athletic yet objectified heterosexual image of the “surfer girl” over several decades. In locating this study within the study of hegemonic femininities in southern Africa this paper explores the complexities of gender relations in the social construction of femininities: how these femininities were themselves historically contingent, fluid and contested by girls and women who surfed, constructed in relation to men in the surf and on the beach, located in relation to a discourse of a femininised ocean, and socially differentiated based on the culture of beach leisure and access to leisure time, sporting prowess, the nature of sportisation through organised sport, and the consumptive ethic of a beauty culture associated with the emergence and consolidation of surfwear as mainstream fashion. In short, in reflecting on the role of gender and lifestyle in South African surfing history, the conditions for the emergence in South Africa in the 1990s of the global phenomenon of the “Surfer Girl”, with its Californian and Australian roots, is considered within the context of the democractisation of South African society. Yet, this history also illustrates some of the limits of social and cultural change at the beach as women’s surfing in South Africa has largely remained a white sporting activity, despite the promise of change in the prominent roles of black girl surfers in the Hollywood DVD Blue Crush 2 (2011), set in KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern coastline, and the locally produced Amaza (2013) television series filmed in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

I presenting a paper on how black surfers have been represented in South Africa’s surfing print magazines since 1990 at the Work/Force: South African Masculinities in the Media Conference  held at Stellenbosch University on 13th & 14th September 2012.

Summary of the paper
The idea of the “surfer boy” in the South African surfing imaginary is no longer primarily white, male and youthful although Zigzag (since 1976) and thebombsurf (since 2008) surf magazines continue to maintain that white, heterosexual hegemony within their textual and visual representations supported by surf industry advertising expenditure. Nor is surfing nostalgically looking back to the halcyon days of the Californian inspired Sixties and Seventies. Rather, through grassroots initiatives, surfing development programmes linked to organised surfing, and pressure from the national sport ministry, that same surf media and several surf movies are constructing the idea of surfing in Mzansi (the South) at established and emergent surfing centres along the South African coastline, such as at Durban, Mzumbe, Port St Johns Jeffreys Bay and Muizenberg, where black male surfers and white girl surfers are visible. In many ways it is the new possibility of these postcolonial surfing sites that have provided the greatest challenge to the historically white and male South African surfing imaginary and opens up possibilities for new male identities and gender relations on the post-apartheid beach and, through sporting and recreational practices, in the surf. This does not mean that the surf media is not without producing social tensions in what is said and not said (and what is seen and unseen) about race and gender. The former surfaces as race trouble in negotiating new identities that attempt to masked social fractures within surf culture. The latter shows fissures in the production of a white South African surfing masculinity historically used to supporting its dominance in society through a sporting practice. In these ways, the South African surf media provides a useful lens to critically explore competing masculinities within a marginal aquatic sporting tradition that point to social transformations on the beach in the years after apartheid.

For more information on the conference: Work/Force: South African Masculinities in the Media Conference.

This paper is part of my ongoing work for my doctoral studies focusing on gender and politics in the history of South African surfing culture.

I wish to return to a posting on the Forum I made on April 09, 2010. This comment was made within a debate within the local SUP community about the increased incidents of social tensions from stand-up surfers in Cape Town waters and that the local surf media “shunned”  SUP riders . I have a view that these tensions point to the fragile hold stand-up surfing has on promoting itself as the pinnicle wave-riding experience: surfing’s hegemony is being challenged by the emergence of SUPs on the waves, a challenge not unlike other forms of wave-riding craft (bodyboards, wave-skis). The epiphenomena of this hegemonic challenge can be seen in the discourses about access to waves, skill, and water safety. Factors which mask some of the material (market) forces at play in the surf.

I have some ideas that go beyond SUP vs surfer in the line-up and will speak as a wave-rider who also calls himself a surfer, an identity I have nurthured since a grom.

So, a quick view of some of my thoughts, what is expressed in these posts and in other surf media is part of a bigger picture:

Thesis 1: The boom in the surfing market and the waning power of shortboarding: Since the 1990s, the revival of riding waves on any type of board – especially the revival of longboarding – has threatened the social hieracrchy that is being precariously held onto by shortboarding (this is not just at the individual level but also how the surf media and market promote what surfing is seen as kewl). Longer boards with increased paddle power and more people with a range of surfing abilities in the water competing for the same waves at popular (or even less popular) breaks make for increased tensions in the water.

