Culture of Cool

Surfers are sheep. Here are the details.

Luke Davis, all style, no shtick. Photo: Burkard

This article is from our May 2012 issue. Click here to see what else is inside, or click here to purchase a copy.

I’m as guilty as the rest. I have a ’70s single-fin in my garage, along with a custom 5’0” Mini-Simmons twin. My glasses are black Ray-Bans. My hair is unkempt, my face is scruffy. I’m wearing Vans, and as for my jeans, yes, they are fairly skinny. I own an iPhone and a Mac. You can follow me on Twitter, see my photos on Instagram, and there’s even a film camera on my desk. I’ve been referred to as a writer, a blogger, a creative type. I want to believe I’m an individual. I want to believe that my life choices add up to something unique. But the evidence sure as hell suggests otherwise. I’m indistinguishable from the rest of the surf-hipster herd. The sad thing is, I don’t even feel like part of the tribe. Instead, I am who I hate.

How did this happen? I have my excuses. They mostly boil down to a conceited, dubious defense: my intransient personal brand has come full-circle, from in-style to out-of-style to back in-style again. I stuck with it that long, and finally trends have caught up to me. I can explain almost every last vestige of my shameful surf hipsterdom: The single-fin? It’s the board I learned to surf on. The Ray-Bans? My vision actually sucks, and I’ve been wearing prescription Ray-Bans for almost 20 years. I’ll keep defending myself, although it’s pointless. I’ve always hated shaving, I’m naturally hirsute, I’ve looked like a bum since puberty. The analog camera on my desk? I’ve had it since 1995, and the Vans I’m wearing are the same style of low-top I rocked in 3rd grade.

My brother, who is less concerned with his individualism than I am, has a more concise, Occam’s razor-type answer to this riddle: It’s just the Internet. Hive-mind. That super-catchy indie song you downloaded last month? McDonald’s used it in their commercial a week later because the guy who made the ad also has an Internet connection, and he heard that song online too. Same goes for that Mini-Simmons. You’re not the only guy who dug that picture on Richard Kenvin’s blog. It used to take real initiative to separate the cool wheat from the commercial chaff. Now it doesn’t. Seventh graders can do it. And they do. Blame Twitter. Blame Facebook. Blame Google Reader. Blame PostSurf, and every other shitty surf blog that’s burned bright and burned out since.

The Internet allows us to chart surf trend vectors like CDC officials, tracking the propagation and spread of deadly viruses. Out there in the ether, between the lines of posts, Vimeo shorts, and status updates, a hazy checklist takes shape detailing “How to be Cool” in today’s surf world. The Internet allows once regional trends to go global within a matter of weeks. It’s easy to see what other cool surfers are doing, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it: Be earnest. Grow facial hair. Bodysurf. Or make a handplane! Photograph your homemade handplane with a vintage film camera, or if you’re one to cut corners, apply the 1977 Instagram filter to your iPhone photo of your store-bought handplane before you Tweet it. Train jiujitsu, or do yoga, and eat organic, and make sure you let other people know you’re doing these things via social media. Ditto for the humanitarian aid work you did on your last surf trip. Stop wearing booties. Stop using a leash. Drive a van. Make art—whether or not you are an artist. Or play guitar, or ukulele. If you surf, deep down inside, you probably are an artist, musician, or writer…or all three. Listen to The Velvet Underground on Spotify. Enthusiastically love your fellow surfer, unless you are commenting anonymously, in which case let the vitriol flow. Track the latest XXL swell while grooving along to The xx, and paddle instead of tow, even if you’ve never paddled or towed big waves. But that shouldn’t stop you from paddling out on Big Wednesday, at a protected spot, on a 9’-plus custom big-wave gun, which you use to take waves from the “unenlightened” jocks riding shortboards in overhead waves. The list goes on.