Is Surfing a Sport or a Pastime?

Just a few months after our semester ends, surfing is set to debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. While some surfers have praised this development, others see it as being unnecessary and problematic, potentially leading to more overcrowded line-ups around the world and, in general, continuing recent trends of commercializing the sport. But, wait a minute, IS surfing really a sport? In an article assigned for class on 3/26, Brian Blickenstaff notes that many of the best surfers on earth do not enter competitive events organized by the World Surfing League, and that the judging of these competitions has often been seen as subjective and questionable. In addition, there are issues of gender, race, and sexism on tour, and “the clothing and apparel industry that banks on the surfing culture is far, far bigger than the actual professional surfing economy.”  Of course, these issues do not necessarily mean that surfing is not a sport. For this Blogpost, then, we’d like you to enter into the fray on this topic, a debate that has been raging in the world of surfing for at least 50 years, and is only intensifying with the Olympics nearly upon us. What do you think: IS surfing a sport, or just a fun pastime? In the “sport vs. art” debate, is it true that artistry, the relationship with nature, and individual expression on the waves has taken a back seat to professionalized competition and commercialization? Why do you think the way that you do? And, ultimately, why is this question so important, to “soul surfers” and competitive surfers alike?

25 thoughts on “Is Surfing a Sport or a Pastime?

  1. Derek Kettig

    Over the years surfing has evolved dramatically as we learned in class. Today surfing is certainly considered a sport. There are multiple professional surfing leagues and events all around the world. However, just like any sport, this doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun past time for some people. Many individuals use sports as their fun past time wether its playing pick up basketball around the corner or intramural sports at school. This goes the same for surfing whether you’re on the world tour or playing around on your local waves you are still are surfing. I do not believe artistry and individual expression on waves has taken a back seat to a professionalized competition. Let me tell you why during professional surfing competitions individuals are judged on their individual expression on the waves, and how they set themselves apart from the rest of the heat. This question is so important because it asks why some surfers surf. Are they true “soul surfers” and do it for the stoke they feel out in the water, or do they do it for the awards and the fame in competitive surfing. However their drive to surf may be different, but you cannot argue their love and appreciation for the sport of surfing whether they are professionals are just individuals enjoying their past time.

    • When it comes to classifying Surfing as a sport, or a pastime the only view is subjectively. Surfing has long been a past time that can have a competitive nature dating back to when Hawaiians would use it for displays of power and courting the local females. However as modern advancements came along it became more attainable and people chose to do it recreationally while they vacation near the water. So, this is where the debate starts, it’s a mentality that dictates whether this a sport or a pastime. The mentality is when someone goes out into the lineup are, they are going for purely fun, or are they looking to train. For most of the population they maintain a healthy balance between the two to become more advanced to impress their friends but don’t have any true aspirations in the sport. The others who are typically the surf Nazis are the ones going to become the best in hopes of one day becoming a competitive surfer. This can be shown as the difference between playing for a competitive baseball team or playing in your company’s annual softball game. The former is looking to improve their skills, so they train regularly for the aspirations of better competition, the later is just happy to not be in the office sharing passive aggressive comments near the water cooler. So, when people make the debate if it’s a sport or not, it comes down to their internalized perception of the sport. People can debate any sport is in fact a pastime, but social norms have dictated that the more common ones are, and somehow badminton and table tennis. To call anything a sport has typically been decided by whether it is in the Olympics. Many people don’t know but power walking was brought into the Olympics, so when you see the horribly pale kid “not running” around the public pool you should ask yourself if he’s an athlete.

