Monday, March 20, 2017

Rip Curls and Civic Engagement

After watching Dog Town and Z-Boys documentary in class, it would be easy to classify the surfing community as a rag-tag group of misfits and punks; those who are concerned solely with developing new tricks and street credentials. However, after spending a week in Hawaii I could not connect that characterization to the surfing community that I met. These people worked together both in and out of the water to help the growth of commerce, education and wellbeing in their neighborhood. One young man that I met was particularly prolific, talking to my brother and I about the power of communing with nature as a family without traditional genetic or marital ties. It was from this young man that I heard about Surfing the Nations.

In the 1990s, Tom Bauer was a rising star on the Honolulu surfing scene, but he quickly realized that this was not a universally good development. As his name became more synonymous with surfing, his public image was equated with a culture of habitual drug use, delinquency and greed. It was at this point that he and his wife committed themselves to their community while still surfing in Honolulu.

This reminded me immediately of the reflections that Frank Gehry held in his growth through the architectural community. As Gardner details in his first chapter, there is a relationship between the creators and their peers, one which is often a frictional cause of departure (pg 9). Departing from this stigma of a delinquent surfer led to Tom Bauer’s creation of Surfing the Nations. He could be considered an “interpersonal innovator” like Gardner’s depiction of Gandhi, because of his dedication to the betterment of humanity.

Beginning as a grassroots organization, Surfing the Nation grew into what is now a youth and family safe space, changing the image of surfing from one of individualism into a more community based activity. The organization now works with surfers and their families to fight hunger in Hawaii, an issue that plagues the island state because of its reliance on expensive imports. Additionally, the group works with schools to create after school activities that keep children engaged in their cultures and classmates. 

Sticking to it’s roots, the organization hosts regular group surfing days and it’s staff members can be seen on beaches when they are not in the offices working with community organizers. While many FBO (faith based organizations) working in sub-cultures often get a bad rep (i.e. Evangelical groups in SubSaharan Africa) surfing the Nations provides a Christian message, but emphasizes community and holistic wellness.

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