Thesis 2: New kids on the block are seen as kooks: The arrival of SUPs in the line-up adds to the mix described above, and as the new kids (although the demographics of SUPpers is less youthful in age overall) SUPs are the most visible in the line-up (in terms of size of board, with a paddle, and already standing) and hence take the most ire from surfers who feel threatened. Adding to this is the rapid uptake of SUPs among not just proficient surfers, kiters and wavesailers but new entrants to the SUP lifestyle so there is a range of ability out in the water. However, abilities are averaged out and SUP riders are classified/perceived as the “kooks” in surfing’s social mix both as having come late to the wave party and still considered as gaining proficiency in water. Yet, these “kooks” are taking off deeper or further out so this is a further challenge to the surfing social order described in Thesis 1.

Thesis 3: Its all about perceived and real concernes about water saftey. While there is currenlty a challenge to surfing’s status quo, what motivates most wave-users is a concern that they may be injured by an out of control SUP. It is about the space that is required to ensure one feels safe in the water (what has been termed the kill-zone” in much of SUP media). Its about the size and weight of boards, length of leash and the added factor of a paddle that influence when someone feels they are in danger of getting hurt. These fears among non-SUPper are in part due to their inexperience with the equipment. So, add more people to the surf zone (compouded by perceptions of Thesis 1 and 2), then add boards with larger potential “kill-zones”, and the result is a rise in anxiety in the water about their personal safety. This plays to psychic fears which get translated into social fears of SUPs and loop back into the current surfer backlash against SUPs.

So, while respect for others in the water (as a surfer and a SUPper) is key to good wave-riding relations (the only histrocially tried and test answer I can find besides find an out of the way spot to ride waves), at present the debate is quite loaded (and puts SUPS on the moral low-ground). Also, we need to take the view that is is not all surfers but only a few who respond negatively to SUPS. So I hope in looking at other social factors (and there are others – e.g. are SUPs a challenge to surfing’s machoism?) we can start addressing and talking about what is making for the current state of increasing tensions at some spots. Dialogue is a good and first step toward better understanding for all wave-riders.

Word on the beach has it that the One Legged Flying Pelican has eclipsed Californian Mickey Muñoz’s late 1950s quasimodo (or quasimoto depending on your twang) as the surfing trick to end all tricks on the wave. Forget hang tens, drop-knee cutbacks and airdrops, if you want to be a progressive longboarder today you have master the One Legged Flying Pelican.

Rumour had it that this rare variety of surfing manoeuvre was to be seen in the surf near Jongensfontein at the annual Kakgat Classic on the weekend of 19 and 20 June. So I signed up for the contest to get a better view; much like a birdwatcher will take refuge in a hide to wait on the appearance of a shy avian except that I was give a pinkish (or was it red) vest that made me stand out like a flamingo on a saltpan.

As One Legged Flying Pelicans go you would think that one would stand out in a crowd. Not so easily it seemed as heat after heat passed without near imitation or a genuflection to some Captain named Morgan. The mention of the latter left me quite confused as I met no Morgan at the event nor was a Morgan on the competitor’s board although many a glass was raised during a late evening to this Captain.

So I was left to stubble on in my ornithological search for this kinesiological wonder and ponder the making of the legend which before long had become a questioning of: how did a pelican come to ride a longboard? Then I recalled that in the days of olde maps showed the oceans to be full of dragons. Just borrow Jack Sparrow’s parchment and you’ll see “Here Be Dragons” etched is wavy calligraphy as a warning for early European explorers not to wander too far beyond the horizon. So, if there can be dragons in the sea, why not a pelican on a surfboard.

And pelicans damn near look like dragons, or pterodactyls for that matter. The last one I saw swooped over the Elands Bay’s threatened Velorenvlei wetlands casting a Nazgûl-like shadow over me that I nearly toppled off my SUP in fear that I had actually entered the final battle for Middle Earth with only a paddle. Get close up to a pelican in flight and you’ll see what I mean, trust me you’ll kak yourself silly.

Brian Salter shows how the OLFP is done. Photo by Willem Jacobs.

Which is why I watched in trepidation as I saw not one, but four, One Legged Flying Pelicans executed by “Kelly” Salter before my disbelieving eyes. I was wading in the shorebreak of a right-hand break at the end of a heat pondering why this sublime spot had been christened “Kakgat” in the 1970s, when I had my moment of truth. I have read that pelicans are well suited to gliding in the air for long distances after gaining a good altitude – this made perfectly sense as the trim, poise, and balance of this surfer with lifted arms flapping while standing on one leg held true over a shortish distance along a peeling wave. Revealed, the One Legged Flying Pelican is.

(For another take on the contest, see my article “Curios Reflections on the Kakgat Classic” published on Wavescape).