  2. I believe surfing is a sport just like any other sport. Being an athlete and competing in surfing events I feel like surfing evokes the same emotions as lacrosse, soccer, and basketball all did for me. To me, fun past times often are more relaxed activities that have once been a popular sport but decreased in popularity, and are now rarely played, or do not have a professional league. Thus, as pro surfing progresses in popularity and growing economically its original roots of nature’s connection with individualism has halted. In some ways surfers can have clothes or bathing suit lines with sponsors, documentaries, books, or their own vlogs to bring back that connection. However, most pro surfers rely on the financial income from surfing, and when it comes down to supporting your family or being connected to nature, most surfers have chosen to support their family. Some surfers believe the sport’s ability to provide income is beneficial and shows massive progression. No matter what, money always complicates everything. Similar to surfing, I see the same ideas connect to whether NCAA sports should be paid. Once college athletes enter the pros it’s now their job, and most attest to how it’s different. Therefore, the question of paying college athletes makes some wonder if it would take away the innocent and fun aspect of college sports, just like surfing has endured. Surfing started as a leisure activity with a goal to be fun, like college sports, and now with endorsements and money has changed the whole perception and lifestyle, like college sports could also face. “Soul surfers” depend on the old ways of surfing because those laid back, nature loving, and relaxed attitudes encompass their whole lives. If pro surfing continues to grow and inspire others to be pro surfers lineups will be filled with highly motivated surfers looking to crush every wave. Essentially, “soul surfers” lose their spot to people who want to pursue the sport for selfish reasons rather than connect with nature.

  3. When asking if surfing is a sport or not one has to look at the big picture. take into consideration skateboarding, a sport that started as a pass time for surfers in the event there were no waves. today you have huge events centered around it like the x games. “extreme” sports have always been judged differently and there will always be controversy on how the sport is scored and judged but it doesn’t change the fact that you have these surfers competing on the water to show their grit. saying it’s anything less than a sport is demeaning to the people out on the water showing their skills for the world to see. some argue that it kills the artistry of surfing while I argue it gives surfing a platform to show off its unique style and flair. If you’re on a sponsored televised surf event it gives you a platform like many other sports to show off not only what your skills are but your own personal beliefs on the sport. surfing will always have its place as the soul searching pass time that it is but that doesn’t mean it can’t be taken seriously as well. take into consideration any extreme sport such as snowboarding or skiing, both sports in their own right, featured in the Olympics in multiple different categories for judging and critique. Both of these sports are also considered pass times. Does that change the fact that there is a competitive side to it? No, on the contrary, the professional side of things helps give rise to new generations of little snowboarders, or for the sake of these blog post, surfers around the world and the industry gets a platform to spread its message.
    In conclusion, surfing is more than just a pass time for people to casually enjoy on the beach and connect with nature, it’s a sport that demands respect for the countless hours of practice and dedication it takes to compete at the professional level just like any other sport.

  4. When asking if surfing is a sport or not I believe it is a sport. Just like any other sport you are competing and physical activity is involved. I feel like when competition is involved it makes it more like a sport. When I think of a past time activity I think of it to be more enjoyable then having to worry about being competitive. But, when we think about the artistry of surfing and being “one with nature” we think of it to be more of a hobby, so I feel that it could go both boys if you think deeply enough into it. Going out and being “one with nature” seems to be more soothing and relaxing, something that you would want to be alone while doing not something that would have you involved with nature. I feel like people should be more accepting to considering surfing as a sport. It should be given more credit and so should the people who do it. I feel like another factor that goes into it being considered as a sport or not is the fact that you don’t see much surfing on tv; unlike baseball, basketball, soccer and football you constantly see on tv and people going crazy over them. In conclusion surfing should be given more credit as a sport as people are competing and putting lots of work and physical activity into it.

  5. Surfing is not just an art or a sport. In my opinion, it is both. While surfing is definitely a sport, it is also often considered to be a lifestyle that involves a certain attitude and way of life. Surfing is enjoyed as a recreational activity for the most part, but it is also a competitive sport where professional athletes compete for titles. A sport involves moving around and getting active. Surfing is a sport that builds up and shapes your body. There are plenty of muscles involved in surfing which supports this being a sport. Surfing is unique as it is an outdoor water sport while most other sports are conducted in an enclosed area of land. I think the debate of whether competitive surfers are true surfers is irrelevant. A surfer is someone who simply enjoys the sport of surfing. A surfer can chose to do it professionally or just as a hobby in their free time. This debate has arose, but does not change the fact that the surfers who are competing for these titles first began surfing as a hobby which is a similarity to those surfers who do not compete. I think surfing is taken for grant as a sport due to surfing-related activities. These other activities include paddle boarding and kayaking which do not require waves. Surfing is much harder and should be appreciated for the wave sport that it is.

