Leave your politics in the sand (or rock, track, etc.)

Where I live, in the People’s Republic of Marin County, California, 90 percent of the population votes Democratic. But a quick internet search shows me that Brevard County, Florida, home to some of Florida’s best surfing (Sebastian Inlet, Spanish House, Melbourne Beach) overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the last presidential election. Presumably, a large portion of the Brevard County voters casting ballots for Trump are dedicated, lifelong surfers. But wait a minute. If surfing is so fundamental to our existence, and we build our entire lives around surfing, shouldn’t that also have an impact on our politics? We like to think that surfing makes us some kind of like-minded tribe, but at least in terms of politics, that’s clearly not true, even on a basic level.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

The good thing is that physical surfing transcends politics. For most of us, the vacillation takes place entirely in a political vacuum. In fact, I would venture to guess that in democratic countries with surfing populations, the days after a major election are probably some of the most surfed days in history, as members of the losing side use surfing to blow off some steam and try to forget about the impending political downfall. While the famous bumper sticker is exaggerating it a bit, there’s a lot of truth to the motto that “There’s nothing a good day’s surfing won’t cure”, including the feeling that your country has gone completely insane.

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Of course I get very angry with other surfers in the water for countless reasons, but their political beliefs are not one of them. I couldn’t care less what they think about universal health care or the legalization of marijuana while trying to strategically remove them from the top. For the most part, any fear or frustration I have about paying too much in taxes, or other people not paying enough, disappears the second I start scratching through the freezing impact zone of my local beach vacation.

And if it’s clean and straight? I never heard of politics at that time. Zorkon the Destroyer could be elected president and I wouldn’t even know it once I get on a screamer. The surfers around me would agree, I’m sure, regardless of their opinion of Zorkon’s policy of eating everyone’s firstborn son.

As an example, I often surf with a lifelong friend whose politics couldn’t be further removed from mine, and while we’re constantly at each other’s throats on social media, we don’t discuss politics in the water. Ever. It’s great, especially for him, because it’s the one time of day when he’s not completely wrong about every single thing he thinks about the world. (Are you reading this, Chris?)

Even if you stubbornly drag politics into your surfing life, you can pretty much force the surfing lifestyle through the political filter you have. Are you an Ayn Rand-quoting, libertarian, free market enthusiast? Too easy. You can make all the money you want, move to Baja to escape your tax liability and live unfettered in the pursuit of off-the-grid point break perfection. Big government advocate? No sweat. You can vote for all the ocean-habitat-protecting, clean-water-loving politicians your bleeding heart desires and hold your head high knowing you’ve helped keep your favorite lineups intact. Somewhere in the middle? That’s fine too. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, from “the government is best that governs the least” to the most strident socialists among us, you can frame your surfing lifestyle through any political lens. Which pretty much blows away the notion that there is some sort of bonding culture that surfers share, outside of liking waves of course.

And if it’s clean and straight? I never heard of politics at that time. Zorkon the Destroyer could be elected president and I wouldn’t even know it once I get on a screamer.

While I’m grateful that surfing doesn’t really dictate my politics or vice versa, if we could rally our political beliefs around wavering, we’d be flexing a decent amount of political muscle. Pollution – let’s start there. We – that is, voters and elected officials who surf – can have a huge impact on the cleanliness of the sea. No one seems to know how many surfers there are in the US, but even in the very low millions, that’s a significant voting bloc. Imagine if all surfers put environmental regulation near the top of their political wish list, simply because we were surfers. If we stood together to prevent development of beautiful coastal areas and committed to preserving them for the public, how incredible could that be for future surfing generations? Or if we went to the other side of the political spectrum and supported massive tariffs on imported goods – what would that do to board builders and people employed in the domestic surf industry?

We’ll probably never know. Surfing, as much as our world revolves around it, is stubbornly removed from the politics of most surfers. At least until the “Zorkon’s Permanent Set Wave Priority” bill is signed into law.

Top photo: Jeremy Bishop

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