SURFIN' SANTA, RIDE THIS by Matt WarshawSurfers was conceived by a Frenchman and produced in New York City, and for a genuine article of surf culture, it doesn't get much more strange and exotic than that. Yet viewing the work prints for the first time, 1 briefly thought: how coma this book looks familiar? 1 set the question aside and paged on.
And did so with some feeling of relief. These are, after all, busy times for surf world curmud geons, and 1 shouldn't wonder at the incipient tendinitis in my right shoulder after ail that righteous finger-pointing and hand-wringing over the tact that SOUl and Counter-Culture are now registered surfing manufacturers' trademark names; that MTV has designated surfing as an "extreme sport" along with suspension-bridge bungee jumping; and that Disney, Coke, Nike, and Perry Ellis (among a few hundred others) now buy, selI, and trade in the surf world's increasingly crowded business district.
Surfing itself-riding waves for fun, relaxation, challenge, peace of mind-is fine. It's the presentation that seems to be in freefall. This might be proven quantifiably. 1 have a pair of glossy \ surf magazines on the desk before me. Australia's Surfing Life, dated April 1997, has two photographs on the cover, plus 53 words (not counting the logotype), divided into five blurbs, printed in eight different colors, using seven different fonts. Surfer, dated June 1972, has a full bleed photo and a single-color logotype. Nothing more. Big, clean, uncrowded images were the rule. As Surfer publisher John Severson would say, years later, the magazine "was trying to be an art piece." And it was. Which is why 1 notice a droop in my vocational esprit each time 1 pull one or another surf mag tram the mailbox these days and read coverlines such as: "WIN TOM CARROLL.:S BOARD," "1 SURVIVED THE G-LAND TIDAL WAVE!" "SURFIN' SANTA'S HOLIDAY GIFT ..
GUIDE," and "BIKINIS! BIKINIS! BIKINIS!"
Commercial forces have taken over. Surfin' Santa has upended his bag of SOUl and Counter Culture TM products and shook it out tram one end of the beach to the other. The art is gone, man. Weil, yeah, except...
Except soma pretty neat projects have turned up recently. Women are producing surf videos that do net visually and aurally beat the crap out of the viewer. Surf installations are turning up in California art museums. Surfer-writers Daniel Duane, William Finnegan, and Thomas Farber have recently given the sport a much-needed literary retrofit. All three promote surfing's virtues, but also ask difficult questions. Farber writes about Jack, a 40-year-old surfer-salesman who feels as if the waves, always the abject of pursuit, are now hunting him: "Jack wenders. At a meeting at his company, one of the managers notices that Jack's monthly calendar is aise a tide chart, and teases him. Jack Gan read the component of envy, of course, but still...is surfing enough to define-to defend-a life?"
Farber gays it is. The men and women in this book would agree. But as photographer Patrick Cariou suggests-and his non-surfer status is helpful, maybe even necessary, in this regard those featured here haven't earned this knowledge by way of the perfect ride, the biggest wave, the world championship, or any of the familiar routes marked out in the surf media. The satisfaction cornes mostly from the smaller, daily grace notes of surfing. And because surfing doesn't fit organically into the non-surfing world (or vice-versa), this day-to-day process is bath difficult and satisfying.
It's a life, in other words, trying to be an art piece. Cariou honors
this choice, and does so by recovering a traditional visual style of
big, clean, uncrowded images (that's what looks so familiar), then situating
himself within what might actually be called a new surfing ideology.
Elements of Surfers are connected to the past, but the book in its complete
form glides forward. As it should be with any surfing presentation.
THE SURFERS GAZE by DANIEL DUANE
Much of this cairn, no doubt, comas from surfing's unique joys. On the water, more time passes in the waiting for waves than in the riding of them. Hours go by with surfers immersed but not surfing, floating rather th an flying, and just drifting, talking. You get attached to this-to walking or driving down to the beach, crossing the sand, and forgetting commitments for an heur or two. Splashing around in the cool brine, breathing its fish and seaweed smells, letting the salt wash off the day. Yeu get to itch for a IiUle daily time in which the shore and ail its busy human con cerns fall away, time in which the mare possibility of a wave keeps your eyes fixed on a wild, silent space where you'lI never see anything but the products of storm and sea and sky. Even when someone finally catches a wave, and you're floating nearby, you watch him carve a small wall under so much space that the world seems, if only for a moment, big enough for ail of us; the surfer's arcing motions-and gO, by extension, ail human endeavor-seem sm ail undulations in a world consumed by unimaginably larger cnes.
ln the same way a rancher's evening ride on his Wyoming pasture has, no doubt, far more purpose th an merely the bringing in of wayward sheep, so too the long horizons of a liquid prairie bring a lot of peace to a life-a moment in every day when the walls of our rives fall away. Throw in the wild, mindless play of the surfing itself, the summum bonum of the dream, and it's ail more than enough non-linguistic data to distract your anxious mind and bring your pulse and blood pressure back to normal-to keep your body fit and mind more or less clear. You feel it long afterwards, too, as your equilibrium eases out of the rise and fall of water, ebbs and flows for hours after-at home or at work or in bed, a gentle surge and release.
