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Transitions through society: from the beach to the boardroom?

16 May 2017
Australian Prime Minister catching some waves (and breaking surf etiquette)
Australian Prime Minister catching some waves (and breaking surf etiquette)

Surfing was once the territory of the salty faced slacker, the maverick, the “original rebel”.  Today however, it seems that surfers can be found in all walks of life. Professional surfers now not only have the potential to earn big money on tour and through sponsorship, they even get a pension!  And whereas once upon a time scoring a wave mid-week would mean a sickie or long term rejection of the status quo, increasing numbers of surfers are taking up high level professional positions, professionals are taking up surfing, and many are even building a career that can work around a surfing lifestyle.  Such a shift has enabled surfers to actively engage in, and be a part of, the very elements of society that once so vehemently forced their kind to the fringes.

It does however appear that to be a surfer is still worthy of a headline. For example, this weeks cyber attack was stopped by a “surfer hero” based in the south of England. The masses of news stories all feature the very clever mans hobby; would this be the case if he were an avid squash player, gardener, or runner? I think not. Surfing is still a label. It  came as a surprise that this particular surfer was capable of such feats, or was a surprise that someone with these capabilities would choose to also surf?

As novel as this seems to the mainstream media, the surf community also appear proud to claim him as one of them, “surfer who foiled global cyber attack is magicseaweed user” read one article on the popular surf forecasting site. This is something that will need to be explored much more later on; labels, roles, expectations and representations of surfers is all of interest. In particular how it affects how activism is played out, and how differently it is being approached now, as opposed to a few decades ago.


I’ll just let old school champ Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholemew sum it up for us…

“One thing I did realise in that first bit of activism was just how low on the rung of society surfers were. We were pretty much the bottom dwellers. And now I can clearly say that that was a very well earned image. Surfers were the original rebels and we wore it as a badge of honour. But I always thought also though, that there would come a day when surfers would be, you know, I’ve surfed with prime ministers, I’ve surfed with Premiers, half of the doctors and specialists at __ hospital are surfers. Surfers are amongst all of us in all walks of life now and that’s really been, you know, that’s galvanised the activism to the point where we’re no longer a fringe element of society, you know there’s 2.6 million surfers in Australia, and we’ve got a voice.” (Bartholemew, 2017)


Bartholemew, W., 2017. The Importance of Protecting Beach and Surfing Amenity for the Future. Gold Coast,  International Surfing Symposium.