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"Frame Lines": Introduction 3

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Part One: Being A Boarder

The World Tour

In the surfing world, the skating world, and the snowboarding world, there are ‘world tour’s produced by governing competition bodies and the industry. In the media about board-riding, these tours are immortalized. They are the subject of a lot of chatter regarding the character of their sport. The idea of a world tour is definitely a part of the experience of board-riding, at least an awareness that some people professionally board-ride, but also that it does not represent board-riding’s essential nature. There is a sentiment that the tour is something extra, something beyond normal functioning board-riders. In this way, it is part of the dream glide that all riders can share in through shared media.
Using Tools

Board-riders use tools in order to perform their sport. They use simple implements like the a custom shaped, solid, flat material which is generally out of a long rectangular template, certain clothing and things to be used to protect the body from the environment, and measuring devices used to regulate environmental conditions such as weather. For each tool, there is a method and desired result, and therefore both functional and symbolic meaning. As recognized within a subculture, these meanings are contested and used to imply certain things that are useful in the social economy.

Relative status is largely the result of using tools effectively in the subculture. Therefore, there is some benefit to obtaining skills with tools. Harkening back to primitive man, the use of tools was necessary for survival. In the current iteration of man’s technological determinants, using tools effectively has much less to do with skill and more to do with systems. Therefore, surfing, skating, and snowboarding connect contemporary participants with an evolutionary heritage that has made us capable of using tools to perform necessary tasks.

In the case of board-sports, tools are also utilized to manage leisure behaviors that have some inherent risk. The risk then is mediated by the participants’ ability to use tools effectively. Once again, respecting our evolutionary background, you can see that individual utility and practical application are the foundation of a boarder’s use of tools. It happens to be more authentic if participants stay true to the practicality of their pursuits and futile efforts that do not move the participant in an advancing fashion are often left by the wayside for core participants. In this way, board-riders can connect with others who share their interest in utility towards certain goals and media, which beautifies those goals.


“Of all the things that I think about skating, the number one best part is when I forget about what I was thinking about and the sounds drift away, and I don’t feel any muscles moving, I just feel like I’m floating.” -Dane Richards

Flow is parochially regarded as the quality of ‘stoke,’ to be stoked. It is achieved in board-riding by mimicking patters over and over, training, and mesmerizing while in the motion of boarding. Claiming freedom to do that, lack of time constraints, and personal patterns cause participants to explain themselves like the following way: “over and over--cutback, turn, cutback, bottom turn, air. Again. Cutback, turn, cutback, bottom turn, air. And, I just do that like every time I surf.”

In the theory of Flow, as developed by Csikszentmihalyi, the experience of detaching from normal cognitive constraints and employing to use of a separate neurological system is valued as a prime source of energy, inspiration, and achievement. It has been said that many of the greatest minds on the planet have had a key insight into finding flow in their normative activities, and thus they have been made successful, as Joseph Cambpell would say by “following their bliss.” Scientists, theorists, and my informants alike have described flow. It is something akin to happiness, and the closest description of the dynamic between mind and body. A key tenet is that mental states are a strong determiner of physical performance, and physical health has a strong influence on mental capabilities.

I would argue that all experiences of flow are not restricted by this technical definition. There have been theoretical problems in the past research of flow and athletic participation in sports when binding the experience of flow to strict parameters of “experience.” Flow is more generally something that all board-riders experience to a certain degree, with varying understandings. In my thesis, this focuses on the processes by which niche media permeates and mediates subcultural communities, I would argue that it is more useful to give flow the same respect that participants d0—a reverence for its transcendent power to work on the body/mind connection of boarders.

Embodying Culture

Board-riders orient their bodies towards practices that shape both their physical bodies and also their embodiment of their physical form. Boarders have long been perceived as laid-back, with the ability to guide their bodies into perfect positioning, avoiding serious injury and death (or not), while defeating gravity, rocks, pavement, and reef. The process of learning how to board-ride requires a great deal of self-reflexive perceptions, constantly readjusting the body by input from the senses. I know this to be true from personal experience as well as observation in the field.

While doing participant observation at an east-coast surf break, I was completely at ease surfing and listening to the banter out in the water. The day had gone from afternoon to evening, and the waves had continuously gotten cleaner and heavier as the day went on. There were forty people out, the vibe was happy, and people were jeering and cheering at people’s rides, their friends and otherwise. At one point, an eighteen-year old paddled out and was paddling for waves that he was not catching. It was apparent he could hold his own in the water, but it seemed as thought he wasn’t used to the shallow, draining waves that required a very fast take-off to catch. He stayed with the pack, and I started hearing others directing him. They were saying “I knew that was going to happen,” and “Saw that coming,” as he would recover from attempting to make waves he kept missing. As opposed to imagining the situation from his eyes, they were relating to him based on visual cues of his body positioning for the waves. Their guidance was not abstract, like encouragement or derision, rather commentary that showed a keen observation of his body. He caught a few waves soon enough, but the watchfulness continued. Other people paddled by and told him to sit further up on his board to make paddling less stable but more efficient for popping-up on short-period waves.

