Is Action Bronson Problematic?
By Dan Dobbin.
Ariyan Arslani, AKA Action Bronson. Rapper, foodie, presenter, fitness motivator.
Now the most recognisable bodyboarder in the world?
Bronson and the boogs bromance has been popping up all over shop of late. Stab, Barstool sports, Men’s Journal, Monster Children, The Inertia and Movement have all dropped content tying in with Mr. Baklava’s love of the lid.
Action even sights his love of bodyboarding as his new found motivation to transform himself and get into shape. In his Stab interview he claims he builds his workouts around exercises that will help his bodyboarding;
” 100%, making myself more flexible, giving myself more power in the hips and thrust and shit like that,” Action says. “Make sure my shoulders are good so I can frame right and all that shit. It’s hard on the shoulders, they’re always right there taking the brunt of all the pressure, so I’ve got to make sure my shoulder health is right.”
His new music clip entitled ” Sub Zero” leans heavily into the foam froth featuring the man parodying the cult classic” Escape from L.A.” while fighting giant crocodilians with the help of his trusty boog.
Even before the music clip was released Barstoolsports.com endorsed Bronson’s engagement with the sport as restoring it’s credibility declaring;
“Ohhhhhhh baby, boogie boarding has never been more back. Did you see how pitted he got out there? F*ck, That’s Gnarly. Kelly Slater? More like Kelly Plater because big boy was eating out there“.
Boogin’ reaching the mainstream, all good yer?
We’ll maybe, maybe not so much, depending on where you fall on a little cultural divide that has existed in bodyboard almost since it began.
Within any culture or subculture there exists a set of core principles which make up the D.N.A. of the activity. While being constantly negotiated and fluid, these norms come from the overall consensus of participants within the group. Over time these ideals, attitudes and accepted practices come to define what it means to be a participant in the culture.
For bodyboarding, many of these norms were laid down by many of the original pioneers of the sport, interestingly in direct contrast to the vision the boards creator Tom Morey had when he carved the first boogie in 1971.
Tom’s vision of the bodyboard was as the ultimate easily accessible, democratising surf craft for the everyperson to just have fun on. Kids, Nanna, Uncle Joe from inland, throw them a boogie and let them have fun in the ocean.
However, almost immediately after people began to ride the boogie, they discovered that they actually work the best in conditions that are decidedly not novice friendly and went about seeing just how far and how hard performance levels on a Boogie could be pushed.
On Kona, just down the road from Morey’s house where the boogie was first invented, Mike Stewart was finding and surfing the shallowest, hollowest and most dangerous waves that he could on a boogie. On the main island of Oahu, Jack Lindholm looked at his 43 inch, no slicked, flexy piece of foam and went “ Might go and ride this thing at the most dangerous wave in the world (Pipeline) and get more barrelled than anyone ever has before”.
Sandy Beach, Pipeline, Off The Wall. These slabby waves were the early testing grounds for bodyboarders where testosterone fuelled young men saw how far they could push the performance level of the bodyboard.
In these conditions they invented new moves like the El Rollo, the Invert air, the Air Reverse, the Air Forward, the spin in the barrel, taking surf craft and their riders to places never seen before or thought possible in the surfing world.
In Australia, the next generation of boogie adoptees pushed even further, exemplified by the Cronulla locals at Shark Island how adopted a “charge hard or fuck off” mentality that soon permiated throughout the Australian bodyboarding community.
Spurned by this ideal, multiple new, previously unridden slabs were found and conquered. Cape Solander, The Box, The Right, Kony’s, Rotto Box. This evolution also happened internationally as Teahupoo, Arica, Froton, Aileens, Supertubos and Nazare, along with countless other slabs world wide were added to the boogie watch list.
As the demanding quality of the waves increased so did the performance level as riders pushed deeper and launched higher than seemed practical or safe. Backs were broken, limbs shattered, near drownings happened, bank accounts were drained chasing heavy slabs. This is what it meant to be a bodyboarder. This was the cultural expectation.
So what does all this have to do with Action Bronson?
For all of his fantastic achievements and celebrity status outside of the bodyboarding realm, within it he’s still a beginner with limited understanding of the cultural norms that currently exemplified what it means to be a bodyboarder. That’s not a personal indictment of the man himself, it’s a natural process everyone goes through when they first get into an activity or pastime.
There’s a socialisation aspect involved in understanding the do’s and don’ts, the unique cultural markers of a new activity that can only learnt through exposure, time and experience.
The surfing lineup and wider surfing culture has always been hierarchical. The ancient Hawaiians had strict codes and lore around who could ride what kinds of boards and where they could be ridden depending on respect and social standing.
The modern equivalent was once explained as like achieving different belts in Martial Arts. As you put in the time and develop the skills, your standing and position in the line up increases. You gain more respect and deference from those around you and so have greater access to the best waves. It takes time and skill to make it to the top.
To wander into post-modernist territory, Action’s experiences and enjoyment of boogin’ in a wave pool are just as valid as the underground Tahitian kid charging 12ft Chopes. However, when viewed through the prism of a cultural expectation within the boogie community, they won’t garner the same levels of respect or acknowledgement.
So to return to the original title “Is Action Bronson Problematic?”, the answer will come down to how bodyboarding as a collective decides it’s comfortable with how it is to be represented.
It’s not an inconsequential question.
We’ve come a long way in distancing ourselves from the stereotypical image of the unskilled “boogie boarder” riding small waves. Unfortunately, as a novice just beginning his journey into the bodyboarding world, Action Bronson unwittingly mimicked this trope in his “Sub Zero” film clip.
Despite facing physical violence, harassment, and intimidation from surfers and a coordinated campaign aimed at slowing or destroying the popularity of bodyboarding from the surf industry and its associated media for the better part of four decades, we have now arrived at a place of respect and even admiration within the surfing world.
Bodyboarding is now largely seen as a “core” activity practised by those who don’t care about outsiders opinions, with riders who take on the heaviest waves in the world with skill and courage. This expectation has been instilled within the culture over time by both actions and attitude.
Former Riptide magazine editor Jethro Lyons once had to go into hiding in Hawaii after he put Lego man on the cover of the magazine because he was going to get bashed for making bodyboarding look silly. Paul Roach famously stated “If you’re going to do bad spinners, go and do them where nobody will see you”. Eppo copped so much stick for winning his world title in small waves that it spurned him to invented three new movies to prove that he was worthy world champion.
For better or for worse, because of the vitriol it faced from the wider surf community after its inception, bodyboarding culture has had a very low tolerance level for anything perceived as soft or kooky.
This ” hardcore”, extreme, macho image however, may also be contributing to limiting the appeal of bodyboarding to a wider, more diverse and mainstream audience. By shifting the focus from the performance / charging aspects of bodyboarding back towards Morey’s original vision of fun and accessibility for all, this may allow the sport to flourish and in turn fill the coffers of the associated bodyboarding industry creating more financial reward for riders and businesses.
Between these two polarities a consensus needs to be reached.
Are we happy to have bodyboarding revert back to the happy go lucky, just having fun, everyone is worthy Tom Morey inspired ideal embodied by Action Bronson?
Alternatively, is the now long established tradition of earning respect and admiration through skill and charging that has served bodyboarding so well over the last 50 years still worth valuing?