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Against The Grain…art show: Surfing and Punk-rock Collide

| posted on July 22, 2010

In the same way that the late-Sixties short board revolution was set to the music of Hendrix, Santana and Clapton, surfers in the late-1970s built their soundtrack around the brash-and-thrash punk rock/New Wave rebellion. And an entirely new board was needed if you were going to surf with a Sex Pistols song raging in your head. To celebrate this evocative surf/music symbiosis Hurley International has produced “Against The Grain: The Twin-Fin and Punk Rock Collide.”

It’s no coincidence that the birth of rock music and the short board revolution happened at the same time. During the latter part of the 1960s and early-‘70s the burgeoning rock music scene provided the perfect score for a tuned-in group of designers and performers who were taking surfing in an entirely new direction. Rock music was shortboard surfing—the rapid-fire chord changes, the thunder of the drums, the extreme sustaining of notes previously unheard of; the sheer volume.

But by the mid-1970s an explosive change was in the airwaves, and just as during the first short board revolution, a shift in the music paradigm triggered the development of an entirely new instrument on which to perform. Though on surfing’s timeline it’s hard to tell which came first—punk rock or the twin-fin—the combination of these two free radical agents would change the sport forever.

In a culture currently being swept along on a wave of musical nostalgia (top-selling albums by Santana and Aerosmith, record-breaking concert tours by the Stones and the Eagles, the success of sensitive, Jackson Browne-esque surfer/songrider Jack Johnson) it’s easy to forget that the punk/New Wave conflagration of the mid-to-late 1970s was largely in direct opposition not to the evils of Disco, as revisionist history tells us, but to shake up the staid format of AOR (album oriented rock) —the same rock that most older surfers at the time liked surfing to most. Groups like The Dictators, The Dead Boys, Richard Hell, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones snarled, spit and swore to deconstruct what they perceived as rock’s pompous, style-conscious self-satisfaction.

artists
winston smith edward colver mark mothersbaugh brad shemke joe mcelroy
keith morris jojo jask grisham buff monster kris markovich thad matson dean bradley stephan jay-rayon arturo vega tommy steele mike clark
shapers
ben aipa al merrick bob hurley lance collins shawn stussy peter schroff spider murphy mark richards
dates
tokyo – july 15-16; hawaii july 23; nyc july 29-30; san fran aug. 5-6; la aug 12-13; the oc aug. 18-20; san diego sept. 9-11; sydney – end of sept.

It was only natural that a core of this era’s young surfers, pop culture’s original “rebels without a pause”, would be some of the first to seize on this newest revolution, With London calling, what better way to shake up the establishment—even the surfing establishment—than by shaving their “bushy, bushy blond hairdos” and trading in their Aloha shirts and flip-flops for combat boots and black leather. A different drummer was to be stepped to, except this one was hammering out a frantic ska beat that was as different to Seventies stadium rock as Pink Floyd was to Frank Sinatra.

Inspired by punk’s brash sound of fury a new generation of surfers began drawing the same, “go-against-the flow” lines in the water; Johnny Rotten may have been braying about anarchy in the U.K. but they just as easily have been talking about Newport Beach, CA. Or Newport, Australia. If the Clash thought rocking the Casbah was radical, they should have seen what was going on at Durban’s Bay of Plenty when that song got dropped into the Walkman. And TSOL…well after all, they were from Huntington Beach.
But to express this right angle direction change from the mainstream, a new vehicle was needed. One capable of more acute, right-angle turns, one that demanded to be ridden fast and loud and radical, with less emphasis on style and more on slash. In short, a surfboard than rode like punk music sounded.

Enter the twin-fin, the New Wave’s new board. As perceived by it’s primary architect, Australia’s Mark Richards, the twin fin was designed to facilitate a radical new approach that flew in the face of the style-conscious ‘70s surfing, raising a banner that with each gouging turn screamed “rip, tear and lacerate!”

Yet style is the child of revolution and just as the New Wave inspired a new board, it resulted in a style shift, too. Almost overnight this new design created new artistic expression. No longer was the wave the sole canvas; now the surfboard increasingly became a medium in itself, vibrant, aggressive, counter-culture color schemes matching the mood of the performance. The “yellow deck with a red lightning bolt” suddenly seemed as old-fashioned as balsa wood. Polka dots, checkerboards, black flags, loud purple-and-yellow blobs; every board seemed like an album cover.

The result was one of the most colorful and influential—if short-lived—waves of change the sport has ever known. At no other time in surfing history did art, surfboard design and surfing performance meld into such an evocative statement; never had a surfboard illustrated an era so perfectly as when during those volatile years between 1978 and 1981 the twin-fin and punk music collided.

MARK RICHARDS
With the exception of Simon Anderson and the Thruster nor surfer has been more directly associated with a surfboard design than Mark Richards and the Twin Fin. The story of the MR twin has been told so many times as to become the stuff of legend: the fledgling pro from Newcastle, Australia struggling, as a solid six-footer, in the small surf. Seeing Hawaiian Reno Abellira riding a split-tail kneeboard “Fish” to great effect at Sydney’s Coke Contest in 1976, working with shaping legend Dick Brewer to refine the design into a more conventional template, debuting on the North Shore, as seen in the re-release of Bill Delany’s Free Ride…the Superman “MR” logo. But a reexamination of the impact of Richard’s brainchild is always worth the effort. Put simply, on the battlefield of professional surfing, MR’s twin was the stirrup of its day, an innovation that instantly allowed Richards to fight from horseback while the rest of the field soldiered along on foot. It was the bronze sword, the double-bent bow, the rifled barrel. Armed with his super-rockered, severely tucked-under edged, heavily-veed, twin-finned machine Richards slashed his way through the pro ranks like a Roman phalanx. For several year—at least until the rest of the world caught on and began designing similar weapons—MR was virtually unstoppable, winning four consecutive world titles. Not until Simon came along with the Thruster—an innovation directly resulting from an effort to keep pace with Richards—did the twin’s reign as the ultimate high-performance surfboard wane. Yet ask Mark Richards, today at 48 years-old one of Australia’s most popular and respected sports figures, and he’ll probably tell you that the MR twin is still his favorite board—and just as probably try to get you to try one. You’ll be glad you did.

To be continued…

Click here for HURLEY’S Against the Grain… art show: Where surfing and punk-rock collide