Observing skaters, and talking to snowboarders, there is a similar attentiveness to the body. Many times, I have watched skating sessions where there is no explicit reference to body parts, but a general feeling that the body is the show, all parts existing and participating as such. Such an intense focus on the body does not mean a separation of body from mind, using the body as a tool, but quite the opposite. The board is the tool, and the body is an expressionistic performance of the person boarding. I asked one snowboarder to explain to me what was “lame” boarding, after he had made mention of that as the antithesis to several positive attributes of a good board-rider. He explained that lame was “Not really showing any emotion, you know I don’t mean with his face, but like how he carries himself when he boards. Everything from his posture to his fingers man, it’s all his style.”

Boarders value practical and emotional bodies. Most boarders express pride in their ability or close friend’s ability to live their sport. There is an attachment to how one embodies subculture that is unmistakable in the iterations of the sport in how people relate to the physical aspect of boarding. The idea that one can inhabit a “lived body” is particularly relevant to all boarders.
‘They are technicians.’

“You know I walk into Black Dome in Asheville, NC and I go check out their snowboard section. Board-sports have come along way; surfers are surfing on hydroplane things and snowboards have all this crazy technology in them and its interesting to see…what people are doing these days” – Will

“See this snowboard. See how it’s wood; it was inspired by a surfboard design.” – Ben # 2

With new inputs of technology, board-riding culture is moving in pace with transformations. There is a significant amount of attention paid to this evolution, especially in reference to materials. For this subculture, a human focus on materialism is transferred away from money and other things onto an obsess ional understanding of technical changes and ways to master the mechanics of living as a boarder.

The idea that board-riders can do romantic and magic things with boards is common in their myths. There is the basic idea that board-riding is transformative and beyond the normal experiences of regular life. Many times board-riders will phrase their telling of particular sensations and excitement with a preface of “When I’m surfing/skating/snowboarding, I think/feel,” in a certain way. This transfers to people who are characterized as having a certain style.

Boarders transform the mainstream impetus to produce into an impetus to finesse their craft. It is largely the way that they separate their social world from others. Knowledge of the “craft” aspect of board riding, of plying the trade is a fairly big illustration of a way to have status within subcultures. As Danielle told me, “Some tourists come there (the resort) with rented gear and they don’t know much about how to use it. That’s my job.” Her technical knowledge is a form of capital, the acquisition of such is relevant to all board-riders.

It is extremely common to hear the actual term ‘technician,’ which is one of the parts of why it is especially relevant to consider in how board-rider’s worlds are structured around the use of language. Taking this consideration to how Unruh would reframe Simmel’s work considering social worlds, it is easy to see how “the creation of associations in any number of people can come together on the basis of their interest in a common purpose, compensates for that isolation of the personality which develops out of breaking away from the narrow confines of earlier circumstance (1980:274). This essence of personality of the typical board-rider’s disposition makes it easy for social worlds to form and common references emerge such as the term ‘technician.’ The use of the word technician is but one way that board-riding circles are made readily apparent that they focus on the technical aspect of their sport. Therefore, I devoted a section of this paper to consider the symbolic use of such terminology in diverse ways across the subcultures. It would be easy to take the commonly held belief that language to some extent does influence cultural signifiers and apply it to board-riders and also in niche media.

Knowing People

“Well, I’ve never really been to a competition or anything like that, but as far as going out and being with the other people who enjoy the sport it definitely gives something to the experience and it’s generally a positive one, because everybody’s whose out there is totally stoked and excited that they’re out there doing exactly what they love.” – Will, 19, snowboarder.

In this section, the relationships of board-riders within niche communities will be considered in how they relate to the function of niche media. I focus on the fact that most board-riders act independently in the context of their subcultural landscape, yet actively pursue the feeling of a Durkheim’s theory of comunnitas with others.

In the Lineup

If you have ever been legitimately in a “lineup,” you would be very likely to acknowledge that they represent the ultimate boarder spaces. To be part of the pack of surfers negotiating the breaking point of a wave, the pack of skaters at the park or the street, or the pack of snowboarders progressing from lift down the mountain represents being within the spatial embodiment of culture. The token parts of board subculture can be observed in these liminal spaces. Within the lineup, after all, only boarder rules apply. The feeling of being in the group momentum that is palpable in the lineup is part of boarding. It is where human society communicating with the physical environment reaches its prototype, albeit stylized. Boarders are endlessly participating in lineups, because no matter how isolated or foreign a spot, the majority of boarding is done in populated cities, resorts, and beaches. As the universal home of boarding, lineups globally are the subject of much subcultural discourse within boarder communities. Boarders will endlessly describe seemingly insignificant markers of their ritualistic participation in the lineup—calculated, yet predictable group phenomena.

