The Media, Narratives and Engagement.
By Dan Dobbin.
Jesus, where have we got to when the most interesting and exciting thing happening in bodyboarding is the auction of an old blue bodyboard?
$15,308 Australian rupples someone slapped down for some repurposed shipping foam put together in a shed in California 30+ yrs ago.
Reaction across the social media world has been, as you would expect, mixed.
Mitch Rawlins dropped ” This is absolutely absurd” before postulating whether it would be possible to sell one of Stewart’s old boards and use it fund a World Champion crowning event.
Insta user @Kaipua_designs saw otherwise claiming ” the sport just got so much more legitimize (sic). this (sic) is good for our sport and has just changed it forever”.
The most perceptive comment however came from Mr Tension himself Chris White with ” $600 board with a $14,700 deck stamp!
Which brings us to the truly interesting part of the whole affair.
Not the price point, not the reaction, but rather what it tells us about ourselves and the power of imagery and media to shape identity and engagement.
As part of the reasons he coughed up a grand for his own stick of Ben DNA infused foam, our own Stuart Knox wrote:
” Then there is that iconic deck. Who from my generation didn’t dream of that big logo on their board, alongside the classic Body Glove and Local Motion stamps?”
He continues “
Those money shots at Sandy’s and I Don’t Knows covered my wall. A grom’s dream to have one of them as my own ride. To be able to own a board that had all those stamps is for me a dream come true”.
When all we had was magazine’s, whatever was in the magazine was almost considered gospel. As Dilan Carestia said in the final wrap up of his ” 10 things I hate about you” series:
“Mags taught me how to roll, how to shop for a board, the difference between a bat and a crescent, how to apply stickers, what it’s like in Bali before my first trip there, where to find the biggest burger on Rarotonga, and that you can’t really surf in Tonga on low tide”.
The influence and power of that early exposure to images of Severson in print media was such that it spurned Mr Australian Mystery buyer to drop nearly 1/6 of the average annual wage of an Australian worker to secure ownership of it. To say ” I got what I coverted as a grom”.
There’s no denying that identity, and identity politics are a huge part of our existence in the present age. As globalization, multiculturalism and communication capabilities have weakened nationialistic associations, we increasingly define who we are not from where we are from, but what we do, how we see ourselves, and what we associate with.
(The so labeled “Culture Wars” are also an exellent distraction to draw peoples attention from focusing on issues that will actually affect humanity into the future like exponential population growth, unsustainable economic ideologies and the here and now climate crisis, but we digress.)
So in the middle of a cultural evolution where identity and representation has become almost omnipresent, and in light of the evidence of the power of media to help shape self concept and engagement, we need to turn the blowtorch on how we, as bodyboarders, are doing in terms of telling and shaping the narrative of bodyboarding.
My young blood has just turned thirteen a month ago. He vacillates between bodyboarding and surfing depending on conditions and levels of interest in either, which pulses or wanes between the two. Earlier this year he said something that really resonated:
” Is it bad that I can name lots of surfers from the WSL (tour) but only Tanner from the APB (tour)?”
One of the original focuses for Infoamed, before the wheels fell of the world, was to be centred around following and developing the narrative of the world tour and the riders in it, to document the personalities and storylines as the tour progressed. To help create a connection with the characters inhabiting the modern bodyboarding space.
Ben Severson had a story, a character documented and disseminated through the media. He was the tube troll, the laid back, versatile guy whose personality and wave riding approach perfectly juxtaposed against Mike the super professional. Mr natural vs Mr science.
You became either a Ben guy or Mike guy depending on who your own personality and self conception aligned with.
Similarly, when the APB tour was in full swing in the early 2000’s, you tuned in to follow the fortunes of your favourite riders, like characters in a soap opera.
With the advent of social media, you could argue that there has never been more media available to the bodyboarding community.
Every rider has their own account, updated semi-regularly when ever footage or images come to hand. There’s bodyboarding community connected pages. Photographers. Brands. Organizations, all pumping out film and footage.
However, an image or footage divorced from context or explanation becomes just a background, almost instantly disposable. Seen and forgotten. It creates no lasting impression.
As I was looking for a way to wrap this all up into a coherent summary, a 35 year old with 4 years of bodyboarding experience, who is only just beginning to master the basic belly spinner made it oh so much easier for me.
Will Komatsu, he of YouTuber Willy POV fame, had the following to say in an interview with Movementmag:
“Things began to click when I developed the ‘story’ for my channel. Connecting that story to the content I made, the descriptions, my set up – that’s when the algorithm and I became better friends.”
Structuring his clips around a story has garnered Willy 50,000 subscribers.
Again, that’s 50,000 people who’ll tune in to watch a middle age guy who’s been surfing for less than half a decade and is just beginning to attempt the most basic maneuvers in the sport.
The perfect example of the power a little storytelling can have.
So maybe that’s an area as a collective we need to do a little better. Our sport is littered with so many interesting characters and stories just waiting to be told and shared, so maybe we need to be better at telling them.