Untied Or United?
In 2011, during the making of SURFING’s last America Issue, I wandered the streets of Downtown Los Angeles with seven surfers we called “The Adolescents.” They wore ill-fitting suits,
skate shoes and neck tan lines. They were: Luke Davis, Kolohe Andino, Conner Coffin, Nat Young, Andrew Doheny, Balaram Stack and Evan Geiselman. At the time, they were between 15 and 19 years old, and they were the future of American surfing.
After the photo shoot everyone piled into a borrowed van and headed toward Orange County. Inching home in traffic, I took advantage of my captive subjects and broached a topic that I’d been curious about. Were they proud to be American surfers? And, how were American surfers different than Australians? Brazilians? I don’t remember who said it, Luke or Evan, I think, but the sentiment was reluctantly echoed throughout the van. “Surfers from America are on their own program,” he said. “After they lose a heat, they leave the contest. They don’t stay and support the other Americans. Whereas the Aussies and Brazilians hang out to cheer each other on.”
This isn’t surprising since these surfers, like most of us, were raised in a country where individualism is perhaps the most important of its core values. “It’s a free country.” (So do what YOU want to do.) Sammy Davis Jr. sang “I’ve got to be me, I’ve got to be free.” And any upward pulling of your bootstraps should be done by you, and you alone. Community be damned. Another reason, as Matt Pruett suggests in “Uh, ‘Merica?” on Pg. 64, is that, “Patriotism is a good thing when you’re the underdog. Not so much when you’re the alpha.” Americans are cautious to be publicly nationalistic because the United States has been a superpower for almost 70 years. When Brazilians or South Africa wave their flag they are David. When Americans wave it they are Goliath. A bully. And a bully doesn’t need teammates.
But in the same way that the US is no longer the sole superpower in geopolitics, with countries like Brazil and South Africa quickly gaining steam, American surfing doesn’t reign supreme like it did when The Adolescents grew up. Kelly’s no longer a shoe-in for a world title, and scrolling down the names of the top 32 you’ll find 13 Australians, seven Brazilians and only five Americans. On the women’s side there are only two Americans.
So maybe it’s time we push through that individualism and start thinking more like a team. It worked for the Australians. It’s working for the Brazilians. American surfers should raise the star-spangled banner after wins and support one another even after they’ve lost.
And I think it’s already starting to happen. Watch the ASP webcast and see two of The Adolescents, Kolohe Andino and Nat Young, cheering each other on. See Brett Simpson volunteer to caddy for Courtney Conlogue. Since we are no longer Goliath, we’re warming up to the idea of patriotism. Nobody’s starting “U-S-A!” chants. Nobody’s being obnoxious. Nobody’s printing “Team America” T-shirts. But they’re certainly accepting the fact that the American flag doesn’t need to stay in the closet until the Fourth of July. —Taylor Paul