Reimagining Surf City: surfing and the making of the post-apartheid beach in South Africa

South African surfing as a sporting activity has a history located in the waves that break at the beach, the seaward edge of a coastal city. In this history, surfing has been represented as a ‘white’ sport and as such ‘Surf City’ was a symbolic
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  This article was downloaded by: [Glen Thompson]On: 08 November 2011, At: 02:06Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK The International Journal of theHistory of Sport Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Reimagining Surf City: surfing and themaking of the post-apartheid beach inSouth Africa Glen Thompson aa  Department of History, Stellenbosch University, South AfricaAvailable online: 08 Nov 2011 To cite this article:  Glen Thompson (2011): Reimagining Surf City: surfing and the making of thepost-apartheid beach in South Africa, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 28:15,2115-2129 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Reimagining Surf City: surfing and the making of the post-apartheidbeach in South Africa 1 Glen Thompson* Department of History, Stellenbosch University, South Africa South African surfing as a sporting activity has a history located in the waves thatbreak at the beach, the seaward edge of a coastal city. In this history, surfing hasbeen represented as a ‘white’ sport and as such ‘Surf City’ was a symbolic markerfor racial exclusivity on the apartheid beach (1960s–80s). This idea of ‘Surf City’has changed in the post-apartheid era (1990s–2000s), with the beach open to allpersons, irrespective of race. However, there is a persistence of race at the post-apartheid beach as surfing as a sporting lifestyle undergoes transformation. Inseeking to understand the e ff  ect of the apartheid past on the present, this articlereviews sources from within surfing culture and available secondary literature toexplore the apartheid beach. It highlights the shift to racial inclusivity in thewaves and the challenges of sports transformation in the new South Africa. Thearticle o ff  ers contextual notes towards the writing of the history of blackexperiences of the beach and surfing, and points to some reconfigurations of ‘Surf City’ in South Africa. Keywords:  surfing; race; beach; South Africa; apartheid; post-apartheid The sport of surfing provides a starting point in considering how to write the historyof the beach in South Africa as a social and cultural space at the edge of the city.Surfing, as a beach culture and sporting lifestyle orientated to the waves, hasprovided some cities with a cultural resource in an attempt to stimulate coastaltourism. A case in point is Durban, on South Africa’s eastern seaboard. During thebuild-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the city of Durban appropriated surfing fortourists and locals alike within its host-city television advertising campaigns, andorientated the Fan Walk along the beachfront promenade to coincide with a beachfestival.Durban’s use of surfing, however, was little more than a reflection of anembedded local surf culture that already saw the city as South Africa’s ‘Surf City’.The pages of   South African Surfer  (1965–67),  Zigzag  (since 1976), and  theBOMBsurf  (since 2009) surfing magazines are replete with articles extolling the virtues of Durban’s ease of access to consistent waves breaking o ff   concrete piers in a warmsub-tropical climate. Yet, these are not the only representations of South Africansurfing centres competing for the title of ‘Surf City’ – the symbolic heart of SouthAfrican surfing. Print magazines such as  African Soul Surfer  (1995–96) and  African *Email: The International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 28, No. 15, October 2011, 2115–2129 ISSN 0952-3367 print/ISSN 1743-9035 online   2011 Taylor & Francis    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   G   l  e  n   T   h  o  m  p  s  o  n   ]  a   t   0   2  :   0   6   0   8   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  Surf Rider  (2007–10), alongside online surfing media such as (since1998), o ff  er up surfing’s cultural capitals on the western and southern coastlines atplaces such as Cape Town and Je ff  reys Bay.Much of this discourse has been shaped by the histories of these surfing centres – with Durban laying claim to the title of ‘Surf City’ due to a mix of commercialand competitive surfing interests arising in the mid-1960s. This idea of a SouthAfrican surfing capital first coherently emerges in 1965 in a surfing column in  TheNatal Mercury , a Durban-based newspaper, written by Anthony Morris. His journalistic accounts of the birth of modern South African surfing in the sixties,read alongside  South African Surfer  magazine, provided the discursive logic fortransferring an idealised carefree Californian beach-culture ethos to the east coastof South Africa. The drivers for this were found in the local surfing industry andsurfing icons asserting Durban’s cultural hegemony over Cape Town in leading thedevelopment of the sport in the country. The term ‘Surf City’ is first used in  SouthAfrican Surfer  when reporting on an April 1965 Easter contest in Durban. Thecontest was given legitimacy by the attendance of two city o ffi cials as guests of honour. 