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Surf Park Summit panel explores surfing’s evolution

Sean Penn recently mentioned running into his inspiration for the salted and fried Jeff Spicoli character he brought to life in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Penn’s work in the film simultaneously hit the nail on the head – we all know a dude like that – while also helping cement the surfer stereotype.

But does that portrayal, almost 40 years ago, still hold up today? Perhaps a more accurate Penn portrayal circa 2021 would have Spicoli as a social media influencer throwing shakas in #VanLife posts on Instagram while promoting some sort of CBD product. Just a guess. Instagram wasn’t around in 1982 when the film came out, but neither were surf-focused wave pools.

So how will surf culture change with the advent of wave-making technology? Surf Park Summit will host a panel to address this very question.

Guest speakers include Ian Cairns, Damien Hobgood, Surf Diva’s Izzy Tihanyi and Andrew Thatcher of Endless Surf. The panelists we spoke to believe that the advent of wave pool surfing will ripple throughout surf culture, penetrating formerly surf-less communities and expanding diversity in the sport while also raising the performance bar.

Andrew Thatcher of Endless Surf will moderate the panel at this year’s Surf Park Summit

Andrew Thatcher says that surf parks will have a huge and simultaneously positive effect on surfing in two key areas.

“One aspect is that it will allow athletes the opportunity to push their boundaries and be very creative in how they surf on a highly repeatable and perfect wave,” said Thatcher. “The other element which can not be overlooked is the spirit of community and lack of pressure that a surf pool affords a surfer.”

Thatcher added that without the crowd-related stressors often found today in ocean surfing, wave pools will fundamentally shift the collective vibe to one of camaraderie.

“Since the person surfing is a paying customer just like everyone else, there is no jockeying for position or ‘localism’ like in the ocean,” he said.

Damien Hobgood is excited that wave parks will influence the culture by bringing surfing to areas where most surfers haven’t even ventured yet.

“It’s going to expand our culture and we will see these influences come into surf culture and vise versa,” said the former CT competitor. I think it will be more diversified and open. That was one of the biggest blessings surfing gave me, and now that can be even bigger.”

There was a push around the Spicoli era to clean up surfing. As Ian “Kanga” Cairns took the helm of America’s premier amateur surfing body, the NSSA, he told Surfing Magazine, “You (surfers) can no longer get away with long hair, cussing or bad behavior.”

Today Cairns has witnessed, if not orchestrated, much of surfing’s transformation. As co-founder of the ASP, cohort in the creation of the Bronzed Aussies he has helped alter surfing’s image.

Cairns pointed to the world’s insatiable appetite for all things surf as a key driver in the sport’s exponential growth.

“(The) ISA World Games in 1999 had 31 countries, (in) 2021 it had 51 countries,” said Kanga, noting that 2023 could see 100 countries in the event. “The Olympics will rapidly accelerate this trend.”

Ian Cairns at the Surf Ranch. Image by WSL/Rowland

Cairns also believes wave pools fall right in with this expansion and will have their own unique culture-within-a-culture.

“There is already a Rapid Surf League and rapid pools based on the Eisbach in Munich,” he said. “Check the River surfing scene in Colorado! The acceleration of aerial training in pools will spawn a new event series.”

So what does this mean for surf culture once more people have access to the joyous act of riding waves? We don’t know. We have some ideas. But that’s what this panel is about.

According to Encyclopedia of Surfing’s author Matt Warshaw the joy in Spicoli is that we all could relate to him.

“Each and every teenaged American surfer in the early ’80s belonged to one of two categories,” writes Warshaw. “You were Spicoli. Or you palled around with Spicoli.”

Trying to find the new Jeff Spicoli, as shaped by this new wave pool frontier, will be addressed at Surf Park Summit on October 4-5 in San Diego, California.


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