  6. As surfing looks forward to debuting in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, questions have arised around how people look at surfing. Surfing has evolved across the world throughout its deep history, and today I believe that surfing is a sport. The World Surfing League is a prime example of surfing being a sport. The WSL tours the entire world with many different competitions annually, giving the top surfers in the world an opportunity to show off their talents. This compares to the more common sports, such as the NBA, MLB, or NHL because they offer the best players in the world to showcase their talents for entertainment purposes. Now that being said, it does not mean that surfing cannot be looked at as a fun pastime. Surfing is one of the sports people can participate in leisurely and not worry about competitions. Not every participant in every sport views it as an intense competition. There are many people that participate for fun and too relax. I see this first hand in surfing as a lifeguard at the beach. While sitting there I can tell about half of the surfers in the water surf competitively to improve their skills, while the other half seem to be out there to have fun, enjoy the waves and relax. In my opinion, the sport vs. art debate is irrelevant to the argument of surfing as a sport. Every sport is an art in its own way, so yes surfing is considered art, but most definitely has its competitive side, allowing it to qualify as a sport. This is an important question specifically for soul surfers and competitive surfers because they believe they practice their activity the only way it should be completed. Soul surfers use surfing as a way to connect with nature and relax, and are passionate about surfing turning into nothing more than that. It can be argued by making surfing into a sport, it is ruining the art. I fairly disagree because many sports are looked at in many different ways. Surfing is no different than any other sport because it can be participated in as a leisure and at the same time be viewed as a serious competition.

  7. As the debut of surfing in the olympics 2020 approaches, many people are debating whether or not surfing is considered a sport. Just like all the traditional sports such as basketball, football, soccer, etc, surfing takes a great amount of physical activity along with the endless hours it takes to be a great surfer. Surfing originally started out as a relaxing and spiritual act but it has been competitive since the beginning. The leaders on the islands of Hawaii were often the best surfers on the island as surfing granted social status. Over the years surfing has stayed very competitive including the introduction of the World Surf League .The WSL has been touring the world hosting events for all the best surfers to compete since 1976. While not all of the top surfers are a fan of surf competitions, the ones who do enter, battle it out year after year to see who is the best. As the years went on it was only a matter of time until surfing made its way into the olympics. The olympics are the biggest and most well known sporting event in. the world. The entire world comes together once every four years to fight for the gold in just about every sport imaginable. As surfing has finally broke its way into the olympics, people will see on the biggest stage exactly why surfing is a sport.

  8. When facing the question “is surfing a sport or pastime,” one has to take into hand that it all come down to opinion until this year. Surfing’s origin goes way back to ancient hawaii where the natives fought for power and social rank through surfing. However, during this time many natives began to form a spiritual bond with nature and adopted surfing into their lifestyle. I believe this is a great factor in the argument because those who believe surfing is a “pastime,” must see surfing as something bigger than advertisement and money. Although, surfing is a sport because there are many competitions world wide with many elite teams facing off. That does not sound different than any other sport around the world. On the other hand, surfing was finally added to the olympics and is set to debut in Tokyo this year. One of the best/most influencial surfers at this point in time, Kelly Slater, who definitely has an emotional bond with surfing stated, “It’d be a huge honor.” (Slater) Those words coming from a figure like Kelly Slater are so powerful because it breaks barriers between surf spirit and sport to show everyone they can appreciate both factors.
    In conclusion, surfing is a sport because it started as a competitive game for social rank, and it is being recognized in the olympics this year.

  9. Surfing, in my mind, although some consider it to be a fun pastime I believe that is more so a sport. Surfing takes a lot of physical strength and prowess and endurance to be successful at it and those attributes can be used to describe many other sports as well. Along with being a competitive sport surfing can also be considered an art form with each surfer having their own style and techniques. Although surfing has become more and more about competition over the years I still believe that many surfers still see it as an art form or a connection to nature more than anything. From watching many surf documentaries and with a lot of my friends being surfers themselves I hear over and over that surfing is more for the fun of it over the money. The question is so important to surfers of all kinds because surfing is a large part of their lives and it defines them. Each person sees surfing differently and I believe the way you see surfing says a lot about which kind of surfer you are.

