Thursday, August 31, 2006

Who are these surfers?

I am writing a thesis exploring the idea that surf culture acts as a catalyst for inter-cultural connections. But who am I writing about? This needs more work, but here’s a little summary…

For many people, surfing is not just a lifestyle or a stereotype – it’s their identity and their culture. If we use a definition of culture as the process and framework by which we give meaning to our world, then we can see the significance this distinction has.

Stereotypes and imposed ideas have haunted surfing and surfers for a long time. In the 70s, competitions were started partly in order to validate surfing as a sport and as an activity. However now, there is a move away from the commercial, commodified side of surfing, and a growing interest in the history, people, styles and myths (within and beyond of competitive surfing) that have shaped and defined surfing until today. There is even a change in the way people are choosing their boards and developing their quiver, with an increasing focus on diversifying the kinds of boards used and with a resurgence in popularity of ‘retro’ boards – shapes, boards and designs from the 1970s and 1980s. This refocus on alternative boards and styles to those made popular by shortboarding, may also account for (or be accounted for by) the increasing number of women in the water, as well as the growing population of older surfers, who have maintained a commitment to the sport and the culture throughout out their lives. Competition forms an important part of this – a push for the hardware technology and performance board shapes to improve, an increased profile for the sport, an industry that (sometimes) supports the lifestyle, and a competitive edge that challenged styles, techniques and possibilities. The focus on competition and the lives of the ‘top 44’ has meant that the shortboard has dominated and that other types of surfing have lagged in popularity. Yet competition forms only part of the story and it is the other side of surfing that this project is examining; the culture and benefits of the everyday experience of surfing.

Surfing is an experience that people take part in every day, at many levels and in many different ways. There are longboarders, shortboarders, boogie-boarders, body surfers, surf-ski riders and the list goes on. For this thesis, which focuses on the surfing community of Byron Bay in particular, I will only be discussing those who ride longboards and shortboards. The styles of and motivations for surfing that go with each board-type can vary, but in the case of Byron Bay, I want to discuss the surfing community more broadly and I feel that to focus on one style over another would exclude large segments of this community unnecessarily. My focus is not on competitive shortboard riding, it is on the experience of fun and connection and I believe that can happen with whichever board a person chooses to ride

The act of riding a wave – whether it’s glide, power or pure fun – is a connection with the ocean and the world at a very simple level. This experience is best understood without explanation, but is instead something shared between those who have felt it and who love it. You can see it on the faces of those listening to the stories of catching a great ride, or of getting nailed – there is not just sympathy, there is empathy. This is where the community can be located; in the shared understanding of an experience.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where have all the people gone?

I am writing a thesis about surf culture and a large part of that is about the community of surfing – local, national and global (see last post). I’ve been focussing my thoughts quite heavily on the local community aspect of surfing and trying (with great difficulty) to locate it in some concrete sense. There is a community in the water, but it can be fleeting, and the community on land is often based around competition. I know the community I seek is there, but I am having trouble nailing it down.

Perusing the still photography of magazines, books and posters, I am struck by the absence of people in the pictures. It’s rare that surf photography includes the masses that group at a break, instead choosing to reflect on either the wave in isolation, or on one surfer on one wave. The photographs that include the groups of people waiting at the break are to make a point or to show a more realistic landscape, but they are few and far between, and certainly almost extinct from magazines (except for, on occasion, the competition photographs). The tradition of these photographs exemplifies the complete individual experience of surfing – there is no-one else that matters on any wave. There is only the surfer themselves and their own connection and interpretation of that moment. These are the angles and perspectives chosen and these are the pictures that are encouraged by and saleable to the magazines.

So how can you have a community without the people who make it up? Why don’t we want to imagine them in our surfing ideal? How do we connect when we want to be alone?

And then there is the possibility that I have got it wrong. Perhaps the surfing community is something slightly less tangible than the kind of day to day relationships and instant identification that we often recognise as community. There is most definitely a group of people in Byron Bay who surf and who are united by this (just watch them rally around such issues as paid parking, or the funeral of a friend), but I think that I have been trying to fit the way that these relationships are articulated into already established boxes. Maybe the community I seek in surfing is actually to be primarily found in the shared experience of surfing and connection in the water. Maybe this is enough to tie people in this surfing community.

There is of course also the issue that with Byron Bay, I am discussing a small town, where the residents are already connected in many ways and on many levels; schooling, family, history, other sports, employment, etc. These connections and relationships also add to the connections that are felt within the surfing community itself. However, having said this, there is a definite inclusiveness that is felt once you begin to join Byron Bay’s world of surfing. My own experience is a testament to this. I have lived my life in Byron Bay, growing up here, just as my father did. I know many people in this town both deeply and superficially. When I started surfing and being a regular presence in the water, many of those relationships deepened or changed in some to reflect the experience that I was beginning to share with these people and the new understandings and commonalities that this reflected. People that I’ve been acquainted for years began waving at me from across the street, where before they would walk past. The older mal crew that know me through my father, who before would regard me as a silly girl (and probably still do!) started hooting at me and giving me advice and talking to me in restaurants. There was something about me that changed for them. I had taken on a part of who they were and could share this experience in a way that didn’t need to be articulated. I began to understand my home town in a new way, in both a physical and community sense.

