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.


pollycharlie said...

1. Early surfers in the 50's recognized that organized competition was essential for public acceptance to the sport. Today many surfers enter in competition for the commercial opportunities.

2. If by lifestyle you refer to the hedonistic style, then it's a double-edge sword. It can be viewed by the heterosexual female as a result of affluence, or it can be viewed as the cause of impoverishment.

3. Heterosexual men have compared the 1-minute wave-catching to intercourse orgasm. You tell me if it's worth all the non-sense to get it.

Aaron said...

Do surfers have a significantly better chance at pair bonding than non-surfers? And do better surfers do better than worse surfers at attracting female attention (assuming your ratios)? If so, surfing as signaling seems like a lock. The confound, to me, is the rash guard. Seems like that would work against showing oneself off for the ladies.

Michael Caton said...

Ms. Charlie:
1) I thought of the commercial aspect too but I don't think most surfers in competitions think they're actually going to win money or even endorsements. They're there to say the did it to show off.

2) There seem to be lots of men in SoCal who forego a chance at lucrative careers to surf. They likely get good "feedback" in the form of mate availability when they're young, but women figure out that they want more than surf boy and things dry up - too late for these guys to decide they want to get an MBA.

3) Orgasms are much better than riding waves.

Michael Caton said...

Aaron, needless to say I don't have numbers on those things. But the *perception* that they have better access is there, whether or not it's correct, and regardless how much they don't think (or pretend not to think) about it. I bet if you pressed serious surfers whether they would have better or worse access to mates if they stopped surfing or had never surfed they would say worse.