Where and when did the term "Soul Surfing" originate?
asked by Marc Beaty, Orange County, CA

Surf scribe Matt Warshaw explains the whole shebang, in the Encyclopedia of Surfing


Durable if overused phrase generally used to describe the type of riding practiced by a non-commercial, non-competitive surfer; a "pure" surfer; a surfer who rides for personal enrichment only. While Southern California surf guitarist Johnny Fortune wrote and recorded the instrumental "Soul Surfer" in 1963 (perhaps with the intention of slipstreaming behind the growing popularity of "soul" music), the origins of "soul surfing" are rooted in the late '60s, as the sport -- or "art," or "dance-form," or "lifestyle," as surfing was variously described at the time -- threw itself headlong into the counterculture. In "Blue Barefoot Soul," a 1968 Petersen's Surfing magazine article, writer Duke Boyd praises "the man upon his board who shuts out the world and its clamor, for the silence of rolling green passageways of bliss and beauty," then encourages the rider to "trip through the sunshines of time and eternity with bare feet and blue soul."

While soul surfing was never defined in tenets and principals -- the phrase itself was most used in the mid- and late-'70s, as the rise of professional surfing served as an opposition force -- competition, media, industry and accquisition were nonetheless viewed as anathema to this new swirling, smoky, pastel-colored surf culture, which mirrored youth culture in general. Although in practice, surfing competition wasn't so much avoided as it was bad-mouthed, just as the surf industry wasn't so much brought down by legions of suddenly disinterested soul surfers, but was instead divided into smaller pieces and given a psychedelic makeover. Some surfers, nonetheless, went much further with soul surfing than others. In the small but much-celebrated "country soul" movement in New South Wales, Australia, dozens of Sydney-based surfers, including 1966 world champion Nat Young, took up residence in abandoned country farmhouses in northeast corner of the state, grew their own vegetables, made their own surfboards, and for two or three seasons rode uncrowded point surf; the short-lived era is beautifully captured in Alby Falzon's surf movie classic Morning of the Earth. (Hollywood produced it's own versions of the soul surfer, including the Kahuna, played by an asectic, earthy, hut-dwelling Cliff Robertson in 1959's Gidget; and Chandler, the bearded surf-sage played by Gregory Harrison in 1987's North Shore. Dark-side soul surfers are found in Kem Nunn's California noir novels Tapping the Source and The Dogs of Winter.)

In California, meanwhile, soul surfing was in many places cross-bred with a territorial and sometimes violent "localism" credo, where surfers in a particular area banded together to discourage "non-local" surfers from visiting -- a perverted version of soul, although the surf media and the surf contests were indeed kept at bay.

Eventually there developed what might be called the pragmatic soul surfer, exemplified by Wayne Lynch of Australia, Gerry Lopez of Hawaii, and California's Tom Curren: each with soul credentials of the highest order, yet each involved with the surf industry and surf media, and each former competitive champion. Full-time surfing, as they testified without saying it out loud, is virtually incompatible with a pure version of soul surfing surfing; Lynch, Lopez and Curren, like everyone else, had mortgages to pay and families to raise, and the "country soul" back-to-nature method didn't provide enough -- not even close.

The phrase "soul surfing" had in fact lost much of it's currency by the time Surfer magazine editor Sam George wrote "Soul Search" in 2000, with George first noting that "the perimeters of 'soul' in surfing have, for the past two generations, been stretched and shrunk and tugged like the rubber of an ill-fitting wetsuit," then closing with the notion that "we're all soul surfers. And so there's no such thing a
s soul surfing."

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