Apr 19, 2012
"Free Surfers and Selling Out"
Since a few weeks back, when Michael Peterson passed away, I've wanted to write a piece about the influence of professional surfing. What stimulated that thought was MP's personal dichotomy -- being so well suited to compete in surf contests in the water, while being wholly incapable of representing the burgeoning corporate surf culture on land. It's a pretty good metaphor for surfing's personality in general, and it was the single most painful thing I've ever witnessed in surfing.
I use the term "witnessed" in the broadest sense. I was in Queensland during the initial period of MP's emergence, and was working at Surfer Magazine a few years later when pro surfing and the "new generation of superstars" (MP, Shawn Tomson, MR, etc) came onto the international scene. So, when it came to MP, I was on the outside looking in...but from a pretty good vantage point.
Pro surfers like Shawn Tomson and Peter Townend were well suited, personality-wise, to present themselves to the surfing world beyond their talent in the water. Like 'em or not, they were straight forward professionals. Michael Peterson, arguably the best talent of that generation, was not. (I shudder to think what his many foibles would have come to, if the social media had been in place back then.)
In retrospect, those years of the mid-to-late 70's seem innocent...but the writing was on the wall for anyone who was paying attention. Surfing was going to change, and change in a manner that would burn any and all bridges back to its roots. Those changes worked in the favor of anyone inclined to embrace and benefit from the concept of a corporate surf culture, and against anyone who wished the DNA of surfing (as it was practiced in the water on a day-to-day basis back then) would remain unaltered.
In any case, The Inertia ran a thoughtful piece by Tetsuhiko Endo on the varying aspects of the contemporary professional surf culture. Worth a look.
Check it out here...