Surfing is play, a source of joy like few people know, a bracing means to recurring, startling physical experience-even a kind of fountain of youth. So, perhaps, the passion in many of these portraits. 1 once noticed a very beautiful woman-maybe twenty-five years old, with reddish brown hair-walk past a group of male surfers. The surfers (1 was one of them) were watching a clean, powerful set of waves peel off. 1 glanced over just in time to catch a wry smile floating across her lips. She smiled, 1 imagine, in amusement at her anonymity, at the speechless rapture of ail us boys, much like the distracted body language of Cariou's subjects entranced by Uluwatu, Pipeline, or San Onofre: gazing at their primary object of desire, they've become oblivious to themselves and their companions.
This passion for wave and sport transforms the surfboard into a totem, from Laird Hamilton's giant spear-like paddle board to the shortboards so similar across the globe, rendering surfing a kind of warrior culture, and surfers the tribesmen flaunting their mastery of the tribe's most lethal weapon. Notice the warrior poses in this collection: innocent boy fighters on Hawaii's famed North Shore; a Tahitian kid's delight in holding just half of a broken board; Laird Hamilton staged as the noble white savage in the palm fronds in one scene and carving a longboard cut-back with the stylized lines of a Greek sculpture in another. Witness Christophe Reinhardt, in France, sitting like the bull prince with limbs thick and heavy, gaze surly, posing on a reed throne beneath big boards in a scene reminiscent of Huey Newton under the crossed spears of the original Black Panther propaganda picture.
If there's an independence and strength gained from locating one's primary object of desire in the vicissitudes of ocean waves, there is also a jilted melancholy. Every life has costs commensurate to its gains, things given up long before we knew we had them. For starters, surfing is awfully hard to do. It requires months of floundering just to be functional in the water, th en years to achieve any kind of competence. True mastery is simply not available to those who don't start young.
And the conditioning-the tremendous paddling strength and lung capacity required-demand constant maintenance. Acquiring the skill, therefore, will have cost net only a great deal of energy,but everything you could've gained by using that energy elsewhere. Perhaps more costly is the fact that rideable surf requires a truly rare combination of underwater topography, offshore depths, distant storm patterns, and prevailing winds. It only happens on patches of lucky land here and there-by no means ail the world's coastlines. Which means that from Brazil to California, France to Moorea, surfers' lives go down on stretches of coast chosen net for hotels, sunshine, or great nightlife, but for purely physiographic factors. Not only are Chicago, Paris, London, Rome, Moscow, Hong Kong, and Tokyo obviously out of the question, but the fickleness of surf means one has to live in Montauk rather than Manhattan (one helluva commute), or San Francisco rather than Montauk (no Wall Street), or even Santa Cruz, or North San Diego County or Haleiwa. Places chosen first for their surf and last for the vitality of local job markets. There are, of course, wonderful sides to surf towns. Like ski towns, jogging camps, and university campuses, they take on the character bath of the desire invested in them and the sacrifices made to live in them. Yeu feel the absence of things its denizens have forsworn (good museums, bustling industry and commerce), and the others they celebrate as trade-offs (great health, low stress). Cari ou captures the flat essence of such places: the tawdry simplicity of a bullshit session at the funky Sunset Beach Store; of a local on a concrete seawall in Peru (beside an umbrella advertising "Inca Kola"); the cid functionalist housing prajects of Rio de Janeiro's surf ghettos; a meticulously restored cid surf car below a California bluff. At the Morra Bay power plant, a man walks away from the parking lot and across the dunes, leaving industrial culture for a moment in the wild. On Easter Island, it's the post-colonial incongruity of a chipped and faded cid saint watching benevolently as someone trims a peeler before a cruise ship at anchor-surf at the mar gins between worlds. These are places deeply loved by those who want what they have, but quite forgettable to everyone else-places to visit, but net to settle. And if yeu grow up in one of these places-or move to them for waves-surfing may be the reason yeu never leave, why you don't go off to a distant college or take a promotion requiring relocation to a big city. Surfing might loom, then, as the one great drama of your life, the one for which others were passed by.
More costly still: even in surf-blessed regions, good surf only happens when it happens; distant storms and local conditions have to match up just right with local tides. Whole months can pass in the heart of the surf season without a single good afternoon. Then, unannounced, 9:30 AM to noon of a four-day stretch might turn out to be the year's only Great run of classic conditions.
