As images of California and its surfers continue to flood the pages of the surf media, it’s easy to think of the Golden State as the epicenter of the surf lifestyle. Even most travel articles are just exported Californian and Australian perspectives. So we thought it would be interesting to turn the tables to see how another surf culture views California. In this article, French surfers Spoe and Olivier Dézèque chronicle their interpretation of authentic California surf culture during their long trip to The Golden State last year.
By Spoe and Olivier Dezeque
Surfing came to the French coast via Hollywood during the 1956 filming of Steinbeck’s “The Sun Also Rises,” when screenwriter and surfer Peter Viertel saw the high quality of surf along the coast while scouting locations. He promptly ordered his board to be shipped out. And the French have loved surfing ever since.
Hollywood and surfing go hand in hand and are the two strongest symbols characterizing the American West for the French. Unfortunately, we did not cross many cowboys on horseback, doning stetsons and armed with a 7-foot bonzer. In the end, the pictures never fully depict reality.
I left France at election time with the firm decision not to vote. Disinterested and tired of the political circus. A month-and-a-half along road trip in search of interesting individuals to interview led us to California. Between San Diego and San Francisco, we came across a good variety of people we consider to be quintessential Californians: the neo hippies with an MGMT-style of skateboarding on vintage boards; rockabillies adorned appropriately; bikers channeling ZZ-top and other legends of our youth (Frankie Hill, Matt Archbold, Salman Agah, Skip Frye, Bert Lamar, Dick Brewer…).
We surfed several times on the waves of Southern California. They are very different from our homebreaks: longer, smaller, and more regular. When we met with Colin Whitebread, he explained his astonishment about France: “France is weird, you ban the burka but you can drink wine in the street without being stopped by police?” Of course, I retorted: “In California, you can buy and smoke pot with impunity if you have a medical certificate but if you get busted while you piss in the street?” Well, obviously beyond a few details, we must admit that our countries have built similar cultures.
Cultures and subcultures, funded by industries and driven by expertise in marketing, distribution and storytelling culminating in California and France, may look like a super Urban Outfitters. But you have to feed a hungry middle class, and demand for the originality of a new life, a new style, a different look, doesn’t ever really go away. This is like Hong Kong, Japan or Australia.
War and big breasts are everyday symbols in California. That is a truth we determined, after seeing the marks at every street corner. Pat Fairley of Santa Cruz illustrated this for us. A Vietnam veteran, he puts his finger on the quasi-permanent state of conflict in the Americas.
“If some of the natives of the country found that the economy of armed confrontation is far too lucrative to stop while at home spreading the evils of gun ownership, then you’d have the reason why many of the survivors of Vietnam now currently earn a living by picking up beer cans and throwing them at big-breasted women driving convertibles.”
The end of the trip took place in an advanced state of fatigue. We saw Cyrus Sutton who took a deep interest in our trip (the one you are reading about now), then Richard Kenvin and Jeff McCallum before we finally decided to buy a few bottles of wine, beer, vodka, gin and rum. The time had come and we forgot the waves for fun in the Cobra Snake French clubs in Pacific Beach. I lost my Nikon FM2 giving a lesson in skateboarding to a stranger while I was drunk as Bukowsky. We caught the plane, narrowly. I was sad to leave but this must be premature nostalgia, typically French. Come on, we want to come back next year because the show must go on and our three daily meals of processed food – sushi, subs, burgers – will be missed.
*Photos in this post by Spoe