By Dan Dobbin.
When asked why he wasn’t more vocal on political and social issues, his royal airness Michael Jordan once quipped “Republicans buy sneakers, too”.
One of the unspoken guidelines of sport and sports coverage is that you try to leave the politics out of it. If you are going to dab a toe into the socio-political sea, it needs to be done vaguely and briefly. A quick thank you to an omnipotent being post-game, a meaningful quote strategically scrawled somewhere visible but not too prominently, a culturally poignant hand gesture after scoring.
Tyler Wright is currently skirting the edge of the Woke ideals / Political correctness gone mad cultural war quigmire on the women’s professional surfing tour and is coping significant blowback for her courageous stands.
Sport and recreation is generally considered to be a neutral space where the individual can find escape from daily pressures and realities. If you do take a stand on an issue you’re almost guaranteed to alienate half of your audience. But fuck it, I’m going to drift into dangerous territory here, let the currents drag me across a rocky shelf and trust that the flow will carry me to safety.
This little white duck hit the genetic and social jackpot when he came hurtling into existence 40 odd years ago. Caucasian, heterosexual, coastal dwelling, blessed with parents who scrambled their way up from working to comfortably middle class in the lucky country that is Oz. Barriers to integrating into the mainstream narrative of Australian society; zero. I’m just about king of the pops in contemporary Australian life.
Which is why I’m truly glad that plenty of local stand up surfers were downright cunts to me during my grommet hood years for riding a bodyboard.
You see, if you’ve ever suffered the disconcerting action of being judged, ridiculed or attacked simply for the surf craft you ride, then you’ve been granted a sliver of an insight into the human capacity to discriminate.
If we’re prepared to squabble and find conflict over something as trivial as what type of sealed foam we catch waves on, it doesn’t take a very self aware individual to recognise that as a species we’re pretty fucking good and finding way to justify treating others like shit.
I had the luxury of shedding the article of discrimination once I reached the shoreline and reclaiming my place within the valued majority. Others in our communities aren’t so lucky.
While my brief glimpses into this world of derision and hate would often only last as long as a single surf session, the lense to see the world through the eyes of the ostracized and victimised remains.
If you’ve ever experienced the shame, the anger, the embarrassment, the emotional and / or physical trauma from others who saw you as anything lesser, you get it.
What was gleaned from these interactions is the capacity to begin to understand and empathize with the lived experiences of those in society who suffer similar behaviour for the colour of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and the myriad of other ways we try to divide and seperate ourselves within our communities.
The tension and conflict between surfers and bodyboarders has simmered down to a barely flickering flame over the years. As both sides interacted with other, we discovered our commonalitys and started focusing on and valuing our similarities, rather than our differences. Respect and acceptance are now the norm, rather than the exception, and line ups are much better places for it.
Let us remember what it’s like to have been treat badly for largely trivial reasons and strive to not replicate and perpetrate these same evil onto others. As we act in the wider world, let us remember to not become those who’s actions we have deplored.
These are lessons we can take from our experiences in the ocean.