- Sun, Surf, and Toned Bodies: California’s Impact on the History of Sport and Leisure: Introduction
At the time of writing, Californian legislators were deliberating over a proposal to make surfing the official sport of the Golden State. “Nothing represents the California Dream better than surfing,” proclaimed Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), the author of the bill and “proud member of the assembly surf caucus.”1 Admitting that he was “stoked” to lead the charge for the legislation, Muratsuchi explained his passion for “riding the waves” and how the sport helped its participants live in “harmony with the beautiful beaches” of the California shoreline. “The surfing lifestyle attracts people from all around the world and generates over $6 billion in annual retail sales,” the official also boasted, this time with a more practical rationale. “Surfing is an iconic California sport and an important part of the multibillion dollar California coastal economy, particularly in the tourism and recreation industries.”2 [End Page 1]
Muratsuchi’s idea, though, has been greeted with a chorus of disapproval. Many Californians, eager to join the discussion over the “sporting soul of the Golden State,” are arguing that skateboarding, the land-bound alternative to surfing, would be a far more deserving recipient of the moniker “official state sport.”3 Writing in the Los Angeles Times, journalist Dennis Romero noted that, statistically speaking, more people skateboard than surf, skateboarding is cheaper and more “geographically accessible” to the masses, and its participants are more representative of the state’s diverse population. If nothing else, Romero points out, while the historical origins of surfing can be traced back to Hawaii, skateboarding could rightfully claim to be a genuine Californian creation.4 Some state officials clearly agree. “The true heritage of our state is skateboarding,” said Devon Mathis, a Republican from Visalia.5
Although hardly a pressing matter—how many of us know or care, for instance, that jousting is the state sport of Maryland?—the debate does reveal a great deal about the forces that have shaped and defined California’s sporting past. The history of both surfing and skateboarding exemplify how the state has produced a sporting culture rich with invention, innovation, consumerism, and a very particular style that draws upon mythical interpretations of the “California dream.” This culture, which has been packaged and sold to people around the globe, has been deeply influenced by California’s landscape and climate, its history of immigration and growth, and its ties to Hollywood glitz and glamour. While California sport is characterized by both mainstream (Western) and alternative (lifestyle) strands of physical culture, all exhibit a particular brand of California “cool,” aesthetic, and attitude. Through sport, California has for over a century defined itself by promoting and branding a distinct way of life.6 The roots and processes of this historical development are the subject of this special issue.
Although most people living in California, and those looking from the outside in, associate lifestyle sports such as surfing and skateboarding with the state, this was, of course, not always the case. Nor was California always at the forefront of new global trends and ways of playing. In fact, Macintosh Ross, Thomas Fabian, and Courtney van Waas argue that, in the latter portion of the nineteenth century, Californians were replicating the mores and traditions of sports from America’s East Coast. The authors reveal, in particular, how roller skating symbolized and embodied the process of Americanization in early California, introducing and consolidating dominant ideals of race, class, and gender.
Overlapping in time with Ross and his colleagues’ study, Tolga Ozyurtcu explores the social and cultural processes that led to California becoming the global capital of lifestyle sports. As the case of surfing proves, not all lifestyle sports were necessarily established in the state. Yet, as Ozyurtcu posits, California has, for historical reasons, cradled and nurtured this genre of sports, so much so that these activities are often viewed as synonymous with the Golden State. He examines how, dating back to the nineteenth century, residents of California connected visions of an ideal life, or the “California dream,” with the pursuit of healthy and...