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Reviewed by:
  • The Critical Surf Studies Reader ed. Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee and Alexander Sotelo Eastman
  • Barry Judd (bio)
The Critical Surf Studies Reader edited by Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee and Alexander Sotelo Eastman Duke University Press, 2017

HOUGH-SNEE AND EASTMAN bring together a high-quality collection of eighteen essays that not only succeeds in introducing the reader to the world of surfing but also digs deep into the complex histories, politics, and economics that shape and influence what has become a significant world sporting subculture. The Critical Surf Studies Reader demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of surf studies as an emergent field of scholarship with the collected essays characterized by the disparate and diverse range of topics, issues, and geographies they discuss. While the reader is underpinned by a rich diversity, essays collected here all find a certain degree of unity through a shared commitment to critical analysis and reflexivity that marks each as a serious intellectual engagement with the world of surfing. Unity is further achieved by the editorial decision to evenly group essays contained in The Critical Surf Studies Reader according to a number of overarching themes.

Part 1 of the reader commences with the theme of coloniality and decolonization. Here the relationship between contemporary world surfing and its capitalist domination by California and East Coast Australia is critically explored against a history of cultural appropriation from Indigenous Hawaiians and the perpetuation of colonial discourse through surf tourism that sees surfers from the affluent Global North "discovering" the "pristine" waves of the Global South with little thought, reflection, or empathy for the local populations whose everyday experience is one of overwhelming poverty and/or political oppression. In "Kai Ea: Rising Waves of National and Ethnic Hawaiian Identities" Isaiah Helekunihi Walker demonstrates how surfing is much more than a sport to kānaka maoli who regard it as an important cultural artifact, a symbol of both historical achievement and contemporary identity.

Part 2 of the reader addresses the themes of race, ethnicity, and identity and explores issues including cultural appropriation, the marginalization of groups based on race and ethnicity, and the importance that surfing might play for contemporary Indigenous and nonwhite political struggles. Contributions by Kevin Dawson and Colleen McGloin point to the marginalized histories of surfing among Indigenous peoples beyond Hawaii. In "Surfing Beyond Racial and Colonial Imperatives in Early Modern Atlantic [End Page 184] Africa and Oceania," Dawson reminds us that surfing practices developed independently in numerous coastal places around the world by recalling the rich surf-based cultures and practices that emerged in Atlantic Africa. The theme of racial marginalization and exclusion from the surf by white invaders is investigated further by Belinda Wheaton in "Space Invaders in Surfing's White Tribe: Exploring Surfing, Race and Identity." Through a study of Black surfers in southern California, Wheaton finds that surfers who inhabit Black bodies continue to face discrimination. Wheaton shows that the surf zone (and contemporary market-driven surfing) remains a designated "white space."

Part 3, "Feminist Critical Geography," contains the fewest essays, but in many ways these contributions are the most important. Bringing complexities associated with intersectionality together with detailed analysis associated with geographic specificity, these essays draw attention to surfing in unexpected places. Questioning persistent capitalist forms that narrowly define surfing, Krista Comer outlines how feminism in surf can be transformative by bringing together feminist theorists with surf activists to change the narrative about the role of women, sex, and sexualities, among other things, in the sport. This possibility is demonstrated by reference to the Institute for Women Surfers (IWS) as a mechanism to shift the narrative beyond the mere inclusion of women. Limitations in the inherent representation of women surfers as heteronormative, feminine, white, middle-class "surfer girls" who exist as accessories to the normative white male surfer are contrasted with the work of IWS members, including that of Farhana Huq and her alternative reality of the Brown Girl Surf.

Part 4 concludes the reader, addressing the theme of capitalism, economics, and the commodification of surf culture. Adopting an economic analysis to the world of surfing, these contributions grapple with the ever-present tension between the ideal of surfing as a counterculture...


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pp. 184-185
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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