2 This event took place in the context of the establishment of provincial andnational surfing organisations and subsequently the holding of the inauguralnational championships in Durban in July 1966. The South Africa Surfriders’Association (SASA), a white sporting body, was recognised in the late 1960s by theDepartment of Sport and Recreation and received funding for the running of theassociation and the development of white surfing talent in the competitive arena. 3 Thereafter, the growth of a local surf market and associated surf media and culturewith transnational links to California, Hawaii and Australia resulted in the holdingof international surfing contests at the Durban beachfront. The Gunston 500, runfrom 1969 to 1999, provided a local platform for the global professionalisation of thesport, especially from the late 1970s. Adding to Durban’s claims of culturalascendency was the winning of the 1977 world professional title by Durbanite ShaunTomson, a cultural icon who connected the city to the global competitive arena andthe hegemony of surfing’s elite.The staging of major internationally sanctioned professional surfing events inDurban through the 1980s and into 1990s, when surfing was incorporated within abroader Ocean Action beach festival, was challenged by contests held in Je ff  reysBay (what has become the Billabong Pro J-Bay, run since 1984) and Cape Town(the Spur Steak Ranch Classic and Sea Harvest Classic, 1986–88 and then the RedBull Big Wave Africa, 2000–09), which o ff  ered alternative competition arenas toDurban. Cape Town’s surf industry also had its roots in the 1960s, yet, due to thegeography of the city, organised around the Atlantic and False Bay coasts, thelocal surfing cultures and industry were more fragmented than that of Durban.Je ff  reys Bay, some 80 kilometres south of the major industrial city of PortElizabeth, developed as a commercial surfing centre in the late 1970s, although itcame to initial prominence as a countercultural surfer-hippie site in the late 1960sand early 1970s. A combination of surfing in the winter months (May to July)and annual inland holidaymaking to the coast in summer (December andJanuary) stimulated the urban growth of this once-rural Eastern Cape town.Je ff  reys Bay o ff  ers a cultural counterpoint to the major cities of Cape Town andDurban and possibly does not warrant a claim to ‘Surf City’ through much of the period under review.2116  G. Thompson    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   G   l  e  n   T   h  o  m  p  s  o  n   ]  a   t   0   2  :   0   6   0   8   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  The essential di ff  erences between these urban surfing centres could besummarised through their geography and surf cultures. Durban’s trendy urban-beach vibe translated into flashy performances in the surf, with the piers o ff  ering anamphitheatre for watching the consumption of waves all year round. Cape Town’smore laid-back approach to surfing is part of the dispersed nature of the surfingcommunity around the Cape Peninsula, allowing for more isolated experiences of surfing in cold-water Atlantic swells with mountainous backdrops. The city itself ismostly tucked out of sight from surf spots, except when viewed from the morenortherly beaches. Je ff  reys Bay’s rustic sand dunes frame a world-class right-handwave that breaks down the point in the winter months, the rationale for the annualinflux of international and local surfers to the town. As the politically mindfulAmerican surf journalist Matt Warshaw expressed in 1987, at the height of thesurfing boycott against South Africa, Je ff  reys Bay’s wave was surfing’s ‘best reasonto toss away all moral beliefs to satisfy cheap, carnal surf lust’. 4 As hinted at by Warshaw, surfing and the beach have pasts, and the questionthen becomes: how have the histories of South African surfing cities beencomplicated by their apartheid past and how does this provide an understandingof a specific aspect of everyday life in the city? This opens up the problematisation of how the post-apartheid beach o ff  ers strategies within the category of ‘race’ tochallenge the historical dominance of representations of white males in the sport of surfing in South Africa. This is no easy task as the voices of black surfers are largelymissing from the South African surfing archive (surf magazines, surf films and otherliterature produced for a surfing audience), especially prior to the 1990s. The SouthAfrican beach – as that place where the sea joins the city – is partially opened up tosocial and historical enquiry through scrutiny of that archive and the review of otherprimary and secondary sources that make reference to surfing or the beach. Whatgives the beach cultural meaning is that it was (and remains) a symbolic andembodied place where black and white surfers sought to escape from the everyday tofind pleasure in the waves – a personal freedom outside of the political.In exploring how the idea of ‘Surf City’ emerged and has been reimagined inSouth Africa, this article traces the history of surfing in South Africa from after theSecond World War and through the years of the apartheid beach. In so doing, its setsthe scene for the making of the post-apartheid beach in the 1990s and 2000s, and itpoints to the contemporary problems of addressing race and e ff  ecting transforma-tion within surfing. The beach, however, remains a place of potential race troubleand reflects an aspect of the everyday in South Africa, theorised by Durrheim, Mtoseand Brown as when ‘[r]acial practices are recited and forms of social life andsubjectivities are conserved even amid profound structural change’. 