  10. Obviously, this is a very tough question to answer. Especially when you take into consideration the history and culture that is at the foundation of what surfing is. All in all though, I think that surfing is a sport. Ancient Hawaiians used surfing as a leisurely activity and incorporated it into their religion, but they also used surfing as a way to test physical fitness and determine who could be king; making it a competitive sport in certain situations. Although I do believe that as a people across the globe, many of those who do surf have lost that cultural aspect of surfing and only focus on who is better at surfing a wave. Unfortunately it is just how we have evolved as humans always trying to be better than the next and constantly trying to find a way to monetize everything we do. This also would, in turn, put the individual relationships with the waves and nature ‘on the back burner’ so to say because the pro surf tours and competitions are what is advertised in the media. Almost everything that any person can play or do as a leisurely activity is monetised and commercialized to make money so it is inevitable for surfing to follow suit. These kinds of questions would be important for soul surfers because they don’t want to lose that connection to nature or be shamed for not being as aggressive or not being as “good” as others because that isn’t what they are surfing for. On the other hand it is important for the competitive surfers because since surfing has become so popular and they are able to win a ton of money for just one win, it can be their whole livelihood and the only way they make money so without pro-surfing they wouldn’t be successful.

  11. There has been a long debate in the surf community whether people consider surfing a sport or a pastime. I personally believe it is both. This same topic rises in many action sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. Surfing as a pastime has been around since the birth of surfing. Surfing was first introduced for leisure when you had free time. Only recently in surfing history has it been considered a sport when surfers compete in contests. In more recent years I believe the surf community has become very divided on the topic of even hosting surfing contests, since they purely believe surfing should be left to those who view it was a pastime. While I enjoy surfing with friends as a pastime I think if you have the capabilities to surf competitively you should. Contests bring much publicity to surfing and can inspire others to pick up surfing or want to get better, like with any mainstream sport. I although, grew up surfing for the pleasure of just surfing, like most kids who surf. I believe the debate over this topic will never settle on a single answer and surfing itself will continue to evolve for as long as surfers are still around.

  12. In all, the classification of surfing being a sport is based off of one’s personal viewpoint on surfing. A lot of people like to view surfing as an activity and not so much a sport, but personally I view surfing ultimately as a sport. Various “big name” surfers are sponsored by brands and shops just so when they compete the companies or shops gain recognition or customers. Also these athletes that are being sponsored, use surfing as their full time occupation. They travel the world to do countless surfing competitions for their living and for their passion. Also the classification of surfing as a sport should have been solidified once it was announced to be in the olympics which is the biggest event for all sports. In conclusion the debate on whether or not surfing is a sport is all personal opinion based. Although it is officially classified as a sport each person is entitled to their own opinion. Many surfers view it as a sport that also shapes their lifestyle around them. Surfing is a sport and can also be used as a past time for others depending on the scenario.

  13. In my opinion, I believe surfing is a sport. Just like any other sport, it is a physical activity. Not only is it defined as a sport but it’s also competitive, and has many leagues to it. All ages are allowed to participate and there are really no restrictions when it comes down to riding the waves. Just like any other sport, it’s about having fun. For example, flag football is a sport, there is no physical contact necessarily but people are still having fun. Just like surfing, there isn’t too much physical contact unless of course you get run over, or you have a friend swimming beneath the waves. It is more than just a fun pastime whether you compete in a WSL event or do it because you like it. Going into is surfing a sport or an art. I believe it is more of a sport but art contributes to it. The sport aspect would be competing but as well as being fit. The art contribution is the art of the surfboard and how it moves in the water. The person doing the actual surfing itself makes it a sport and the surfboard gives it the art aspect. The term “soul surfer”, what does it mean. In this case, it is just pure fun and really getting into the idea of what you love to do out on the water, it’s about being stoked.

