Design & Living / Culture Talks

Why Surfing is the Sport of Kings

Illustrator, author and wave enthusiast Jim Heimann gives AnOther the first look at his swell new tome, Surfing 1778-2015, which traces the evolution of surfing as a sport, lifestyle, and philosophy

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David Nuuhiwa and John Gale; Laguna Canyon, California; 1971 Nuuhiwa, together with fellow surfers Mike Hynson, Herbie Fletcher, Les Potts, and Barry Kanaiaupuni, appeared in the Brotherhood-financed film Rainbow Bridge, which featured a guest appear© Jeff Divine/Courtesy TASCHEN

Although the exact origin of surfing is indeterminable, what is known is that it was on the islands of Hawaii some 800-years ago that the sport became a cultural entity. There have been many kings of the waves in the centuries since, including Duke Kahanamoku, Eddie Aikau, Doc Ball and – perhaps most influential of them all – Tom Blake. Within his lifetime (1902-1994), Blake’s sportsmanship, indomitable style, writing and inventions – which included lightweight boards and waterproof camera housing – laid the foundations for Californian surf culture.

Now, a dynamic, 600-page tome entitled Surfing 1778-2015 by Jim Heimann traces the evolution of surfing as a sport, lifestyle and philosophy from the first recorded European encounter in 1778 by Captain James Cook, right up until the present day. A graphic designer and illustrator first and foremost, Heimann's affinity with the sport is invested in the artists, designers and photographers – such as Rick Griffin and LeRoy Grannis – who documented surf culture, and whose work he has collected obsessively since his student days.

Here, we present an exclusive preview of the book, while the author tells his own surf stories.

On his first surf memory…
"I've been an avid observer of sport since I was 12 years old; growing up near the beach in Southern California in the 1960s meant that I was exposed to surfing from a young age. The culture surrounding it at the time provided two options: you sided with the surf crowd or you were a car guy, or ‘hodad’. The artist Rick Griffin’s cartoon character, Murphy in Surfer magazine inspired me throughout college – acting as an introduction to the commercial arts. The graphics from this time have a special allure, and capture the sport in such a compelling way. I think Raymond Pettibon’s poster and album artwork for bands such as Sonic Youth are cool because of their naïve style and slightly cynical attitude."

On the beachcomber look
"The Waikiki Beach Boys (the greatest pioneers of Hawaiian Surf Culture in the early 20th Century) created the casual look of shorts, no shirts and a coconut palm hat. Shoes were optional. This was adopted by visiting “haoles” who threw in Aloha shirts, cut-off shorts and sandals. Thus, the standard beachcomber style was born. To most people it’s simply nonconformist, after all, surfers are such a cast of characters it's hard to make stereotypes or consistencies. All the people I have come into contact with on this project and since growing up, share one thing. Surfing. The rest is up for grabs."

On respecting other SoCal tribes’ code of conduct
"In the introduction of the book I wrote about going to a local university homecoming carnival on a Saturday night in the 1960s. The Beach Boys were the main act and when they arrived Dennis Wilson was showing off in his new red ‘Vette. This was a big no-no because as far as the local car guys were concerned he was on enemy turf. They were Hawthorne and this was Westchester – five miles separated them – so automatically there was tension. When they went on stage David Marks had replaced Al Jardine in the line-up, and the audience thought they were being gipped, so the eggs flew. It was a couple of seventh graders horsing around, but the Beach Boys left the stage and that was the end of it. It was intensely small-town."

On what makes surfing the sport of kings
"The moniker 'Sport of Kings' derives from the fact the Hawaiian kings made surfing their official sport. Surfing is peculiar because it can be practised as a solo artist or in a group, and all you need is a coast. Very little training or start-up money is required, providing freedom and a lifestyle that appeals to all types of people. I consider the 1960s to be the golden era of surfing because it was a perfect synthesis of 'baby boomers', technology, and media, and, unlike any other sport, it encompassed every medium of popular culture – music, fashion, dance, art and design."

Surfing 1778-2015 is published by Taschen

 

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