Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing

Article excerpt

Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing, by Scott Laderman. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2014. Series: Sport in World History, xii, 238 pp. $65.00 US (cloth), $26.95 US (paper).

While popular media and the multi-billion dollar surfing industry have rendered surfing a paradisiacal pastime leisurely pursued amid palm trees and friendly locals in idyllic locations, waveriding has always been a complex social practice transcendent of its ludic reputation. Adopting a forceful approach to the historiography of surfing, Scott Laderman's Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing asserts that surfing is--and has always been--inherently and unavoidably political. Drawing from a diverse textual, filmic, and visual archive, Laderman challenges "surfing's grand narrative" (p. 5) which often overlooks the political contexts under which surfing has developed and expanded over the centuries, contending that surfing has always been closely linked to the political universe regardless of the deceptively apolitical rhetoric predominant in the sport's public image.

Beginning in Hawai'i, the opening chapter explores how surfing was first consumed and nearly eradicated by nineteenth-century imperialism and then regurgitated as an American pastime during World War II. The chapter discusses how nineteenth-century Protestant missionaries' tenets of industriousness and modesty and haole-controlled commodity agriculture diminished surfing's popularity among native Hawaiians. The narrative then focuses on surfing's revival after Hawai'i's 1898 annexation, framing surfing's modern evolution within the racialist and colonialist policies of American imperialism to argue that "as Hawai'i became American, so too, did surfing" (p. 17). The chapter pays particular attention to notable surfing advocate Alexander Hume Ford, arguing that Hume's vision of "white global leadership" did not resurrect a dead pastime--Hawaiians continued to surf throughout colonization and annexation--but rather deployed surfing to profitably attract white settlers and tourists to the islands to consolidate Hawaiian acculturation under American statehood.

Chapter two focuses on the postwar rise of international surf tourism through the 1970s, reinserting surfing--"an unofficial form of cultural diplomacy" (p. 4)--within the global political sphere of the Cold War. Embedding surfing within the Cold War political landscape, Laderman forcefully challenges, even refutes, the dominant narrative of surfers as western cultural pioneers traversing global surfscapes populated by friendly locals unmolested by imperial happenings. Under the supposition that US foreign policy was unavoidable for traveling surfers, chapter three explores how the marquis surfing destination of Indonesia became a political and ideological ally of the United States under the Suharto regime while simultaneously embracing surfing's potential for economic growth. The chapter specifically questions the surfing world's representation of Indonesia as a spiritualized tropical surf paradise while ignoring decades of state repression and political violence, demonstrating how surfing's inherent appetite for travel to new, better, and less-crowded waves betrays unescapably political implications.

As surfing's feel-good narrative overlooks decades of Indonesian crimes against humanity in favour of azure reef passes, it likewise celebrates South Africa's fabled pointbreaks to such a degree that the realities of apartheid are veritably overlooked. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.