  14. I think it should be able to dip into both categories, but in today’s society, we can’t allow that. If an activity gets so popular around the world it should be able to become a sport, and that is what happened to surfing. Surfing can get very competitive for certain people, and that is great, but out of every sport, I think surfing should be the most fun and relaxed one. All throughout time, surfing was an exciting activity to take part in whenever one had the free time. Surfing is one of those sports where you can be amazing at it for your entire life. A perfect example of an amazing older surfer is Michael Ho, father of Mason and Coco Ho. Michael has won the Duke Classic, the World Cup, the Hawaiian Triple Crown, and even the 1982 Pipe Masters. With this being sad, he still surfs Backdoor and Pipeline to this day. Michael is 63 years old, it’s amazing how he is still able to surf some of the biggest waves out there. Michael could have competitively surfed realistically up until about 10 years ago, but he chose not to. He enjoyed and did his time surfing in the league, and then got out. He now just surfs with his family and friends. He is a perfect example of dipping into both categories, but the most important part of it is that he got out of the sport of surfing and made it a fun pastime pretty early on. I believe that when it comes down to it, surfing is really a fun pastime, or at least should be. Some of the best surfers in the world did not get into competitive surfing at all, and I think they had the most enjoyable and peaceful lives. One of the best surfers in the world, Laird Hamilton, never competitively surfed in his entire life. He thinks surfing is an art that people cannot just put numbered scores to surfers. I think the same way as him, and I think that’s how surfing should turn back into. Sadly, it will never go back to that. It will stay a competitive numbered sport until the end of time.

  15. I feel that surfing is a past time. Surfing is way more than the WSL. Some of the worlds best surfers like Noa Deane and Dane Reynolds do not compete in the WSL. With that being said, surfing should not be an Olympic sport either. Surfing is slowly beginning to tun into Little League baseball, with dads running around trying to coach there kid, and even running there kid’s social media. The WSL and people wanting to become pro surfers has sucked the soul out of our way of life. Surfing should be more about beach culture and less about trying to get sponsors and being an athlete.

  16. I personally believe that surfing is a fun pastime activity that surfers just can’t get enough of. If you look at other competitive sports, they were built around competition and they challenge ourselves and others. The main reason of a competitive sport is to highlight a single person, or a group of people, as “the most technically and physically developed” in that specific sport. In surfing, it’s more like the surfer is challenging the ocean, not other people. To me, I see it as the goal is to have fun. If people didn’t enjoy surfing and get ‘stoked’ every time they caught a wave and feel that adrenaline rush, they wouldn’t do it. Surfing is all about the feeling one gets and the connection they have with the ocean. I feel like surfing competition is based on guess-work and opinion with improvised rules. Unlike sports like swimming or track, points are the product of personal opinion. Also, the ocean is an unpredictable environment that can’t be controlled unlike areas such as soccer fields.

  17. Surfing is so much more than just a pastime or a sport for that matter. Surfing is one of those things that falls into just about every category depending on who you are as a person, and that’s what it really comes down to. Surfing shouldn’t be specifically labeled as a sport because it is so much more than that. It’s not all about who’s the best or competition even. For some it might be, but for most people that surf, it started as a fun past time that they ended up perfecting to the point they could make money from it, and who wouldn’t want that? Although, surfing to me individually and to most non-professional surfers, it’s simply a form of therapy and becoming one with nature and the ocean. Being able to harness that energy and ride a wave is such a freeing feeling, and it takes you away from everything else that’s happening in the world for a little while. I believe that labeling surfing as one particular thing is almost impossible, because everyone has their own take on it. It is a sport, its a pastime, its an escape, and most of all, its fun and exciting, just like every hobby or activity should be. Surfing is what you make it, and I believe the best way to label it, if you had to, would simply be by just saying its “surfing” because every other label sparks debate.

  18. I believe surfing is in still in that “developing” stage of growing into a professional sport from a hobby or past time. If you look at the histories of other sports like football, baseball, hockey, basketball, etc. they all began as hobbies and eventually grew into developed leagues, then later into professional leagues. But, unlike these sports surfing has been stagnated in this “developing” stage because of the push-back against professional surfing initiated by Hawaiian surfers in the 1970’s and 80’s. Because of this I feel that surfing is both a sport and a past time and it can categorized as both because of what surfing is and what it stands for. Surfing is whatever you want it to be, no matter what style or technique you want to use and what style board you use surfing is what you make it. If your someone who wants to hit their local break with their board and not take surfing to seriously then it is just a past time to you. But, if you want to travel the world and compete in competitions or be sponsored by companies then surfing is a sport to you.