I’ve developed new relationships to the ocean and the beaches. I saw the town and the landlines themselves from a new perspective out in the water and I became someone new to many people, to whom I was developing a new understanding of these things, ideas, feelings and experiences.

And perhaps that is where the community lies – in the shared understanding of that individual experience. Not in obligation and similarity, but in the moments that define the ride – the connections, the creativity, the interpretation, the sense of fun, the sense of achievement. This would certainly work better in explaining how surfers connect internationally, but it may also work beautifully in explaining the surfing communities more locally as well. There is a beauty in the space that is maintained in these relationships – no imposition, but an understanding that others maybe closer to home cannot achieve.

It does, it must be noted, seem a very paternal kind of community – all silent understanding, little communication – but that has also been the scene. Women, unfortunately, remain newcomers to the community, and it remains to be seen what impact their methods of relating and communicating are having.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I've been doing a bit of revision of my (incomplete) notes from Vin D'Cruz and William Steele's book, 'Australia's Ambivalence Towards Asia' (2006, Monash Asia Institute).

Part of the book discusses the difference in cultures creating a continuum with abstract (individual) at one end and concrete (community) at the other. The idea is that cultures fit on various places on this continuum, with western cultures tending toward the abstract, while asian cultures are located closer to the concrete end. Neither is completely one or the other. Obviously, this is an arbitrary analysis.

I am discussing the ways that surf culture helps to create inter-cultural connections by providing a starting point of sameness from which to explore differences. As part of this, I want to be able to discuss surfing as a culture in its own right - as a culture that ( to some degree) crosses national cultural boundaries and to explore the possibilities that this provides. I am arguing that surfing takes place in an offshore location (the ocean) that allows the creation of new power relations and relationships that are based on norms that are different to those on land, where the prevailing culture reigns.

In regard to the concept of the abstract/concrete differential, surfing is a strange culture, because it is totally abstract and yet totally concrete.

Surfing is an individual performance that takes place in cooperation with nature. It is a personal connection with a wave and it is an individual interpretation of what that wave offers. You cannot guess ahead what the wave will do, so surfing is a completely individual experience in that a) every wave is different and new, b) surfing a wave is one person on one surfboard, with their own style and method of interpretation of that wave based on their own personal history, goals and experience with surfing, and c) the way the person chooses to ride and interpret that wave is dependent on their skill level, experience, their mood and their hopes for what they can achieve. The major limitation on surfing is the presence (or otherwise) of waves, which does control to a large degree, what can be done in the water - what board is most appropriate, how long the rides go for, and the types of interpretations that can be performed on the wave (barrels, airs, turns). Other people can interfere or input in small ways such as being in the way, dropping in, hollering support etc, but these impacts are small in relation to the effect that the individual has on their own performance and experience. In the words of D'Cruz and Steele, it is complete individual freedom to "celebrate forms of independence and autonomy" (p180) - it is abstract.

On the other hand, every performance requires an audience. As surfing's popularity grows and more people are in the water, it is rare for a surfer to find themselves on their own at any break. It is a wonderful feeling to have the choice of waves to yourself, but a lot of surfing literature (and my own conversations with friends) reveal how much more common it is for people to go surfing with friends or in groups. These groups may be small, but the feeling of having your performance on a wave appreciated and recognised by your peers is, of course, enjoyable. Surfing is a culture, with its own history, language, understandings and etiquettes. In part, these are practical, ensuring conformity to rules of behaviour in the water for safety. Alternatively, they are ways of creating new power relations in the cultural location of the water. There also exists a saturated market of magazines, clothing, films, art, surf hardware and a highly competitive international competition, which involves vast amounts of money and prestige both within the surfing community and beyond. Surfing is haunted by stereotypes which help create a unity between people who both surf and reject the stoner/hippie/dropout image. People who surf regularly at the same places begin to recognise each other and respect is formed on the basis of a commitment to the activity, often regardless of skill level. A recognition is created of who is a regular - who belongs - at certain breaks as opposed to who is a newcomer or a tourist. It is a community of place that exists only in the water where the relationships formed do not necessarily cross over onto land.

So yes, surfing is both abstract and concrete; one not being able to exist without the other.

Further to this, there is the actual engagement with the ocean itself. As mentioned, surfing relies on the prevailing conditions to determine what is possible, which can be a source of frustration and anger for many surfers if they have been unable to get a wave very easily. Abstract cultures, such as general western culture, tends to focus on individual control over life, so perhaps there is some struggle to accept the realities that are experienced through the changing daily conditions. Often, surfers feel an entitlement to a wave - if they have been waiting for a long time in the line-up or if they have been surfing a particular break regularly for a long time ('That wave is mine'). Outside influences such as other people and the environmental conditions themselves then become antagonistic elements in the water. Perhaps more concrete cultures, who may more easily acknowledge that many elements of life are out of their control, are more accepting of nature's realities and provisions (waves, or not, both generally and personally).

Perhaps, with such a strong presence of both abstract AND concrete elements of life in surf culture, it is easier to achieve intercultural communication by understanding the abstract/concrete parts of themselves and their national identities.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Location, location

Looking over the first chapters of the work of Nick Ford and David Brown in ‘Surfing and Social Theory: Experience, embodiment and narrative of the dream glide’...

An important part of exploring cultures includes examining the locations in which cultural relations take place. It could be a town, a café, a school, a village, a hut, a park. The location may set the context in which the rules, norms and relationships are understood and the ways in which they are conducted.

When we consider surfing as a culture, we must consider the ocean as a cultural location, which shapes and defines the ways that surfers relate to one another. However, the ocean itself is not necessarily ‘cultured’.

The beach has previously been discussed as a cultural location. It has mainly been framed as a place where nature meets culture; as a liminal space that is neither merely nature nor culture but somewhere in between. Liminal spaces have their own rules that do not belong to the world we exist in usually, but neither do they break down all barriers and allow us to move into a new cultural reality. The beach is urbanised nature, where we are able to engage with nature, without having to leave the comforts of the urban world. When we go to the beach we bring along towels, chairs, games, food, drinks and friends. We manipulate nature to be something more like the cultural world we already feel comfortable with.

For surfers, one of their cultural locations is the ocean, which is further distanced from culture than the beach is. Surfers go beyond the breaking waves and cannot bring urban comforts with them to their active space. They cannot impose limitless uses upon the ocean because the ocean is not passive and defines its own use by its natural realities; swell size, weather, currents, animals and more. The ocean dictates the way it can be used. Surfers have had to create parts of their culture to fit in with the moods and rhythms of the waves and currents. At a most practical level, cultural norms surrounding etiquette and knowledge are in place to make this location as safe as possible for all participants.

Surf culture in the ocean has different rules than the local culture experienced on the shore. The ocean is a new location for relating and communicating. It is the location for a culture that is alternate to the one that is the norm on the land. There are different ways, different rules, different realities that are applicable that are necessarily altered from those only metres away.

In this way, the ocean is interesting to examine as a location for cultural relations. If the rules and norms are dictated by the place itself, then participants begin all relations from a common starting point. The barriers and borders that existed on land have shifted and the relationships begin in a space that has been chosen as one of relevance and interest in the lives of participants. The borderwork that takes place in this location is carried out on new borders that may be varied from any normal definitions of identity (national, religious, etc). Moving the space in which cultural relations take place removes inherent power relations. Certainly, new ones will be established in the new location, the ocean, but they are more recognisable to all in this shared culture and its shared location.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


'Borderwork in Multicultural Australia' by Bob Hodge and John O’Carroll (2006), explores the ‘borders’ that exist between cultures. These borders act as markers for territory, identity and values that are to be defined and maintained. Borders also allow us to decide who is included and excluded from being identified with what has been marked out by these constructed boundaries. Borderwork then, is a description of the ways that we maintain and overcome these cultural borders;

Borderwork is what we will call the many processes by which humans construct, maintain, police and negotiate a variety of relationships, whether based on similarities or difference, love or fear. Borders are often seen as the enemy of multiculturalism, as though multiculturalism is really only about harmony and ease of relationships. But multiculturalism is about managing differences and similarities alike, in ways that may be positive or negative in different circumstances, according to different perspectives. (p2)

Essentially, borderwork is the way we create and negotiate the cultural relationships that we encounter both as individuals and as nations. It is a process of “meaning-making” which allows the management of both connection and division. (p218) It is, in relation to the work I am doing, another way of framing intercultural connections and communication.

It is refreshing to note the inclusion of the idea of difficulty in negotiating relationships. This difficulty is seen as an inevitable part of the relationships between cultures, and is not overly problematised. Hodge and O’Carroll argue that we can have success with failure, or multiculture with racism, and that the existence of one should not mean a focus on the other. In fact, it is argued that focussing on one or the other creates binaries of understanding, which overly simplifies the issues. One tool suggested to overcome such oversimplification is three-body analysis, which encourages the exploration of other factors involved and moves from binary analysis to a study of the “dynamic multiplicity inherent in the situation.” (p220)

In the context of my thesis, this three-body analysis may be applied to the triangle of Balinese culture, Australian/Byron Bay culture and personal identity. Using these concepts, I am placing personal identification with surfing culture as an intersecting point between national cultures. This intersection allows a recognition of what is shared (identity), enabling an exploration of what is different (cultures). Without the third element, there is no point of similarity from which to begin. Interactions can occur in a new location (the surf), that is defined by the identity (surfing). This allows participants to perform their borderwork outside of a constructed cultural location and instead to relocate to a site that reflects the personally chosen identity.

Such interactions, based as they are on personal identity, contribute greatly to the development of greater cultural understanding between nations. We could go on to discuss economic benefits of such relations, but I would prefer to focus on the mutual benefits we gain as cultures from increasing our knowledge of the other, and consequently, of ourselves. Such ‘low-level’ and personal contributions to international relations may contribute more to regional understanding and tolerance in the long term than a school lesson, or a newspaper article.

Hodge and O’Carroll’s ‘borderwork’ concept fits beautifully with the way I am exploring cultural relations with this thesis. It is an inclusive concept that also allows the existence of difficulties and problems, without requiring their ultimate resolution. It allows the positives to survive and flourish despite the negatives. Borderwork is an ongoing process, for which there is no end game, merely a continuing engagement and development of relationships and ways of engaging on many levels.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Muggleton, D.

Sitting in bed after a wonderful weekend at 'Splendor in the Grass'. Karen O for PM...

I recently spent a (happy) week in Sydney, taking adavntage of the State and Mitchell libraries. It was a wonderful change of scene. And I got to to gulp down a few Max Brennar hot chocolates!

Lately, I've become a little obsessed with the whole concept of 'subculture', so at Baden's encouragement, I've been doing a bit of exploration about the way the term is defined in broader academic literature.

My problem with the use of 'subculture', is that I've seen it as a way to put down cultures that aren't conservative or constructive in any traditional way (I know, I know... define traditional). By denoting something as sub, I felt that it was a way of dimishing the meaning of the culture and the identity in a broader social context. How are 'subcultures' secondary to another culture, and which culture are we talking about? A national identity? If it's a national identity, then I can cope. In this context every culture becomes a subculture and thus it's less problematic and exclusionary. But I also think this is a perfunctory way of defining what consititutes a major personal identity and my issue with the word continues...

As I trawled through the (slightly useless) State Library catalogue, I came across a book called Inside Subcultures: The Postmodern Meaning of Style by David Muggleton (2000). This book has been wonderful for me and I'm excited to hunt it down again and go through it a bit more thoroughly.

Muggleton's study into subcultural identites is inspired by his frustration with a particular scholarly representation of his own historical experience with representations of punk. His work emphasises that subcultures cannot be examined as a whole. All cultures (sub or otherwise) are composed of individuals who each have their own specific motivations and identites within the group, and who each contribute to the development, support, continuation and change of that culture. Individuals embody their culture and these identies can be conflicting - between the need to belong, and the need to assert their own individuality. He proposes that the kind of ethnographic research being undertaken has been inadequate to recongnise and explore these individual identities and what this implies for subcultural identities more broadly.

I found this book and its propositions interesting as Muggleton attempts to escape the shackles of generalisation and to find a more inclusive way of discussing subcultural membership and meaning. Surfing is one of those 'subcultures' that is broad and non-specific in its membership, so hopefully Muggleton's work will be able to help me clear up some of these issues.

Now where are those notes...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Language Barriers

Saturday night in; a bath, paint my toes and read a little. Quite nice really...

I have been battling with this whole thing a bit lately. I've been finding it hard to read and to think and to proceed in any kind of meaningful way with this thesis. But I may have finally figured out why. And it's a little pathetic.

I am living and studying between two worlds, and it's not something I had considered before. I hadn't realised what a barrier my university connections would prove in trying to talk to friends and family about this surfing culture thesis. I don't force discussions of this project on anyone (I understand that my interests aren't everyone else's), but on the occasions I've tried to speak about it with friends, who I believed would be able to give me some kind of feedback or opinion, I've drawn a blank. The general responses have been "that's great, but it's over my head" or "it's beyond me" or even nothing but a blank look. It's disheartening because I've been assuming that I must be doing something wrong, or that I'm not communicating very well. It's all my fault!! One suggestion has been that I try and 'dumb it down' for discussion with friends, which I think is grossly underestimating the intelligence of the people I know and in some ways displays the lack of suport I'm talking about. I am good at simplifying concepts, and making my work accessible to non-academics has been an issue for me even during my undergrad work. I suppose that translating concepts and ideas between two worlds was not a task I envisaged for myself during this year.

But I don't think that is the only problem I'm facing. Perhaps the challenge of thinking about surfing in this way is a bit much for some; maybe they don't want to know about surfing in any context other than actually participating. Of course, that's fine and understandable and I am happy to leave those people alone to their worlds and not to disturb them any further, but I'm saddened by the realisation that the work I am doing is not valid in some eyes simply based on the format I choose to express it. I have friends who attempt to explore surfing - both in the physical and cultural contexts - via film and photography, and these forms of communication are readily accepted and admired, even if the artist's orginal point and aim is overlooked. There can be multiple and immediate interpretations of the aesthetics, the story, the locations, the motivations and the results. Nonetheless, the language of vision and art is percieved as a common one and therefore can be understood. Unfortunately, the format of cultural exploration I have chosen is not seen to be so readily accessible (or beautiful) and therefore is not be understood.

This is making me sad.

I began this project to show the unexpected benefits that I see arising from surfing culture and to show surfers the ways in which their culture positively impacts on not only their personal lives and their local community, but also the world in a broader sense. I wanted to show that the ideas, rules and norms surrounding surfing can help to break down national barriers by crossing cultural boundaries and creating starting points for inter-cultural connections. I wanted to show that surfing is more than a lifestyle, that it has substance, which is more significant than the stereotypes developed and perpetuated by the media (films, books, newspapers...) and more than the cliches built by surfing's old guard.

I suppose the solution is to not try and make it suit everyone. The solution is to write an Honours thesis and then, perhaps, to remould it for broader and more accessible publication in the future.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Surf Rage? You bet!

Today, I've been reading Surf Rage: A surfer's guide to turning negatives into positives edited by Nat Young (and Derek Reilly).

It is certianly an interesting comment on the issue of violence in the surf and why it occurs. It also contains several examples of blaring hypocisy and finger pointing! No-one wants to take the blame, no-one seems to want to be guilty. It seems that many of the contributors want to remain as alpha-male surfers, but to also stake their association with the historical development of the 'surfer's code'. There is a ridiculous amount of 'back in the day' postulation about their own experiences, with an emphasis on the 'authentic' experiences of earlier surfers and how they compare to the somehow less pure experiences that people have today. The way these men write, it's as if you weren't around in the scene in the 60s and 70s, the you don't know what it's all about. Is it merely a case of grumpy old men, lost in their heyday of beautiful youth and physical perfection?

I need to go back over some of it, and a lot of it is quite interesting and great, but a fair amount of it has made me seethe. Anyway, more on this another time. It's late, I'm tired, but I needed to vent...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Sitting at home in the lounge room, watching Young Guns and As Is, drinking tea and hanging with Nicky while Elaine cooks him a b'day cake...

Oh! And I'm looking through "'Getting There': travel, time and narrative" by Barry Curtis and Claire Pajaczkowska (1994), in Travellers' Tales: Narratives of home and displacement, edited by George Robertson, Melinda Mash, Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird, Barry Curtis and Tim Putnam (WHEW!). It got me thinking...

When we travel, we are inhabiting new physical, cultural and psychological times, spaces and locations than the ones we are accustomed to. We inhabit these new realities and try to understand them, but there is always a struggle to leave behind our cultural assumptions and to embrace the new.


Let's consider surfing as a cultural location. From this position, is it possible that when surfers travel for specific surfing holidays, they are, in part, inahbiting the same cultural location as they do in their 'normal' life? Perhaps it is the consistency of this familiar cultural location, which remains even when travelling in new places, times, spaces and cultures, that allows the kind of inter-cultural connection, communication and understanding that is the basis of this thesis.

This would imply that surfing is one of the most important locations that surfers (both Australian and Other cultures) identify with and as.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Geertz baby!

I'm sitting at home on my bed, listening to the (pouring) rain outside and going through some old undergrad essays from Anthropology.

I'm reminding myself what it is about cultrual studies that is so useful.

And I just remembered how much I love Clifford Geertz!

Oh! Darling Geertz. What a man...

From a D. Austin-Broos essay;

The anthropology of Clifford Geertz underwent a transformation through his experiences of studying Balinese life. In his essay, Religion As A Cultural System, Geertz defines culture as “historically transmitted patterns of meaning embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life” (Geertz, 1973; 89). This definition belies Geertz’s optimism regarding the capacity of people to negotiate change within their own means and with their own agency. Symbols in such a definition are tools to be utilised by the individuals of the culture to “communicate, perpetuate and develop” them selves and their identity in a changing world. These negotiations of personhood and expression were not open, conscious ideas that could be explained by someone, but instead were subtle, unconscious patterns of culture, which could be read, like a text, in the relations among people (Geertz, 1973). Anthropologists need to ‘read’ not only what was written, but also what is written between the lines by tradition and history.

The culture of people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong (Geertz, 1973; 452).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Starting over...

This blog is starting over again, so here is everything so far including an entry for today...

Sitting on the floor in my ( very clean) lounge-room madly trying to finish this cursed ethics application so I can interview some folk (the mad tidying, re-organising, scrubbing and bleaching of the house has finally finished - since there is no surface left to clean. And considering there's no-one on MSN, procrastination has given way to actual work. Sigh.)...

It has however, helped a LOT by making me think about the implications of this project and the reasoning behind it - validation, I think it's commonly called.

Anyhoo, an extract...

The proposed research project explores the ways that surfing culture builds a bridge between international communities. It explores the way that participation and inclusion in surfing culture develops a greater sensitivity to the surrounding world, both natural and human. With this in mind, there are several benefits to be identified. The first is to the surfing community itself. There are many stereotypes being perpetuated in media discourse about the kind of people that participate in this activity. This project may be able to expose another aspect of surfing that helps understanding of the personal and community benefits that can arise from participation. This kind of cultural discussion may also help surfers to understand their own community and the contributions it is able to make in the world more distinctly and to give these contributions validity. Benefits also may be found in the way we participate in inter-cultural communication and connection with Australia’s (arguably) most significant neighbour. There are natural points of connection between these two national cultures. Perhaps howver they are not included in discussions of cultural relations because they do not fit in established notions of the ways in which such connections are framed.

23rd May 2005

Sitting at The Balcony (AGAIN! well they have wireless and a MASSIVE table that I am able to requisition for myself!!) and working on an ethics application. Sigh. BUT I think I may almost be getting somewhere with articulating this idea...

My thesis project aims to explore the ways that surfing as a cultural practice has helped develop an organic inter-cultural connection between Byron Bay and Bali.

The broader Australian relationship with Indonesia is largely negotiated through the media in the context of politics and economics, which are both forced, diplomatic ways of relating. The Australian relationship to Bali is framed economically as a tourist destination and is necessarily political due to the tyranny of geography. Such a framework creates a discourse of us and them, with little discussion of the relationship without ulterior motives. What this project hopes to show is a particular example of an established starting point from which the surfing community in Byron Bay has been able to build a more organic cultural relationship. This relationship may not ultimately resemble a friendship, but is perhaps more reminiscent of that of sympathetic and tolerant neighbours.

This thesis proposes that by partaking in surfing as a practice, participants expand not only their view of the world (through experiences and knowledge gained from travel and communication methods), but also a greater interest and personal stake in the international environments and communities which make up surfing destinations. There is a further implication that surfing, as an activity, encourages greater interaction with the surrounding world, both local and beyond, and that surfing itself has developed a sense of community and identity which resides outside of the traditional realms of nation and citizenship. It is proposed that surfing creates a community of participation, tolerance, respect for others and respect for the environment, which allows the development of inter-cultural connections.

12th May 2006
Sitting on my bed, 2nd night in my NEW household...

Met with Baden yesterday. He made me realise that I have to stop over-thinking things and to keep my focus within the parameters of my project; I cannot keep expanding the boundaries of what is possible within the next months.

Some key terms and ideas that came out of this chat;

  • Inter-cultural connection
  • Inter-cultural communication
  • The notion that the practice of surfing actualises some kind of expansion of the mind and the awareness that surfing participants have of the natural and cultural world around them.

Key ideas for the thesis then?

  • Inter-cultural connection
  • Cultural practice
  • Community/individuality
  • Identity
  • Locality
  • Place

The structure of the thesis is another problem altogether. It seems that it will be structured around places and identities. For example, the chapter areas could cover;

  • Surfing – as an activity, an identity, a place, a community, a location
  • Byron Bay – as a place, locality, community
  • Bali – as a place, locality, community
  • The ways that surfing links these separate places and communities
  • Implications

11th May 2006
At Utopia Café in Bangalow with Emma, sitting about, drinking coffee and reading ‘The Anthropology of Globalization’…

Do Australians claim some kind of ownership over Bali as a place? Do Australians feel that their connection to Bali (as a place) exists in more significant ways than it appears to the Balinese. Are we merely ‘migrants’ in the way that other Indonesians are – controlling the ways and means by which the Balinese perceive what is important in their culture and what has value – cultural, commercial or otherwise. Why has Bali become Australia’s ‘backyard’ or is this even the case? Have the bombings and the highly publicised drug cases made Australians feel betrayed by Bali? Have Australians felt they held a special place in the power structure of Bali due to the dollars they bring in? Do they feel that the tourist dollar also buys them some kind of right to behave in Australian ways, and with Australian values, with impunity.

Monday, May 08, 2006

4th May 2006

Sitting at The Balcony going over Martin Fluker’s paper Riding The Wave: Defining Surf Tourism (2003)...

Would it be worth doing an anonymous survey in Byron of surf participation OR surveying Boardriders/Mal Club etc to find out numbers of people going to Bali?

8th April 2006, 10.52pm
Late at night. Have avoided the temptation of the Pirate party around the corner. Met with Baden yesterday at Bayleaf, so there’s been LOTS to think about...


Established main goals before the end of semester are:

Finalise my question
Begin and make headway with my lit review.
Organise interviews – get ethics clearance asap.

It’s good to have goals!!

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about identity. People identify with the world at different levels, and as such, must place different levels of importance/significance on each level. There are identities that we are compulsorily placed into and then there are those that we choose.


Location (fits in both as we can choose where we live to some extent...)

In the context of my project, I am wondering which identity surfers relate to more; surfing or nationality?

There is a lot more to cover here!

Also, Baden raised the issue of the exclusivity of surfing and its culture. There is an insularity to the surf community and membership is solely achieved through active participation. However, the culture of surfing is also a commodified thing – “Only a surfer knows the feeling”.

In this way, there are two aspects to surfing; aggressive, competitive surfing and ‘soul surfing’. Each is a very different activity and each is motivated by entirely different outcomes.

Does the experience of surfing open participants up to a more sympathetic and personal view of the world and their place in it? Does it change the way they view their environment and the cultures of the places that they surf? Does it increase their feeling of being a ‘stakeholder’ in the world?

2nd April 2006, 7.13pm
Beginning the Week 7 readings for MH.

L. Tuhiwai Smith, 1999, (Chapter Four: ‘Research and Adventures on Indigenous Land, pp78-94) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People, London: Zed Books

“There has been recent theorising of the significance of travel, and of location, on shaping Western understandings of the Other and producing more critical understandings of the nature of theory.” (p78) Cites J. Clifford & D. Gregory, 1994 “Geographical Imaginations”

“While travelling theory may focus on the location of those who travel, the attention here is on the people whose bodies, territories, beliefs and values have been travelled through.” (p78)

2nd April 2006, 11.32am
Finished RC’s readings on producing a thesis...

Questions I need/want to answer in my thesis;

1. Can we talk about a cultural relationship between Indonesia and Australia?
2. Are there areas where we can find a natural cultural ‘fit’?
3. Can we talk about a cultural relationship between the surfing community (and beyond) in Byron Bay and the people of Bali more broadly?
4. Has surfing provided a part of this link? OR Does surfing enhance this link?
5. Does surfing provide a distinct kind of access (more authentic) into contemporary Balinese life – one that a different kind of tourist may not receive? HOW does surfing provide this?
6. How do surfers receive and pass on information about their experiences in Bali? Is this kind of communication a ‘tradition’?
7. Is spending time in Bali (and enjoying it!) an important part of being in the surfing community in Byron Bay?
8. How does this information impact more broadly on the cultural relationship between Indo and Aust? DOES it impact more broadly?

1ST April 2006, 4.51pm
At the Balcony, trying to work on the MH essay and stumbled (!!) upon some notes I made a few weeks ago. They are as follows...

Surf tourism driving cultural contact with Indo (Bali)
Bali as the middle ground between Australia and Indo more broadly
Multicultural activity
Cultural flexibility – who adapts to who?
‘Mind-sets’ being changed by contact

So, these notes seem pretty self explanatory and were obviously very much made on the way to where I am right now in regards to my work BUT, what the hell did I mean by ‘multicultural activity’? Gracious me, ME!

Perhaps what I meant is that surfing itself acts as a multicultural activity and isn’t bounded by notions of religion, culture, East or West. OK, so obviously we have the issue of the Balinese interpretation of the ocean in their spectrum of the world, but does that belief system still hold true, or have the Balinese changed the way they feel about the ocean? How do they view the activity that takes place in the ocean NOW? Has that belief changed more broadly (been rearticulated)? Has it only changed amongst young people/surfers? Or is it more problematic than that? Is it a compromise that typifies the kind of commodification of their own culture? Is it something that the Balinese lost in their pursuit of the tourist economy, OR is it something that has changed as a part of the dynamism of cultural identity? Is it the kind of contemporary activity that creates a meeting place for cultures?

And this is why a journal is more useful than notes scribbled on scraps of paper!

30th March 2006, 3.30pm

Today (at work) I met a man who is moving to the Mentawis to help run a resort and to organise boat trips in the islands. I spoke to him about my thesis idea (as it remains merely that!) and he was into it! He seemed to have similar thoughts to me on the topic, which was interesting. I also saw Shane Lawson today and I think he could be an excellent person to talk to in relation to the whole topic.

The idea of interviews has led me to think about the appropriateness of my interview subjects. Will it make a difference if they are people that I already have a relationship with – a friend or an acquaintance? Will it be something that I’ll have to dance around a bit, or will it affect the way that I am able to talk to them (or they’re able to talk to me!), and will that then have implications to the way that I must structure my questions?

I would like to assume that there shouldn’t be too many issues about this...

In thinking about interview subjects, I’ve come up with several areas that could be covered;

-‘Old’ locals who travelled to Bali in the 70s eg Rusty Miller, Jim Banks (but must look into him a bit more), Dick Pezet (?), Geoff McCoy.
-Locals in their 30s and 40s who were the next crew to go. Eg Shane Lawson, Sean Cochran (?), recommendations from older crew...
-Youngsters! The latest crew to travel to Indo for waves and...? Also, is this the first crew that had a strong female presence? Why are these kids going? Is it merely to surf in a beautiful place or is there more? Is it becoming a rite of passage? How do they come by Indo as a destination? Do they travel alone? Is there an oral/written tradition developing? How do they feel about/connect to the place? Johnny Abegg, Crystal Carney, Kent Wright
-Magazines. Waves, Surfing Life, Stab, Tracks. Providers of information for the surfing masses. Who do they get their info off? How do they decide what is important? How does culture rate in their discussions? Do THEY provide preconceived ideas of what will be experienced before folk even depart? What do and don’t they tell?
-Australians running surf related businesses eg resorts, boats, camps etc. What do they expect their clients to get out of their trip? What do their clients seem to want to get out of their trip?
Indonesians living in Byron Bay. There is a significant Balinese (?) community living in this area; how did this happen? Why Byron Bay?

I need to think about whether or not ALL these options are relevant to the topic? AND where are they relevant? In setting a context? In providing data? How many people do I need to talk to in each area?

MUST begin to develop a question and a PLAN!!


Why does the surfing community in Byron Bay share such a (seemingly) natural relationship with Indonesia? Especially Bali? What implications does this have? Why do Byron Bay locals find it so easy to create a relationship with Indonesia and its people? Has surfing provided a part of this relationship? Is it related to the kind of people who originally travelled to that area and their reasons for going? Does the surfing community have its own set of specific oral (friends) and written (magazines) set of traditions - myths and understandings – that relate to shared set of experiences? Do these experiences and expectations get handed down through the community generations? Is travelling to Bali (Indo) a ‘tradition’ for Byron Bay’s surfing community?


How does surfing help create the points of commonality that establish cultural sympathy/empathy and understanding? How does it develop into community relationships that are bigger than individual relationships (gestalt?)?

29th March 2006, 10.30pm
Nothing in particular, but inspired by introduction to The Changing World of Bali by Leo Howe…

One of the questions I have regarding ‘experiences’ of Australians travelling to Indonesia (Bali?), is how genuine their experience of the Balinese culture is? Howe discusses the perpetuation of ‘tradition’ by Balinese people, who effectively trade upon their culture as a commodity. The question can then be asked, who is this culture existing for? A tourist who travels to Bali to see, feel and experience Balinese culture as part of their trip, is seeing a certain type of Balinese culture, which is, potentially, the part that the Balinese value and display above other parts due to the fact that they can make money off it!

So, is a tourist, who is drawn to Indo (Bali) by the waves they can catch getting a more genuine experience of the Balinese life than a holidaying tourist? Do they, through the shared experience of their pursuit of waves, manage to avoid cultural constructions, to a degree, and therefore see more of what Bali, as an idea/culture/way of life is about?
Culture is something more than ‘frozen’ traditions that the first Westerners who chanced upon Balinese culture saw. Culture is a dynamic, perpetual development, which exists, not only to provide a way of acting upon the world (ritual, tradition, ceremony, beliefs, language), but is also a way of acting with the world and a way to create a system of understanding to find where we belong within it.

The Balinese must constantly try and understand and reconceptualise themselves in relation to the others that they find on their island. This does not mean only the tourists that fill their lives (and pockets), but also the migrant Indonesians from other islands who are trading on the Balinese traditions and way of life in order to run businesses and make money. Can a dance performance or an orchestral performance provide such an understanding? The Balinese, like the rest of the global population, live in a contemporary world, facing contemporary issues. The traditions and ceremonies that worked for them 100 years ago, may not translate perfectly into today’s climate – there may be changes, but these changes also DO NOT change the authenticity of their existence. It may, however, change the reason that tradition has remained, while other, less spectacular traditions, have disappeared.

24th March 2006, 12.22pm
After reading Chapter One of ‘Australia’s Ambivalence Towards Asia’...

  • Who is for community (concrete)? Who is for the individual (abstract)? Is it differentiated by class/education?
  • Who has values that bring them to engage with ‘Asia’ in a cultural frame? What kind of values are they? Where do they come from?
  • How do these values inform their cultural engagement with Asia?
    Ø ‘EDUCATED’ – Theorising? Politicising? Disillusioned? Superiority?
    Ø ‘LOWER CLASSES’ – Engagement? Holidaying? Migrants? Verbalising fears (lack of hesitation to discuss their fears of the ‘other’ and to change their opinions based on experience)?
  • Does surfing provide a practical/low level type of engagement OUTSIDE of resorts and TYPICAL holidays?
  • Does this kind of experience move people into closer, less forced, contact with people – the local and the genuine?
  • What are the expectations/preconceptions that surfers take in relation to the way they will be engaging with the ‘locals’?
  • Oral traditions of communicating experience through the surfing community (friends, acquaintances, hearsay, clubs, media) of what it’s like to travel there – what to expect, what are the people like, what is the place like?

So, are the understanding and interpretation of the people and place encountered built on a genuine personal experience OR are they handed down, reinterpreted and perpetuated by the community from which they were accessed? Tradition of experience and understanding?