rob gilley

An Inconvenient Spicoli

| posted on March 27, 2012

Jeff Spicoli, our most controversial ambassador, from the motion picture Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

“She likes it, but she really misses the culture.”

To be polite, I just nodded. This wasn’t the first time I had heard about a Manhattan transplant who loved California weather but now sorely missed New York “culture.”

I didn’t say anything to the lady, but in my mind I was calling B.S. on this whole thing.

An explanation:

My contention is that when most people talk about experiencing culture, what they really refer to is the act of wearing uncomfortable clothes and sitting on one’s ass. Maybe watching some stage play with actors in spandex. Or some crazy-haired symphony conductor waving a baton around like some crazy crack-head with Tourette’s.

Passive exposure to antiquated and obsolete themes.

And even those who attend more cutting edge art shows aren’t usually there for enlightenment, they’re there to swill liquor and feign social superiority.

For appearances.

My reasoning—my conclusion—is that when most people say that they miss culture, what they really mean is that they miss pretension.

The unexpected truth of the matter is if you want cultural enlightenment, if you want to set your passion on fire, if you want to expose yourself to the highest art of all…go surfing. Not only does the act of riding waves and its associated lifestyle qualify as culture, it satisfies multiple definitions:

Anthropological—We’ve got our own tools (Skil planers, wax combs), rituals (fanatical forecast checking, board sacrifices), language (“sick pits,” “pigdog”), mannerisms (shaka-shaking, overhanging hedge phantom-tube ducking), and nomadic routes (Mex trips, going on Tour).

Artistic—We’ve got our own art (Petroglyphs, Wolfgang Bloch), music (Jack Johnson, Jake Shimbakuro), and literature (Drew Kampion, William Finnegan).

And in a self-fulfilling touch, our muse is also participatory. Hardcore surfing demands its own cultural immersion. We all are performance artists. True, dedicated surfers are, by nature, permanently jazzed.

Despite societal and Hollywood stereotypes to the contrary, surfers are actually the ones that are awake, the ones who live in the Now.

So given the universally accepted definition of “enlightened exposure to the high arts,” Spicoli is actually the cultured one.

  • Christopher Fisher

    This article is right on…so rad. Thanks for being a boss and tellin it like it is!

  • Matthew S Lamb

    True Surfing is a cultured life style. Spicoli is actually the cultured one. Ya don’t get it twisted!

  • moggs

    Highbrow surf culture elbows out the champagne glitterati. Surfers know a shark belongs in the ocean and not behind glass, floating in formaldehyde at the Tate, or having its tasteless gelatinous fin adored by swill.

  • Alan_M

    Whaaaapaaa! Take THAT snobs!

  • Alec Marin

    Reducing other art forms as “antiquated and obsolete themes” is a critical mistake. One can find just as much joy listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony as they can catching a perfect wave. A denial of the full repertoire of life’s many delights is an error made only by fools. Why narrow the scope of your passions and interests when you can take in everything this world has to offer? Music, art, literature, theater, and surfing – these are but a few of the many wonderful things that embellish our lives. Based solely on your thesis, I would argue that you are just as unenlightened as those passive elitists you lament.

  • seriously?

    Im pretty sure being surrounded by insecure simple minded and uneducated people like the author of this article is exactly what she’s referring to. I am from the Northeast and spent my year in southern California wholly unimpressed with the intelligence, education, and sophistication of the vast majority of left coasters. Sorry, but what she misses is intelligence and sophistication, not exactly what the land of bay watch land is known for. Surfing is great and the culture is interesting but no where near the sophistication of a New York, London or Paris. Your going to compare mini simmons and lost punk rock videos to the works of Phillip Glass or Miles Davis? Because you can ride one and not the other? Maybe she was an artist or a musician or a ballet dancer. Also, conversation with other intelligent inspired people can be just as fulfilling as a day at the beach and a hell of a lot more enjoyable than your average day in a pissed off and greedy crowd. But living where you do, apparently that hasn’t dawned on you.

  • Julien

    Culture is not only gallery openings and opera outings. Culture is also in the architecture, the people and the choice (Access to more movie and not only the blockbusters for example).

    I feel the lack of culture in the US in general, but NYC, SF and a few other places still have the culture I mentioned above.

    If that transplant moved to So Cal, too bad for her, but I totally see how she can feel that way.

  • chrys

    Nice work. Every time a NY’er says they miss culture or “come from a real place” it’s just insecurity rearing it’s head. Are you such shallow people that your only defining trait is the city you come from?

    And I’m from the east coast originally…

  • joe

    she meant – californians are stupid. which they are.

