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<nettime> Surf Culture exhibit
Steve Cisler on Sat, 30 Aug 2003 01:27:14 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Surf Culture exhibit


In 1995, the Internet Society was going to have a conference in Singapore,
but that government wanted to turn it into a trade show, so the society
quickly moved the annual meeting to Honolulu, directly on the beach at a
big hotel in Waikiki.  My strongest memory was of looking out from the
Internet room where there were more than 200 work stations, Ethernet
drops, all being used by conference attendees to check email and surf the
web*.  However, outside, not more than 50 meters from the room were the
real surfers, riding the waves that lapped at the hotel beach.  I thought,
"Who's doing this the right way?"

One of the nettime moderators was here in San Jose, and I invited him to
visit the new exhibit on surfing culture at the San Jose Museum of Art.
However, it was closed when we got there, so I returned a couple of days
later. Admission is free, and it runs until November 2003.

Now, I've never surfed though I've lived near the California coast for
decades. I did learn to skateboard in the late 50's from surfers who found
something to do in the winter when it was too cold to surf.  This exhibit
is focused on California and Hawaiian surfing culture and how spread
through magazines, music, and movies.

Naturally, there are surf boards.  The older ones from Hawaii were up to
70 Kg and much longer than current ones.  The earliest images of people
riding waves comes from the Chan Chan culture in Peru and date back to
3000 B.C.  However, surfing became popular outside of Hawaii partly
because of the efforts of Duke Kahanamoku in the first half of the 20th
century.  There is an altar to Duke near the entrance to the exhibit,
photos by Tom Blake who helped promote surfing through his association
with Duke in the 20's.

One of the strangest items is the first wetsuit made by O'Neill.  it has
the look of a vellum palimpest, a faded beige garment so different from
the black lycra wetsuits so common in our cold waters.

There has been a steady stream of surfing movies, and Bruce Brown's 1966
"Endless Summer" was perhaps the most influential of all. Young surfers
traveled around the world (Costa Rica, Ghana, Australia...) to find the
perfect wave.  Unfortunately the long boards would not fit in all the
airplane cargo holds. A three section board that fit together like a
puzzle was fashioned before the movie was shot to address this problem. A
short video of the middle-aged "real" Gidget (Kathy Kohner Zuckerman)
shows her as a young girl surfing in Malibu and interviews old actors from
the movie, including the short man who was Sandra Dee's surfing double
because "there's weren't any short women surfers, and I looked good in a
bikini." Gidget was named as one of the twenty-five most influential
surfers by Surfer magazine.

The most startling installation is Kevin Ancell's resin cast hula girls
carrying assault weapons, syringes...their motorized swaying hips.  
Bruises (domestic violence) and tatoos.  Another work is a Simon Leung's
stack of surfboards with a New York Times article about the surfing
contest held at China Beach during the Viet Nam war, and this was
popularized in Coppola's film Apocalypse Now.

Europeans will like Ancell's "Media Miracle" a tribute to the old masters
where surf legends look to the heavens as they are tempted by businessmen
urging them to endorse their surf culture products. Rick Griffin's cover
for the comic "Tales from the Tube" is just part of his work which was
featured in the influential "Surfer" magazine.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, a car designer and cartoonist, was influential in the
hot rod culture of Southern California.  One of his creations is the tiny
1964 Surfite that appeared briefly in "Beach Blanket Bingo"  It was
powered with a an Austin Mini Cooper engine and held a short surfboard on
the side.

In one corner of the museum was a reconstructing "shaping room" the place
where surfboards were made.  styrofoam, fiberglass, grinders, planers,
masks, resin, templates and art work pinned to a bulletin board.  
However, the most engaging place was "Paul's room" the bedroom of a 14
year old surfer who lives in Santa Cruz, California (about 45 minutes from
San Jose).  Paul's medals are on display above his south seas motif bed
and rug. There's a selection of CDs (The Specials, Nirvana), a lot of
books (1984, Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, Tolkien, Stupid White Men, Fast Food
Nation, Maori, Latin dictionary), some of his clothes are tossed on the
floor, a couple of skateboards in the corner, copies of Chris Hicks'
surfer crossing signs on the wall, and of course a surfboard.

Much of this exhibit is in the Laguna Art Museum catalog from Ginko Press.  
Below are a few URLs to explore the artists and surfing lore.

Web resources

*Note on web surfing.  http://www.netmom.com/about/origin.shtml

The San Jose Museum of Art site was not working when I wrote this, but  
try it anyway.

http://www.sjmusart.org/content/exhibitions/current/exhibition_info.phtml?itemID=124.

Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing.  
http://www.gingkopress.com/_cata/_grap/surfcul.htm

Gidget: http://www.californiaauthors.com/essay_stillman.shtml   This  
story of the famous girl surfer is  particularly interesting because it  
has links way back to Teplitz-Schorau, Czechoslovakia and Berlin,  
Germany!

Rick Griffin's "Tales from the Tube"  http://www.sfal.com/tales.htm and  
other surf art
http://www.myraltis.co.uk/rickgriffin/galleries14.htm
http://www.rickgriffinstudios.com/rgart1.htm

Kevin Ancell "Aloha Oe"   
http://www.lagunaartmuseum.org/exhib_details/surf_culture/ 
surf_culture_pages/surf_culture_10.html
http://www.adrenalin.com/features_kevin.html

Kevin Ancell  "Media Miracle"  image and story about the exhbit in  
Honolulu) http://starbulletin.com/2003/01/27/features/story1.html

Ed Big Daddy Roth's Surfite:  http://www.mrgasser.com/surfite.htm





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