Response: Stab’s “When Did We Mindlessly Decide To Stop Hating Bodyboarding?”
By Dan Dobbin.
Stab recently published a complementary article on the boogin’ world entitled “When Did We Decide To Stop Mindlessly Hating Bodyboarders?
While author Alistair Klinkerberg did a good job of dancing and swaying around the relationship between the boogie brethren and the wider surfing culture over the last twenty or so years, there’s a key word in the title that needs to be addressed.
The inclusion of the word “Mindlessly” within the title warrants a little exploration. “Mindlessly” implies that the hate was directed with little thought or without purpose, which is patently untrue.
The tension and dislike of bodyboarding, in Australia at least, largely sprang from two places, one organic and one manufactured.
As large numbers of early boogie riders began to appear in line ups during the early to mid 80’s, they upset the already established cultural rules and social hierarchies of many breaks. If we’re honest, lots of the early booger were kooks who most probably had no awareness of the existing “rules” of the line up. This tension over what academic types like to call “contested space” manifested itself in the forms of derision and at times outright violence directed at bodyboarders.
As the popularity and performance level of bodyboarding continued to grow through the late 80’s into the early 90’s there was genuine fear, whether real or imagined, within the surfing world that the bodyboard would supplant the surfboard as the most popular choice for coming generations of wave users.
This “community sentiment” was reflected in the surfing media of the time, with mocking editorials and articles bordering on incitement of violence soon appearing in magazines. This sentiment was egged on by a surfing industry that had significant financial skin in the game in terms of maintaining stand up surfing’s position of primacy as the culturally “cool” activity.
Within this feedback loop of industry support and media justification, intimidation, harassment and violence became a common experience for the everyday bodyboarder.
At the same time however, segments of the surf industry also sought to exploit the boogie boom by sponsoring riders. Gotcha, Billabong, Rip Curl, Kuta Lines and others all had bodyboarders on their books. Quiksilver went as far as establishing Q-Boards, a set of different bodyboard models that they marketed by signing a team of up and coming young riders and producing a film called “ Q Bunch”.
However when the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, almost all of the big clothing brands jettisoned their support to the boogin’ world and has largely been divorced from understanding and interacting with what has been occuring in bodyboarding ever since.
Viewed within this context, the hate wasn’t “Mindless”, but was instead manifested and fueled by parties with a vested interest in suppressing the popularity of bodyboarding. Any revisionist attempt to absolve those in positions of influence from this time deserves to be addressed.
Today, with bodyboarding currently experiencing an ebb in popularity in Australia, it is no longer viewed through the prism of threat to the established surfing hierarchy. Instead it has come to be viewed as something of novelty activity, something the “serious” surfer can indulge in semi-ironically without fear of derision.
Within this context, and only within this context, is it now being once again embraced and exploited by the same industry /media that has historically suppressed and ignored its existence .