Surf Music Analysis

Education commentator John Taylor Gatto has asserted that “Close reading of tough-minded writing is still the best, cheapest, and quickest method known for learning to think for yourself.” It is with such a premise in mind that we want you to complete this final Blogpost of the semester. The topic of your Blogpost will be a specific piece of surf music (in other words, a song – probably one chosen from our class material from last Thursday). Critical thinking is varied thinking, and in that spirit we want you to conduct a three-part analysis of your chosen song, which will require you to practice and apply separate, but equally important, intellectual skills.

Part One – Summary: Listen to your chosen song several times, and take a look at the lyrics online. Then, summarize it by briefly telling its surf-related story. What, in general, is the song about? The answer to that question should not be an interpretation, but a short explanation of the contents of the song. To help write this summary, you could possibly consider working with/using the 5Ws and H idea made famous by journalists (who, what, where, when, why, how).

Part Two – Synthesis:  To synthesize means to combine or connect, and in this section we want you to synthesize the contents of your piece of surf music with key ideas and premises that we have covered so far this semester.  Put another way, we want you to draw specific connections between your chosen song and specific social, historical, scientific, commercial, or political topics that we have covered in class this spring.  How does your song relate to our coursework, and what do these connections highlight or reveal to us as “consumers” of surf culture?

Part Three – Interpretation: We usually think of music in terms of its entertainment value, but the fact is that music – especially music with lyrics – is deeply meaningful, much like literature. And in this section, we want you to analyze and interpret the meaning of your chosen song. To do so, you must break down the song’s lyrics and focus on specific details that might have deeper significance. Therefore, you might take
into consideration such things as: the “theme” of the song; the historical, cultural, and technological context of the music; the songwriter’s background and experience; the genre of the music and its importance; the implications of key images, words, metaphors, or other minute details found in the lyrics. Reflecting on these details, what does your song “mean,” and/or what does it say about surfing and its place(s) in society?

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?

On Scientific Developments in Surfing (etc.)

For our next Blogpost, you will have several options to choose from.  The main idea here is to riff a little on some of the material we’re covering during Unit Two (on the science and technology of surfing).  But we also wanted to give you the chance to back up a little and talk about a really key element of our course that we haven’t done much with during classtime:  our fieldtrip to the New Jersey Surf Museum at Tuckerton.  All told, then, you should let your thoughts go and see what there is to see with regards to TWO of three topic options.  For each topic you choose to tackle, you should write a paragraph — so, two total paragraphs is the goal. 

Here are the three topic options that you might choose from:  1)  Follow up on our class fieldtrip.  What do you remember most?  What did you learn?  How did it help to illustrate or raise additional questions about stuff we have been doing in class?  2)  Address the age-old question of whether shaping is truly an “artform.”  You might consider such things as:  Is board shaping really an “art”?  Why or why not?  And who cares if it is “artistic” or not – what difference does it make? Is it “wrong” somehow to ride a mass-produced surfboard?  3)  For your final option, you should consider the controversial “Surf Ranch”.  What do you think of Kelly Slater’s famous man-made wave (and others like it)?  Is this technological development the latest, greatest example that surfing today has “lost it soul”, or does it represent an ingenious example of forward progress? 

On the Historical Growth, Globalization, and Politicization of Surfing

Since your first Blogpost of the semester, our class has covered a lot of historical territory (literally and figuratively speaking). This second Blogpost is designed to encourage you to think more about key aspects of that history, and to view it in a new and different light. It is also aimed to invite you to think visually a bit, something you will be doing soon for your first Middle Stakes writing of the semester (due the following week). For this Blogpost, then, you will bridge the past and the present, and think historically and visually, by doing the following:

1) Pick two historical topics covered since our last Blog that you think are interesting/important. You may choose from the following list, subjects which you may want/need to narrow a bit in order to have something thoughtful to say about them: Alexander Hume Ford, the Outrigger Club, Duke Kahanamoku, the Hui Nalu Club, the “Massie affair,” surfing & Apartheid, Tom Carroll, California’s “surf Nazis”, Aboriginal surfers, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, South China Sea Surf Club, Michael February, or Surfers 4 Peace.

2) Write at least one robust paragraph about both of the historical topics you choose (so, two paragraphs minimum). In each paragraph, you should explore the meaning and broader significance of your subject, and draw some conclusions about it in terms of the history of surfing. To do so, you must offer: a) A quotation that somehow encapsulates and addresses your subject. You should not only find and present this quote, but somehow use and interrogate it in your discussion. b) An image or video that represents your subject. You can offer us this simply by providing a link. Then, here again, you should tell us what is notable about that image, and discuss how/why it illustrates key issues related to your topic(s) and its role in the history of surfing.

Thoughts About the Birth, “Death,” and Rebirth of Surfing

‘Surfing and Society’ is a course that will deeply explore the history, politics, and development of surfing in America, and beyond. So far, our class has focused on the development and early history of surfing, and for your first Blogpost of the semester you will be asked to do a few (relatively) simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/30, and ways in which it connects up to what we did in the previous two classes. For this initial trial run, there are three options for you to choose from, and you should choose two of these prompts and respond to them (with your writing amounting to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  One of the very first things we did on our first day together was define and discuss “the stoke.” For this option, you should apply your notions of “the stoke” to one of our recent readings. It would certainly be sensible to articulate how “the stoke” is seen, articulated, and examined in one of the literary/historical accounts we have read so far (by Captain Cook, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Jack London). But if you would like to apply this premise to a historical event or colonial topic mentioned in ‘The World in the Curl’ instead, that would be fine.  Whatever text or topic you wish to discuss, you should explain where and how “the stoke” is seen, and why this particular reference serves as an important and illuminating example of the early history of surfing.

2) The four historical/literary texts listed above (by Cook, Melville, Twain, and London) are fun and quirky and provide an interesting window into the premodern world of surfing. But there is a darkness lurking beneath the surface when it is realized that they are also products of colonialist expansion and exploitation in Hawaii, and the islands nearby. For this option, then, you should choose one of these works and consider it as a kind of political document, a text about war and peace, kingship and rule, imperialism, xenophobic hatred, and so on. To do so, you should focus on a particular passage where issues of power and authority are quietly at issue. How does your chosen passage bring to the page such notions as violence, religion, hatred, justice, misunderstanding, authority, and/or negotiation? Place the passage specifically within the colonial context of the day, consider its meaning and significance, and by all means free to offer some thoughts about what YOU think about the topic, text, and theme in question.

3) An important intellectual skill is comparison, and in fact one of the things we will do frequently in class is compare ideas, sources, places, and people from the broad culture of surfing. So for the third and final option, you might do some comparing and contrasting and see what comes of it. For example, you might compare and contrast such things as: Christian missionaries vs. Hawaiian religious leaders; native surfers vs. the white settler population; the morals of Polynesians vs. the morals of tourists; the US government vs. Hawaiian kings; surfing in Hawaii in the early twentieth century vs. surfing in California and other mainland locales; and/or premodern surf techniques and ideals vs. the “modern” notions of the sport that arose in the United States. Whatever topics or ideas you choose to compare, your paragraph should articulate some of the notable similarities and differences but, more to the point, what is learned through the comparison. What does your comparison reveal about early surfers and the rise, “death,” and rebirth of surfing?

It will be very interesting to see what you all have to offer in this first Blogpost of the semester!!