Surfing: A Culture Disconnect

Jake Chapman, Online Columns Editor, looks at the surfing culture.

Photography: © Kevin Cook, ‘Cookie’


I recently completed an assignment that didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected. It was an interview with the Chairman of the Museum of British Surfing, Kevin ‘Cookie’ Cook, and when I read my tutor’s feedback, which said, ‘This is informative and lively, though the one thing it doesn’t do is tell us about the Museum of Surfing!’, I realised I had actually included nothing about what was on display, but had focussed on why it was there. What is the reason for documenting and exhibiting surfing history?


The answer surprised me, mostly because I realised I was part of the problem. What Cookie and I discussed the most was the commercialisation of surfing, about how surfing has become a culture, a lifestyle; it’s now so much more than the physical act of surfing. It’s become a way of dressing, an attitude, an outlook on life. It’s become an image that people want to be part of whoever they may be, because it isn’t something that’s confined to surfers, and I was no different. I grew up on the outskirts of an industrial city, and for most of my life I’ve identified as a surfer, even though I didn’t start properly surfing until last year. It wasn’t until I actually started doing it that I realised I was missing the point.

It’s a belief that Cookie and I share, and I believe most others would agree, that once you take up surfing, the sea becomes an important part of your life. It applies to all parts of nature that if you have a relationship with it you are going to be protective of it, because it enables you to have the experiences you love. The reality is that it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible to feel the true effects of the sea when it is merely a holiday destination, a place to visit for a couple of weeks at a time, to then be forgotten.

The museum wants to lead by example and try to convey this missing piece of surfing across to the public, a piece that is absent or unheard of within the large surfing brands. Although, whilst the displays at the museum are very interesting, I didn’t quite receive the same revelatory message as I did from my conversation with Cookie. It’s an opinion that I hope I will share with him, as I believe he has the tools and the knowledge to start making a difference in perceptions towards the environment. The museum faded into the background in my article because he was saying everything it wasn’t, his words holding much more value than the memorabilia hung upon the walls, gathering dust, speaking to no one about the things they have seen.