  19. Determining whether surfing is a sport or not is a very hard question to answer. Personally I do believe it is a sport, there are techniques that have to be mastered in order to become a good surfer, just like in any other sport. I can relate to this argument, I play golf and the same argument is made about golf. I think that it is a sport because the people that are in the WSL have devoted their entire lives into mastering the sport of surfing. However this question is very personal, people that are competitive and have played other sports may have a different take on it compared to someone who surfs just for fun and sees no competitive value in surfing.

  20. Sport vs Activity can always be a heated debate topic and ultimately the conversation ends up ending in a conclusion of “it depends.” It comes down to how you view and use the activity. Surfing can be a sport in the sense as it is a workout and competitive but it can also be seen as a leisurely activity.
    There are many sports in the world but for it to be in the Olympics, it has to have large popularity worldwide, which surfing has. Many sports that are in the Olympics can be debated if it should be included.

  21. I would absolutely consider surfing a sport over calling it a pastime. It requires a lot of coordination and athleticism in order to surf which should automatically categorize it as a sport. I never got into surfing growing up but I did always think of it as a sport. It would have been nice to see surfing in the Olympics before this year and I am thrilled to see it has finally made it. I also do not think that the art part of surfing needs to take a back seat to the competition aspect of surfing. Some people can surf for the sport and some people can still surf just to get out with nature and the waves. I do not believe that it has to be one or the other.

  22. When it comes to the question of whether surfing is a sport or a past-time I would say it is both. Surfing cannot be denied as a sport since we as people have developed it to be such. Surfing may have started out completely differently, but through America’s controversial takeover of surfing it has since become more than what it once was and has become a sport. With that said that is not all surfing is because the surf community doesn’t just surf for sport, but surf for pleasure. To deny that surfing is a way of life of an escape from the real world would be ignored because of the many people that don’t compete in surf tournaments, but do it as much as they can and even try to miss work if the waves are nice enough. With that said, this debate is mostly subjective and can be interpreted differently by many different people with different experiences in surfing.

  23. Personally, from the lessons I’ve learned from this course and my prior knowledge of surfing, I always thought of surfing as a professional sport as well as a leisure/pass time sport. Surfing has really evolved over the course of time and the evolution of pro-surfing enhanced the beauty of the sport. Leading to the creation of surf companies such as Quicksilver, Billabong, Hurley, etc. These are companies that have been dedicated to the sport of surfing and have grown with the sport making themselves well-known. Reasoning that I also think it’s a leisure/pass time sport is because surfing has proven itself to connect differently with a person. Pass time surfers love the adrenaline rush of the waves and the speed they get riding into shore. I personally know that because my uncle is a leisure/pass time surfer. As a musician, he spent time in Maui working with his band when one of his band members knew how to surf. He went out with his band member to the ocean and he was taught how to surf. From there, he fell in love with the sport and took it as a way to clear his mind and just to connect with himself and the ocean. Once he returned home to LA, he would spend hours every day riding waves. In the sport vs art debate again my opinion is that it is both a sport and a form of art. It takes great skill to be able to ride big waves but seeing the natural beauty of surfing with the curl really makes one take in how beautiful and amazing the sport truly is.

  24. I think that surfing is currently more of a sport than a fun pastime. Through the course of our class so far we have learned about the evolution of surfing and it has most certainly become more of a sport, as opposed to an activity that one engages in purely for enjoyment. I think it is in fact true that artistry, the relationship with nature, and individual expression on the waves has taken a back seat to professionalized competition and commercialization. I think this is true for many things in our society, as many people look to profit off of anything they can, with surfing being no exception. It is because of these ideals, especially in America that we see surfing as commercialized and competitive as it is today. This is important because it affects how people ultimately view surfing as a culture. “Soul-surfers” and competitive surfers differ in their reasoning for surfing and can thus potentially cause issues between the two groups. For example, a competitive surfer may be more inclined to “steal” a “soul-surfer’s” wave without realizing it because they are surfing in a more aggressive manner as opposed to trying to relax and connect with nature. In conclusion, surfing has ultimately evolved from a fun pastime to a super competitive and commercialized sport.

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