by Guy Walker
Imagine. You sputter your way north on the PCH in your 1972 VW bus—its teal-colored paint faded just enough, with morsels of ornament-sized rust dazzling the exterior, vintage surf stickers pasted randomly on the back window and bumper like a candid discharge of how authentic you really are. Your sun-baked arm is propped gently out the window, the coruscating morning breeze blowing your highlighted crusty tendrils so they tickle your nipples. You enjoy this, like when you allow a fly to walk along your arm, entangling itself in your arm hair because it secretly feels good. There’s a pretty girl beside you, also with her window down, staring contemplatively out at the drought-ridden hillsides pass by, but mostly she’s just staring at her epitomized reflection in the side-view mirror, her long hair whipping around her sunnies, her laissez-faire sex appeal cropped perfect for an Instagram post. There’s a stack of singlefins tied to the roof. A dog in the backseat. A folded Mexican blanket. A handplane and flippers. Go-Pros so you can document how similar to George Greenough you are. A bag of yerba mate, and an authentic gourd from Argentina. Kurt Vile is singing about his morning walks over the stereo. You have several tattoos blotted haphazardly around your arms and torso—one of them is ironic. You’ve done ayahuasca. And earlier this morning, you completed fifty sun salutations. You’ve made it, the poster child of cool. You’re a surfer and you look homeless. You’ve mimicked the various landmarks of unkemptness, and in doing so, achieved the granule celebrity of surf hipster.
And yet, we know we’re simulacral surf explorers, fabricating a sense of untethered adventure, going on little forays into sunny horizons and then scurrying back home to our assigned parking spaces and IPAs on draught. While every detail of cool is in its place, we still vaguely recognize we’re in a pit of vacuous simulation, feeling that we’ll be caught, that our cover of ‘not caring what others think’ will be exposed as fraudulent. Surf hipsterdom is just the current ephemeral trend, everyone aching to be an individual, to be sought after and unique. So we surf twin fins, homemade alaias, shoot with film, listen to Dick Dale, and mimic the schizophrenic styles of Alex Knost and Robin Kegel, who mimic the likes of Phil Edwards and others, who surfed the way they did because of their heavy boards, because the physics required them to. Edwards—one of the favorites in the history of California surfing—threw all his weight into turning his boards, throwing his hands up in the air just to keep his balance, thus creating his iconic style that many of us copy unnecessarily today. And perhaps I’m critical because I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve tried my entire adult life to stand out from the rest, to shape my own surfboards, most of which are singlefins with bright abstract resin tints. I wear tattered retro wetsuits that don’t make any practical sense. I’ve grown my hair long and kept some form of hair on my face. It’s a pallid effort to single yourself out from the herd, to declare yourself an individual, until we’re all the same psychedelic cliché, like the tie dye shirts of the 60’s, everyone twirling in unison, crazed that they are a bright light in the universe.
Surf hipsterdom is a hobby for the young who are not that young anymore. We’ve grown up slow, stylizing ourselves as the innovators of nostalgia and not much else. Jay Adams—the idolized skateboarder from the Zephyr Team in Venice Beach—was iconic and celebrated because he was a cute child with long blonde hair, and didn’t know any better. He’s an important figure because he pushed skateboarding to a new level, perhaps without entirely realizing it. But before he died, he was an undesirable figure: inarticulate, uneducated, drug-abused, in and out of prison. To skate like him today, in many circles, is considered rebellious and alternative. It says you don’t care about competitions, you’re more elevated than that. But as far as the momentum of progression and innovation is concerned, it’s elementary and trite—it’s a sweet gesture, but you won’t be taken seriously.
Surfers and skaters today want to rehash everything that once was, digging through archival landfills of fads, resurrecting innovations that are now so old and pretending they’re new. Surfing and skating are unique in this respect. We don’t use smoke signals to communicate—we take pictures of our lunch on Instagram. We don’t wrap our genitals in large leaves and holler at the moon—we wear acid-washed jeans and sing pop songs. We don’t worship a white man with lightning bolts in the clouds—we adulate a woman with a fat ass who sucked a dick on camera. We’ve evolved. But more and more surfers are returning to ancient times, gliding on alaia surfboards—those primitive slabs of wood the Hawaiians surfed a thousand years ago. They walk hand in hand back in time, awing at the romance of nonfunctioning relics.
The hipster as a whole, admits he is merely the resemblance of something desirable. By definition, he is a cold naked body wrapped in a tailored rag of cotton. Maybe a beard too. We scoff at Kylie Jenner for puffing up her lips so she isn’t quite her flat-lipped chubby self, but how many shitty jawlines hide under the beards of hipsters? How many ugly pea-shaped heads take refuge under unwashed man buns? And more so, how many cruelly uninteresting men and women are disguised in torn jean jackets and nose piercings? We hipsters are the product of insecurities and unimaginative fuckery. We’re playing Halloween, dressing up as artists, intellectuals, creative-types, when the vast majority of us are merely shoving along, the dank humidity of life weighing heavily on.
There is something genuinely enjoyable about meandering up a coastline in an old car and a stack of surfboards, checking on various surf spots along the way, hoping to find one all to yourself, to feel like a penniless frontiersman for once. And maybe that authentic want of adventure spills into the contents of our day-to-day, as we try to communicate to others that this is what we do, that we’re carefree and not showered, that we surf waves. Our Instagram filters are vintage and sophisticated, and so is our reality. But a true frontiersman is exploring something new. It’s venturing into the landscape of innovation, without all the paralyzing vanity that wants to come along.