surfing – is it inherently prefigurative?

Given that I am land-locked and have not seen waves or the ocean for some 10+ weeks, that there were amazing waves at my local, and that I was sent some amazing pictures of a special place right near where I live (under threat from the lifestyle we acquiesce to on a daily basis), my mind has lingered on many aspects of this place. One of these is surfing, what it is, what it means to me, and it base nature. It clearly means a lot to me, given my current longing to immerse my body in the ocean and both ride float in the rise and fall of the waves as well as dance with some of them…

Whilst it is my current situation that has led to my lingering on what surfing is and what it means, it is my thoughts on the base nature of it that I want to attempt to express. I have thought about other activities lately like skateboarding, mountain biking, snowboarding – effectively what are often referred to as extreme sports. One thing that disturbs me about surfing is the explicit sexism in advertising and to an extent the culture of a significant number of those who surf. It is often for in excess of that you could attribute to the other extreme activities. It is aside form this that my reference to surfing as inherently prefigurative emanates from.

With skateboarding, mountain biking and snowboarding the terrain is always essentially fixed: concrete/ramp/terrain/hills/etc. These are things that one overcomes, once conquers (as many see it). It is about succeeding. Landing a new trick, riding some new terrain, going faster… Surfing can be this too – big wave surfing for example. There is however, the ever-changing reality of the ocean: currents, winds, tides, sand banks, swell size and direction. These, whilst always present, are not constants in the sense that a hill or ramp is. Every wave is different – even at the same break.

Where I am heading, or what I am trying to lead towards, is that surfing requires attempting to be in tune or harmonious with the wave itself. A wave cannot be dominated as such. Can this be though of as outside of power relations – probably I guess. Nature doesn’t think in terms of power over, it essentially just is – or am I essentialising? When you ride a wave (or attempt turns or other manoeuvres) you are use the waves energy and flow with its liquidity, its fluidness. This is different to, say, using the energy of gravity and a hill and bouncing off rocks (mountain biking). Maybe it is the fluidity that is the essential and defining element here. Snowboarding may be based on a semi-fluid medium, yet this description comes as close as it will get.

For me, given this new emerging perspective, I can respect the notion of the soul surfer and see this understanding at the core of what surfing actually is. Aside from the machoism, the bravado, the sexism and other social constructed shite, at its core surfing is prefigurative?

Maybe I am talking shit. Maybe I am essentialising given my reminiscing about the lack of ocean and not being able to immerse my body – to step into liquid. Maybe I am not. Whilst I think we can continue to pursue activities like skateboarding, mountain biking and snowboarding in a prefigurative way, I think at its core surfing is prefigurative. It requires becoming attuned to natural phenomena, having an appreciation for natural processes. Becoming aware of the inter-relatedness of events, existing outside of the constructs of our mediated existences. Not much needs to change – at least at the core basis – of surfing for a better world.

I guess I really need to go for a surf, yet I think there is something to my thoughts…

One thought on “surfing – is it inherently prefigurative?

  1. Though I have never been surfing in my life, and am not really a big fan of the ocean in general (I know, GASP!) I do think I understand the core of what you are saying here. While I have not been surfing I have participated in some more landlocked versions of water sports, such as whitewater rafting and kayaking, and felt a really strong connection to the river and the current. Being in the river, and essentially at its mercy (to anthropomorphize a body of water) It is a totally different experience than mountain biking, snowboarding etc. So, once it warms up a bit, if you are still landlocked and looking for a connection to the water, going on a rafting trip, if you haven’t before, may be a good substitute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *