Sunday, November 13, 2011
Surfing as Signalling
Recently I learned to surf. And I'll tell you what, I was pretty pissed at how many kooks there were at my break yesterday. (Just kidding.) But seriously, it was pretty flat, which left me with plenty of time to wonder why people surf. I haven't seen a rigorous quantitative survey, but from my own discussions, it seems to be some combination of it's fun, and the "lifestyle". This raises questions, most of which have obvious answers, but which people in the surf community nonetheless don't usually seem to address directly:
1) If it's really just for fun and lifestyle, then why do such things as surf competitions exist? Why would anyone care to enter them, unless status was involved? (An unrefined reader might also be tempted to ask why someone would blog about the experience. But you're not such a philistine as to ask such an uninteresting question.)
2) Heterosexual women seem often to be attracted to heterosexual males who surf. This would seem to be a benefit of the lifestyle. So why are males who surf so coy about explicitly citing this reason? (Yes, there are female surfers but they're in the minority, although that I'm aware of there's no taboo or pressure against women who would otherwise be interested in surfing. In the lineup I would estimate it was less than 10% and this seems ballpark for what I've noticed before. If males are using surfing to signal fitness to females, then the gender disparity makes more sense.)
3) It seems strange that, for the combined total of less than 1 minute per hour you're likely to be standing on their board, people are willing to take hours out of their day, secure the equipment to the car before and after, clean off the wetsuit, etc. There are other forms of recreation where the activity itself is less than half the time doing it, but even (for example) the most crowded East Coast ski resort features a better activity-to-prep time ratio. It could be that just relaxing on the board in the water is part of the reward, or (referring to #2) being seen going back and forth with the equipment, to signal you surf.
There is certainly an opportunity to do some North San Diego County cultural anthropology here. Every time I'm in Encinitas I can't help but think there must be a PhD thesis waiting.