October 20, 2008 – Surfing today exists as a multibillion-dollar business industry and a multimillion-dollar professional sport, both of which have helped to draw tens of millions of adherents worldwide, and both of which have succeeded at making surfing one of the most cliched and coveted lifestyles on the planet.
And yet, it is still surfing. It is still a person and a surfboard and a wave. And it is still good.
It’s within this second framework that most surfers – that is, most people who have, either by choice or by default, allowed the pursuit of waves to creep into their daily thoughts and actions – choose to operate. And it’s in this sense that we are reminded that, despite the image-construction, the myth-making and the hero worship that are the flimsy cornerstones of that multibillion-dollar surf industry, surfing is a radically simple pursuit.
You need a surfboard. You need a wave. And that is all you need.
Until Scott Bass of Encinitas turned his attention to it, the only surfing convention (if it could be called that) in San Diego County was the Action Sports Retailer Trade Show, a three-day gathering focused on supporting the growth of the ancillary companies that have sprung up around the surf-, skate-and snowboard industries.
For surfers – that is, people in the water – this event has little resonance. After all, the selling of shoes, sunglasses and hats is the selling of shoes, sunglasses and hats, and surfing is surfing.
It was against this backdrop that Bass identified a disconnect between surfers and what they were being sold.
"In the 1950s and ’60s, the boardbuilders were the ones who were driving the culture," Bass said. "Then, later on, the surf media came along and they drove the culture. Further along the line, the culture came to be driven by the surf garment industry, and that seems to lack a certain saliency. A true surfer doesn’t care what you’re wearing, but he probably does care what you’re riding."
Bass’ assessment isn’t far off, the most glaring example being the modern surf shop. Once the cultural hub of any surf community – a place where a surfer could pick up necessary supplies like a surfboard and some wax – today, most surf shops exist as little more than small malls, staging areas for display racks from the biggest names in the surf clothing industry.
"A lot of shops start up these days by getting the big clothing companies to put some racks in their store, and then they realize that they need to sell surfboards as well, so they throw in a couple of boards made by the biggest shapers for good measure."
To that end, Bass decided to start the Sacred Craft Consumer Surfboard Expo, putting surfboard consumers back in touch with surfboard builders.
The second annual edition of the show was Oct. 10 and 11. Bass estimates that nearly 4,500 surfers flowed through the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ Wyland Exhibit Hall over the two-day event. There, the barrier between surfboard craftsman and workaday surfer was broken down.
"Our goal has always been to create a venue for surfboard shapers to put their goods in front of people who are interested in surfboards," Bass said. At the same time, the show was as much a celebration of the surfboard as anything else.
Convention-goers could stand on a platform and watch as shapers competed in a "shape-off," trying to replicate a board made by the late San Diego boardbuilder Bill Caster. That event was won by Florida-based shaper Ricky Carroll. And throughout the expo hall, consumers walked up and down the rows, able to talk to and connect with the shapers who have dedicated their lives to making surfboards.
Inevitably, it was a success.
"We’re just trying to bring the culture back to what it was meant to be," Bass said.