Surfing Subculture and Its Link to Fashion

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The first chapter begins with a quote by the famous Duke Kahanamoku, considered the father of modern surfing (SurferToday). This expression has been chosen to represent each individual linked to the surf-culture. The devotion to water is supreme and only within it one wants to be someone. The art of riding waves is one of the more ancient known sports born in Polynesia in 2000 B.C. It is a combination of total body power and the appreciation of the majesty and beauty of nature. (Surfermag)

“Man, that was such a gnarly bomb!”

“Yeah bro, so sick. I was caught inside that washing machine!”

“Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiip”

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This, for many people, could seem a typical superficial, irresponsible chat between two long blonde hair surfers sitting on their boards at the lineup. Indeed, it is the perfect stereotype that is associated to whoever belongs to the surf culture. The myth of the surfer’s lifestyle makes people stay in the limbo of thought between fantasy and reality: living in search of the perfect wave, traveling the world, breathtaking beaches, carefree existence, parties and beautiful girls. As it is perceived, surfing is more than a sport, it’s a way of life, in and outside water, for some people it is a religion, an inner spirituality, and so it forms a subculture inside the society (Hull, 1976). A subculture is “a social subgroup distinguishable from mainstream culture by its non-normative values, beliefs, symbols, activities, and often, in the case of youth, styles and music” (book: Subculture-the basics, 2013).

During 1960, the surfing golden age, the term Soul-Surfer was coined. Soul-Surfers are a subculture into the surfing community and they are all those who continue to experience this sport as something spiritual, for the sheer pleasure of riding waves. Soul Surfers are those who live in function of the ocean, loving it, respecting it and taking care of it (Surfplay, 2014).

Nowadays, industrialization and consumerism are contaminating the spirit of the Soul-Surfer as are contaminating the Ocean. Today surfing, in fact, turned into a multi-billion dollar industry heavily promoted by mass media, of which the largest revenue is generated by Surfwear Companies (BookSurfCamp, 2017). The decisive traits of surf culture, in modern society have become a trend, a model to follow even among those who do not practice the sport. Surfwear is a fashion segment led by the big established brands of the surfing world, such as Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley, Rip Curl, Patagonia, O’Neil, Vans, etc… The surfer style is identifiable with the style of the protagonists of some cult films, such as “Big Wednesday” or “Point Break”.

Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops, swimsuit, scuba shirt and the board. Fashion is fascinated by surf culture and is currently coming for surfing at full force. (Fashionista, 2018). Many beachwear brands are linked with a double bond to this world: the film of John Millius (Big Wednesday), with the character “Bear,” wants to remember the origins of the homonymous surf brand, born after this movie, that has continued to influence generations and generations (Surf. Un mercoledì da Leoni quarant’anni dopo). Let’s think of Sundek: the well-known shorts with flower print are still used today not only for surfing but also for simply staying at the beach (Vogue, 2017). Even Women in the world of surfing are no longer just an object nicknamed “beach bunnies”, think of the surfer Alana Blanchard. She has a natural sense of glamour that oozes from informal and basic garments. On Instagram she wears only denim shorts, rolled up t-shirts, activewear and bikinis. A small wardrobe that inspires the major fashion brands. ‘The surf community is multidimensional and if tapped into authentically, has the ability to inspire a multitude of other creative fields.’ Thaddeus O’Neil (Fashionista, 2018)

Do you remember the Chanel’s surfboard carried by Gisele Bundchen in the 2014 TV spot? Alexander Wang in the Spring/Summer 2017 collection has launched a mix of California-Style streetwear, surfer items, complete with track suits (Vogue, 2017). Louis Vuitton in the Man spring/summer 2018 launched an entirely surf-inspired collection and opened travelling pop-up stores with special edition surfboards and a custom “California” VW van. Even Rihanna with her Fenty collection by Puma reproduces the surf wetsuit shape (Fashionista,2018). Surf-inspired prints were protagonists on the spring/summer 2018 catwalks for fashion brands Gucci, Michael Kors, No 21, Coach and Baja East (Savoir Flaire, 2018). As skating has been growing financially and as a sport after the fashion world’s obsession with it, even surfing could benefit from a similar phenomenon. In 2018, the magazine Fashionista stated that according to the latest spring/summer collections, surf culture could replace the fashion’s fascination for skate culture. Designer Thaddeus O’Neil also suggests for fashion brands that take inspiration from surf subculture, to consider donating to associations that support the Oceans’ welfare. (Fashionista, 2018).

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