DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, but also a transfer from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
At UCSB, DK had many friends who surfed, and while she didn’t participate she was surrounded by the culture:
“My surfer friends had a lot of really weird vocabulary. They used to call people ‘kooks,’ almost always to make fun of them, and eventually I understood that it described kids who don’t really know surfer etiquette or are new to the sport, so in everyday life it’s just someone who’s a spaz or disrespectful, kind of oblivious.
“‘Frothing’ is another one they’d use a lot, which is just a synonym for excited, like you’d say ‘I’m so excited for dinner, I’m absolutely frothing!’ They use it to describe wave sets a lot.
“One I really liked was ‘grom,’ and when I went surfing with them one time they kept calling me that. It’s kind of similar to ‘kook,’ I think, except not so much someone who’s disrespectful. I think it’s mostly for people who are new to surfing or just a really young and excited surfer.”
Groups that bond over a common activity always seem to have their own culture, and DK gave me some great examples of vocabulary that would only be understood by people who surfed. It’s interesting to see how the words are applied both out in the ocean and in everyday life, and surfers are constantly drawing comparisons between the two worlds. DK also said she’s heard surfers at USC use the same language, but sometimes with slightly varied meanings. I’ve also heard of different surfers using different “lingo,” and there seem to be regional differences even in Southern California, depending on where your local spot is. Hawaiian surfers don’t use the above vocabulary, and Manhattan Beach surfers aren’t going around saying “shaka.”
I bet being a surfer you know some local surfing legends or stories that get passed around?
Yeah. So there’s this old surfer, he was one of the best surfers in Southern California back in the 60’s, and he lived in the Newport Harbor jetty, like in a cave, in the rocks. And he had one suit, and he would paddle over from his cave in the jetty to go dancing in the clubs in Newport. And since he always wore this one suit, everyone always knew it was this one guy that lived in the cave in the jetty. And I don’t even think he worked, but uh, the story goes that he was just this great surfer that lived in the Newport jetty and would go dancing and be really classy with that one suit, and he would paddle it over, so like the funny thing is, when he was done with his night you’d see him like paddling across the harbor channel back to his cave, and I just think that’s hilarious.
Do you know what the guy’s name was?
I don’t remember his name, I could look it up.
Where’d you hear that story?
I read in a history of surfing book. Well actually the first time I heard it was through, hmm…my neighbor is like this old surfer guy, and it came up one time when we were talking about a surfboard company, and he told me the story. Apparently his dad knew the guy, they were in the same friend group and they’d all surf together. But this guy was the only one who could surf all those tough spots cause he lived right there in the cave. Yeah I hadn’t thought of it for a while until I read the story in this history of surfing book, and I was like oh my gosh that’s totally the same guy. From my understanding he only lived in the cave for like 4 or 5 years, and then went back to living in a normal house.
Why did he decide to live in a cave?
I mean it was the 60’s, and back then surf culture was really about not conforming to society, and kind of saying ‘fuck you’ to society. So the cool thing was that he was this total homeless hippie, but then he would pretend to be all classy and go dancing with all the other people, just because he could.
Do a lot of people know that story?
People who know a lot about the history of surfing, and I guess like, the roots of surfing in California would know it, and I guess people from older generations would probably know it.
This legend seems to be passed around largely among surfers – the surfer in the story seems to be a sort of historical hero in the surfing community. He embodies what surfers idealize: a great surfer, at one with nature and the waves, isolated from society, but still a little notorious and able to mingle with the rest of society while still being recognized as an outsider, a ‘hippie’, a person who does their own thing and isn’t tied down by material possessions.
My friend from San Diego frequently mentions some of the great things that are characteristic of San Diego. The following tradition is an example.
Informant: “So in Cardiff, there’s a statue of a guy surfing like this [gets in surf position]. Cardiff is a beach city in North County San Diego, and there’s this statue on the coast highway, like right on the beach by the beach campsites, and it’s a guy surfing, like a little bronze statue. And I don’t know, like maybe 50 years ago or something they started this tradition where you could dress him up, and the authorities don’t do anything about it. And so people have started since then to like every time, like, if it’s your friend’s birthday you can go and have him holding a sign that says “happy birthday, blah blah blah” so when they drive down the coast they’ll see it, and whenever it’s like earth day, they do something to him, and if it’s like president’s day they always dress him in funky hats and everything like that, and it’s a tradition for any major event that’s happening in San Diego. They do stuff, like comic con they’ll dress him up in like, some nerdy costume or something like that and it s really cool because you’ll be driving down the coast and its rarely just the statue; like it’s always decked out in some costume or something like that.”
Collector: “So, is there like an org that helps reserve the days that you can dress him up, or is this just like a free-for-all?”
Informant: “its just a free for all basically. Like I think it’s kind of your responsibility to take the stuff back down if you’re the one who dressed him up but basically you can just go whenever you want. Its really cool because you never see anyone actually actively put anything on in the middle of the day… at the nighttime you and your friends will like, go in this mission, like night mission to not get seen and dress him up so the next day like by the time it’s daylight he’ll be all dressed up. It’s pretty fun… I did it once… we did it for our graduation or whatever our senior year of high school, and so our rivals had dressed him up the day before their graduation and dressed him up in like, Mission Hills Black, blaahhh! And we were just like, ‘that’s not ok,’ so we went in the middle of the night and took every spirit gear item we’ve ever gotten from our high school, and put it all over him. So there was a mess of like layers, and t shirts and like football gear, and field hockey sticks and everything… it was great and we won.”
The surfer statue known as “Kook” that was erected to celebrate the surfing culture in Cardiff is a great example of how a local community adopts something that is created by some sort of formal institution, and transforms it into something entirely new and different from its original intended purpose. When it was erected, it is unlikely that anyone expected the local community to adopt the tradition of dressing up the statue for special occasions. But it only takes something as simple as someone deciding to do it once for everyone else to jump on the bandwagon. The fact that the authorities allowed this activity and did not condemn it on grounds of vandalism is key to this tradition; otherwise it would not be possible for it to exist. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that dressing up the statue probably did not cause any major damage to the statue, which would most likely be good reason for the authorities to attempt to stop this practice. According to the informant, dressing up “Kook” is a very well-known tradition for the locals (especially surfers), and the informant has known about the tradition ever since she can remember.