5 It is within thehistories of ‘Surf City’ and the post-apartheid beach that some of the roots of theseracialised practices may be found. South African surfing histories Following Douglas Booth’s  Australian Beach Cultures , his seminal study publishedin 2001, there is a growing multi-disciplinary literature on the beach and surfingemerging out of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.In focussing on South Africa, these topics are becoming an object of study by socialand cultural historians with interests in international relations, leisure and sport. 6 These more recent surfing-history studies build on earlier research located in gender The International Journal of the History of Sport  2117    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   G   l  e  n   T   h  o  m  p  s  o  n   ]  a   t   0   2  :   0   6   0   8   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  studies and cultural geography. 7 What is emerging from this work focused on theapartheid period is a sense that there is an openness to explore social, cultural andpolitical themes through a smaller, non-mainstream sporting activity and to read thebeach as a cultural space where surfing is complicit in perpetuating social powerthrough its racially structured past. As such, these studies are part of a growing bodyof work on sports history in South Africa that grapple with the historical andcontemporary processes of (trans)forming the nation. 8 This historiographic moment was not available in the southern Africanistliterature before South Africa became a democracy in 1994. In the struggle years,neither the beach nor surfing was seen as a serious subject of academic enquiry.Rather, within the study of sport and politics, comment and analysis focused onaccounts of racial injustices, social and economic inequalities, and the draconiannature of the apartheid state. These studies looked for evidence of fractures withinapartheid sport, recounted the struggles of black sports persons and non-racialsports bodies, and o ff  ered perspectives on the impact of the international sportboycott in challenging apartheid in sport and society.Nevertheless, within those writings on the historical sociology of South Africansport there is some evidence of the beach emerging within political analyses. RobertArcher and Antoine Bouillon in  The South African Game  (1982) documented thelived experience of sport and racism in South Africa’s divided society. In what seemsto be a first entry in South African sports studies, they included reports of how racialsegregation structured swimming and access to pools, as well as bathing at the beach.Surfing was conceived as a ‘white’ activity, while blacks were relegated to inadequateswimming-pool facilities in the townships and unsafe beaches out of sight from whitesociety. 9 The political predicament of the time also led William Finnegan, in Crossing the Line  (1986), to decide to write about the hard realities of life underapartheid rather than ‘the lightest subjects – surfing, vacations – [fit] for only thebreeziest publications’. 10 Finnegan, however, does let surfing slip into his journalisticnarrative of teaching at a ‘coloured’ high school in Cape Town in 1980, as well as inhis accounts of travels along the South African coastline. The next mention of surfing in an academic text seems to be in Booth’s  The Race Game  (1999), wherebeach apartheid was used as an illustration of the pervasiveness of apartheid ineveryday social relations. 11 Academic texts are not the only place where the beach has been interrogated as anobject of history. In South African visual arts, the beach has been interrogated as a siteof meaning in the creation of a new South Africa. The changing nature of recreationon the shifting shorelines of the post-colonial beach have been explored in the art of Katherine Bull; her 1999 engravings entitled  Holiday in Cape Town in the 21st Century and  Milnerton  reimagined a modern Cape Town seaside layered with traces of its pre-colonial and colonial pasts. A decade later, the  Shoreline  documentary televisionproduction took a broad sweep of South Africa’s west and east coasts to provide apopular history of the social, economic and political processes that shaped SouthAfrican coastal cultures, including a segment on surfing’s history. 12 Outside of these texts, writing about the beach and creating an archive of surfingculture has been left to surfing magazines, surf films, surf columns in localnewspapers, and books on surfing produced locally or internationally. Of note is thatmuch of this surfing archive hardly refers to the political – unless attempting toseparate sport from politics. An approach in the surf media was to perpetuate theattitude that the sport of surfing was ‘an escape from the drabness of everyday life’,2118  G. Thompson    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   G   l  e  n   T   h  o  m  p  s  o  n   ]  a   t   0   2  :   0   6   0   8   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1
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