If you missed it, you missed the whole thing. The whole sport. Which means, in addition to Great cities being off-limits, a surfer must also forgot the rewards of fixed hours, rigid appointments, long work weeks-things that ail happen to be universal trade-offs for membership in advanced industrial economies. Creative exceptions to the rule-doctors, and other traditional professionals fight hard for the kind of flexibility surfing demands. But you can be sure there are no truly committed surfers on the board at Goldman Sachs, or even among the partners of the biggest L.A. law firms. They don't have the freedom to reschedule their days based on the caprices of weather and water.
Ali of this rearranging of a life-around locale, free time, physical
commitment-means that even as the surfer indulges a hunger for freedom
and for water time, he or she holds at bay many of our culture's communal
hungers. Our ritualized material aspirations have to be ignored, or at
least resisted in order to justify the decision net to pursue them; and
for that, our culture always makes you pay. No wonder, then, the fierce
pride and defensiveness born of giving your best years and your best
energies to something everybody's heard of and nobody understands, something
that never gets you promoted or married or anything else. Also no wonder,
finally, the brooding wariness of Cariou's subjects. No problem when
the subject looks towards some distant object-when he can gaze off like
the ancient mariner-but when he must turn his eyes into the lens, a suspicion
appears. Just as Cariou captures the youthful delight and pride in his
subjects' eyes, he dwells also on the brooding inwardness awaiting these
boys, the hunted and hungry visages of eider men who've stayed put, chased
a single passion, given up many things, and claimed others without apology.
And with that cornes a worry-so deftly captured by Cariou-that the subject's
essence can be taken for the wrong reason, that a life with no more nor
legs net joy than your own is being seen as a type, a caricature. Cariou's
North Shore portrait of Buttons Kaluhiokalani is emblematic: Don't look
at me that way. Don't rip me off. Don't think you know what l'm about.
Photographer Patrick Cariou has traveled the globe, from the North Shore to Peru, from Tahiti to Brittany, tram Long Island to Easter Island, searching out net only the world's great living surfers and legends, but also the dedicated, unsung wave riders living on and surfing distant shores and out-of-the-way breaks the world over.
ln Surfers, his first book, Cariou nails it-with expert aid in the form of writer and surfer Dan Duane and surf writer gadfly Matt Warsaw-distilling the inimitable surfers' drive, will, and lifelong devotion to the sport, the tribe, and the way of life.
Surfers approaches the world of the wave with rare form: alternately stark and sinewy, lush and haunting, Cariou's intimate duotone portraits feature the famed (Laird Hamilton, Buffalo Keaulana, Sunny Garcia, Rabbit Kekai, Jack O'Neill, Greg NolI, Joel Tudor, Brock Little, and Buttons Kaluhiokalani among others), and the plebian (Iocals of every size and color, tram Uluwatu and Sunset Beach to Biarritz and Puerto Escondido), and captures with unmatched and understated flair the sun, salt, and wave-and what Duane aefines in his cool, detached essayas "The Surfer's Gaze"-dissolving legend and local alike into one poly-pigmented, wave drenched, and steely-eyed visage of dedication and quiet, profound passion.
Mix in Cariou's surreal color seascapes and find yourself in a surfer's daydream (or in Matt's Irrepressible intro "Surfin' Santa Ride This"), rich in colors of ocean mist and coastallight, anticipating, in filmic fashion, that climactic breaking doubleoverhead on your elephant gun stashed away for far tao long; tao long for this job, for this life.
Evocatively designed by award-winning art director Sam Shahid, Surfers is a luxurious and unique addition to the weil tread topography of longboard homages, and while keeping with the tradition of classic art photography publishing, an authentic insider's look into the surfer's zeitgeist.
Patrick Cariou, born in Brittany, France, is a former profession al volleyball player and is currently a fashion photographer whose work appears regularly in leading fashion and general interest magazines, including Marie Claire, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler and Condé Nast Sports, Vogue Hommes International as weil as Australian Elle and French Elle. Cariou lives and works in New York City.
Daniel Duane is the author of Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast and Lighting Out: A Vision ofcCalifornia and the Mountains. He frequently writes for Surfer Magazine and The Surfer's Journal, and his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
Matt Warshaw is the former managing editor of Surfer Magazine and regularly contributes to The Surfer's Journal and Surfer Magazine. Warshaw has aise published articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Interview, Outside, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sam Shahid is the former Creative Director for Calvin Klein advertising and has designed photography books for Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Kelly Klein, Bert Stern, and Ellen von Unwerth, among others. Sam is currently the Creative Director and President of Shahid & Company, New York.
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