Barrels and Rap Battles

Why some surfers need to get over their rap music phobia


Yesterday John John and Blake Kueny dropped the best web clip any of us have seen since…well…the last time they dropped a web clip. With his lofty airs, smooth rail work, and preternatural barrel riding, Florence is doing what Reynolds used to do, which is make every other pro surfer in the world feel like a second-class citizen. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the person who has sparked the most commentary about this video isn’t John Florence—it’s Action Bronson.

Action Bronson, aka Ill Prosciutto, aka Bam Bam Bigalow, aka Bronsolino is a 29-year-old rapper from Queens, New York who lends the backing tracks to John John’s latest piece of surf cinema. For some reason, a lot of people hate this. I doubt it has anything to do with the Bronsolino specifically, but is more of a reflection of the way surf culture relates to rap music in general. On our site, there were many comments claiming that rap and surfing are at odds, but I think Daryl Smitts summed up these sentiments with this: “Rap so doesn’t go with our sport. Please leave it out next time. Muting works but we shouldn’t have to do that. Whoever put that track on there is kind of a wigger…and wiggers don’t surf.”

First off, who uses the word “wigger” these days? This isn’t 1999, Daryl. Fred Durst died a long time ago…I think. But Daryl isn’t alone. His ‘90s vernacular echoes the opinion of many surfers. But why? Why has rap music never gained footing in surf culture?

Does the entire surfing population dislike rap? Absolutely not. If you went through the iTunes library of any surfer under the age of 35, you’re at least going to find The Chronic 2001 or Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and probably good kid, m.A.A.d city and LiveLoveA$AP if they’ve been keeping up. That’s because since the ‘90s, rap music has been popular with young people, and young surfers are not immune to the charms of pop culture. But we’ve been resistant to injecting rap music into surf videos because many surfers think that rap’s representation of urban street culture is irreconcilable with surf culture. Slanging rocks and sitting on beach towels may not exactly go hand-in-hand, but that’s not really a fair comparison.

Popular rap music evolved past the gangster paradigm a long time ago. Sure, gangster elements are still present in the majority of popular rap, but Action Bronson is an overweight ginger who pens lyrics about smoked gouda, rosemary bread, and plank salmon more than he does about busting caps in or around anyone’s asses. You could say similar things about Kanye West, Danny Brown, and Tyler, the Creator making references to fashion, oral sex, and skateboarding, respectively. These topics are well within the wheelhouse of the modern surfer, but in truth, that doesn’t even matter.

The fact is that you don’t have to relate to music in a literal sense for it to be appealing and entirely applicable to your life. If you pull up to a slabby reefbreak and you’re excited, scared, and want to get pumped up for the impending session, you’re going to go with Killer Mike over Jack Johnson any day of the week. Why? Try listening to “Bubble Toes” and tell me if that makes you want to airdrop over a ledge. Could you imagine John John’s new edit to any song off of From Here to Now to You? Jesus, that would have been the worst.