  • Charlie Raisin Sacks

    Sometimes you gotta poop in a brown bag and smell what your bringing to lunch, you know what i mean? No, well to bad.

  • amandla

    not cool. There are amazing things about both surfing and the fine arts, and every subculture has an ugly side. Don’t knock one just to promote another dude.

  • dave

    If that is meant to be satire, it fails. It doesn’t go far enough to describe the characteristics of culture-snobs (or surfers, for that matter) in order to pin them down and reveal truths, so it doesn’t quite reach the level satire. If that wasn’t meant to be satire then it is just unfunny ignorance. It’s sad to hear anyone denigrate the arts but especially a self-described member of a group of “the ones that are awake, the ones who live in the Now.”

    If a person is truly living in the “Now” he or she is open to everything that comes to him or her in that moment, including the value of an opera or a play or jazz or any fine art. Clearly, you are not open-minded and surfing in its potential to balance mind, body, heart and imagination has failed you.

    This piece smacks of the self-serving circle so many “surf journalists” or “surf historians” arise from–one in which they learn to endlessly parade their hardcore-ness as a surfer/journalist and use this point of view to filter and inform their writing on, and understanding of, various larger subjects (to the detriment of the reader and quality of surf journalism as a whole). It pays advertising dividends for the employees of certain California-based publications to perpetuate the “myth and mystique” of California as some kind of soulful center of the surfing world. Truth is it’s an overcrowded, polluted, conservative, hyper-religious, intellectually lazy cultural vacuum blossoming in a vast desert made temporarily green by stolen fresh water.

  • Dr. X

    surfing is just a single element of culture, if your entire life is surfing then you have a one-dimensional culture, so yea a lot of surfers be dumb.

  • Jon R.

    Talk about pretentious. NY is a lot more than suits and making money – to even try and define it by that, and then claim that as its culture, is just blazing ignorance. If we want cultural enlightenment, we must … go surfing??? Look, we can all appreciate your love of surfing, but to try and claim that as the only worthy culture is, well, just plain old pretentious. To each their own, dude.

  • Toddy

    A pretty good start to an observation that takes a right turn into a goofy perspective. There is plenty if culture everywhere, so calling that lady out on her crap statement is well and good. But then you sink into your own horses**t in a morass of a pretentiousness all your own.

  • David Hawkins

    I agree with Alec Martin. I love surfing, and abhor pretension and snobbery, but have to call BS on this blog rant, too. It’s true that there are many people who are insecure enough in themselves to want to retreat (or never leave) their own comfort zones. That applies to surfers as well as uptight, big city types. However, I thought that the real ‘soul’ of surfing was an acknowledgement of the golden rule, and the idea of ‘live and let live,’ both of which afford surfers the opportunity to pursue their passion just as others might pursue theirs. Surfers can be just as provincial and small-minded as anyone, so if you have a beef with a specific person, address it with them. Try not to paint everyone with the same brush–I’m sure they don’t like it any more than you would.

  • BenG

    Should we debate levels of pretension in NY versus that in CA specifically focused in surf culture? I’m east coast, and yep, definitely pretentious folks abound, but we (I) also surf, and did in NY last fall literally side by side with Taj Burrow, Cory Lopez, Michel Bourez, Jeremy Flores, and Bruna Schmitz…. talk about intersection of cultures. I’m sure in SoCal surfing side by side with the aforementioned folks is a more common occurrence, but its not here. It was enlightening. Made me value the experience of surfing a new location and watching a comp that much more. Maybe that’s the appropriate debate, if value can be assigned to cultural experiences on the whole or only individual?

  • Kevin

    I agree with Alec Martin’s post. Anyone that just read the above blog post should just scroll down to Alec’s very fitting response.

  • Craysay

    Meh. Typical Surfer drivel dressed up to be intelligent. The term surf journalist is an oxymoron.

  • Ben

    Mr. Gilley is grossly misunderstanding, I think, what is meant by “culture.” I am a surfer through and through, but I very much understand the element of culture one runs into in a big, diverse city that is frequently unavailable in many (though certainly not all) surfing locales. Culturein this context means perpetual stimulation, intellectual, artistic, physical and otherwise, from a wide variety of sources, and that type of stimulation abounds in densely populated, diverse metropolitan areas, and that stimuation is less pronounced in homogenous, chain-store laden areas. Not a good or a bad thing, by the way. Furthermore, this aforementioned “culture” abounds in the Bay Area and Los Angeles for those willing to look.

  • Dwight

    Dr. X, you can’t even come up with a structured sentence, but call surfers dumb. And Joe sounds like a f***ing idiot. Sounds like Joe needs to stay off the cocksucking.

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