- Surfing Places, Surfboard Makers: Craft, Creativity, and Cultural Heritage in Hawai’i, California, and Australia by Andrew Warren and Chris Gibson
The recent number of articles and books about contemporary surfing culture and history reflects the growth in popularity of surfing and its relationship to issues such as national identity, gender, race, and sexuality. This research has largely focused on representations and experiences of surfing and surfers in shaping surfing as a sport and culture, yet, with the exception of Doug Booth, researchers have overlooked the role of technology in shaping the development of surfing culture. Andrew Warren and Chris Gibson’s engaging book, Surfing Places, Surfboard Makers, addresses this gap by exploring the cultural history of surfing in terms of the materiality and geography of surfboard manufacturing. Using archives, media analysis, interviews, and site visits, the book “examines surfboards as artifacts rich in history and cultural meaning” (1) to engage with issues of gender, economics, bodies, and creative industries. It draws on approaches including history, geography, sociology, and cultural studies, which allows the authors to zoom the analytical lens in and out on the historical development of surfboards and consider points of development, transmission, adoption, production, and redevelopment of board design and production at micro- and macrolevels; it accounts for individual moments of creativity and passion that were key to design innovations, while highlighting the context that surrounded their success.
The central theme of the book is the nature of the surfboard making as a craft and surfboards as items with cultural meaning and value. The book draws clear conclusions on the precarious future of hand-making surfboards. Responsibility for this is placed both with large companies who have computerized production and design but also with established surfboard shapers who have shown a lack of foresight in passing along knowledge to the current generation. However, they locate a recent shift in surfing culture that emphasizes links to the past, with hand-crafted surfboards gaining increased historical importance and status and often a continuing life. Even old boards that have been retired can, with the right skills, be revived and surfed, bringing past ideas into contemporary contexts. This way of thinking is reminiscent of musical instruments, which, although often very old, continue to sing for those who are willing and able to bring them to life.
In all of this, Warren and Gibson reveal the importance of local and Pacific geographies—physical and cultural—in the evolution of surfboard making from localized handcrafting to globalized mass production. Histories of surfboard development, production, and distribution are tied to cross-Pacific transmissions of ideas between Hawai’i, California, and east coast Australia—from local to Pacific to local again. The focus on surfing relationships across the Pacific ties past and present flows of knowledge, experience, technology, production, and identities together cleverly. It allows the authors to make consistent cultural claims and to follow the currents and changing tides to illustrate the role that geography—physical and cultural—has played and will continue to play in the lives of surfboard makers. [End Page 287]
Both Warren and Gibson have previously published work engaging with the male-dominated nature of surfing, and, in this book, issues of masculinity and male bodies in the production of surfboards take up a whole chapter. In this discussion, the marginalized contribution of women in this industry is highlighted, yet the absence of a stronger discussion of gender power relations seems glaring. For example, an interview quote explaining that women are better in the administration roles because they have better attention to detail sits awkwardly against an immediate discussion of the attention to detail-orientation required in surfboard making (147–52). Another silence is the place of ethnicity. The importance of Hawaiian culture and identity to the development of surfboards is highlighted, but the effects of ethnic diversity today are not expanded upon. This may reflect the way the book tends to focus on input from established...