Tag Archives: surf

The Man in The Gray Suit

Interviewer: Do you have any slang or terms from growing up surfing?

CW: Yeah have you ever heard about the man in the gray suit?

Interviewer: No I have not what does that mean?

CW: It’s a term, surfers use at the beach if they see a shark to warn everybody else to get out of the water.

Interviewer: why do people use that term and not just say shark?

CW: People use it because it is a lot more of a calm thing for someone to hear when they are in the water with a shark. It helps to avoid people panicking but if your in an area where people are surfing, which is where it is used, then everyone knows that means shark and it helps them be more calm while getting out of the water. 

Interviewer: Have you ever used this warning or had it used for you?

CW: I’ve never used it but I’ve been on the beach while people yelled it out to surfers. But since I’ve grown up surfing I’ve known to react to the term and have known it for most of my life. 

Interviewer: Is this a term used at specific surf spots you got to or from your knowledge do all surfers know and use this term?

CW: From my knowledge, this is just a term I know is used in Malibu and Santa Monica. I’ve surfed in other places like San Diego and Hawaii but I’ve never heard the term mentioned in those places. 

Interviewer: Is there any other terms you have heard or learned of that do the same function of calmly warning of a shark?

CW: Yeah in Hawaii they use the Hawaiian word Manu. 

Context: My informant is an eighteen-year-old student at USC. He was born in raised in Malibu California. He has surfed nearly his entire life, primarily in Malibu but also in Santa Monica, Hawaii, and San Diego. This folk term was explained in person in the informant’s dorm.

Analysis: This is an interesting piece of folk language used by surfers in Southern California. I have never been a surfer and assumed the appropriate way to warn people of a shark would be by exclaiming that a shark is in the water, but this term seems to be a great way to keep people calm so they can get out of the water in a safer manner. It also is an example of how surfers in Southern California have unique folklore. 


The San Diego Kook

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.