The Times They Are A Changin’ (kind of)

October 24, 2016

“The content on here seems about 80% negative, 20% positive. Maybe we should all stop whinging at one another and take time to celebrate our weird, talented and fortunate surf community.”

Remember that post?

Lawrencetown’s version of Henry David Thoreau dropped it after a SANS Facebook thread went sour. The original, flammable post was a photo of someone cruising a glassy Point wave with a clutch of longboarders bobbing out back. “Leave The Crowds Behind, Surf Nova Scotia” was overlaid on the shot in 80s Florida postcard font. Comments flew, of course. Some folks thought it was hilarious—others took offense. It devolved from there. By the time the thread was deleted, we’d arrived at ‘meet me at the bike racks after school’ territory.

The same night, after Thoreau doused the flames, I found the latest Surfer’s Journal in my mailbox. Always a good sign. Near the back was an article that seemed a fitting commentary on the social media kerfuffle I’d just witnessed.

Dave Parmenter’s West As All Hell: A return to the “frontiers” of California is all about change. Part lament, part prophesy, the article says “In California nothing transforms the landscape and robs us of our memories like gentrification and overdevelopment.” As a teenager in 1970s San Luis Obispo, Parmenter worked at a surf shop across from an empty dirt lot. Now the whole area is a Pottery Barn slash Abercrombie & Fitch. That’s his lament.

Parmenter’s prophesy is much more positive. “Despite the traffic,” he says, “despite the sprawl, despite the militant-NIMBY-dog-walking Boomers, surfing in California seems better off than it was two decades ago.”

The resurgence of “locally-grown, hand-built surfboards,” the wider range of funky all-condition shapes, and the push farther North—the “Cold Rush,” as he calls it—have helped to spread the crowds out. He’s even seen localism alter. “Fresher, younger, more mild-mannered generations are on the ascendant,” he says.

The kernel of Parmenter’s piece deserves quotation-at-length:

“California surfing feels happier now, more open, more sustainable, stretching to reach beyond the basic pleasures of wave-sliding. For the first time since the spread of localism derailed its potential and its possible contributions to international surfing, California surf culture has once again become almost tribal in nature. Not warlike tribes, though, not tribe pitted against tribe. Instead it’s a collective race, growing more peaceable and more cohesive, comfortable with assuming a role as a potent agent for change in society.”

Change is in the air. Not everyone loves it. Some people are cool with sharing their surf joy online. Some would rather we keep our clams shut and just go surfing. Most feel aggression is lame. Wherever you stand, it’s nice to read an article about California that envisions a way forward. It’s nice to be reminded that we’re weird, talented and fortunate.

I’ll give the last word to Lesley Choyce, the Homeric bard of Nova Scotia surf. In an essay he wrote called The Drowned Coast, he bores through the surface—that glossy Facebook interface—and goes all geological on us. If we don’t think change is inevitable, we’d better check ourselves.

“This is a land sculpted by ice and by sea,” he says, “and those of us living on this continental edge know our property deeds are nothing short of insignificant writs of permission to inhabit this fabled land for a few short generations until the seas rise and make all the old maps obsolete.”


Ryan Shaw