Just as at a given surf break one can be ‘inside,’ and one can be ‘outside,’ which relates position to the fulcrum point of the breaking wave where one can catch, ride, and get barreled, being an insider and outsider has a lot to do with how much of life is lived in the lineup for boarders. Positioning as an insider requires from individuals a keen sense of how to align themselves with the various figurative fall lines of a boarding venue, both physically and in terms of subcultural narratives. Being an insider requires a skill set that must be acquired; either by genealogical ties or by accumulated know-how

In this realm, the difference between insider and outsider dominates the creation of the spaces. The individuals in a surfing break lineup, at skate parks or street obstacles, or at a snowboarding run actively control their territory with a sense of “flow” in which they fluidly dominate their surroundings while exhibiting physical prowess. Even if there are very few people out at a time, the awareness of place and space is a critical part of the discourse about lineups. In this way, it shapes the conceptualization for boarders about their participation I overheard a Sebastian Inlet Pro semi-finalist comment: “There were only me and (the other competitor in his heat) but I felt like the entire inlet was stacked, that’s how much each of us was really working at pulling in that heat.” When I had watched his heat, he and his opponent had surfed at the extreme opposite sides of the competition area, marked off by buoys. While participating in the sports is in essence individualized, boarders are also affected by their particular clique and also by their set age, ability, style, and image within the pool. Board-riders often surf, skate, and snowboard with friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Although, the general sentiment is that it is acceptable if not desirable at times to board-ride alone.

In the pool of boarders at a lineup, the quintessential boarder hang out and place of exhibition, the expressive tendency is generally one of nonchalance and nonaggression. “Just being there,” and “not being there,” are two widely represented versions of basically the same essential attitude. A boarder can chose to be the embodiment of his simple enjoyment of the moment in the pool of other boarders at the lineup or he can chose to disengage from a group mentality and drift into a solitary mode of action at the site where he does not overstep the bounds of others but makes no voluntary communication with the rest of the lineup. In every lineup there is strategy, however, in which boarders vie to access the parts of the boarding experience they are looking for whether it be to get barreled, to perform a skateboard particular trick most evocatively, or to land a three-sixty air off the side of a snowy ridgeline. Strategy encompasses the rules and the sense that there is a game being preformed, a version of a communal dance with actors and their actions. The lineup is a place of constant positioning in personal and public spheres of meaning.

Every line up is dominated also by an overwhelming sense of place that is irrevocably tied to identifications in the boarding subcultures. Since boarding is interminably wed to localism, “it is distinctly categorized by geographical pre-destiny,” and the importance of such ties. Time is also relevant to the lineup, whether it is a particularly edgy or mushy snow season, or in the middle of several years of good waves, such as when the emergence of the Channel Islands team happened in Santa Barbara in the mid-eighties that saw the birth of the contemporary short-board as well as the ascension of Kelly Slater to his current god-hood. Since the lineup is a space so concerned with meaning, it can take on a sense of liminality when the boarding spaces outstretch the bounds of geographical maps and markers. An off-beaten snowboard path, a wave that develops from shifting sandbars that no-one has ever seen, a construction site that yields perfect skating half-pipes, or a completely un-ridden hidden spot somewhere—there is psychological payoff for the lineup when it finds itself so often outsides the confines of regular societal mapping. Board-riders will commonly espouse their adventurism and thrill with sites they have surfed in some fashion that are off-the-beaten-path. Finally, there is the concept of a global lineup and then also micro-local lineups, between which media so gracefully attempts to mediate.

In these spaces, boarders are isolated and thrive on the relative security of knowing that they are fairly enclosed within the borders of their activity. It is here that they have the independence to structure their own meaning and culture—their own social world. This singular social world for surfers, skaters, or snowboarders is interfaced with greater culture by traveling, stores, boarder hangouts such as bars, restaurants, and neighborhoods, and then, profoundly by media. One snowboarder related to me, “The young people who were working (a particular US ski resort winter) had the run of the place; we could go wherever we wanted. Some of those people were from Europe; it was that cool to work there.” The interfacing with boarders outside the insular group of people who are well-acquainted positions boarders between their need for stimulation from outside energy and perpetuation by refereeing personal borders. To not only interact with unfamiliar board-riders but with the rest of society offers occasions for obtaining information, subcultural capital, and relative status, as all of these depend on the ability to recreate main subcultural themes in daily life. As the boarder subcultures have developed over the years, people absorb the currents of the present day and thus the meaning for insiders has become more nuanced as it has evolved. This is more-or-less a staple assumption behind almost every conversation I have had with a boarder—that the intersection between personal and contemporary “common knowledge” is acknowledged and that the bridges that link the current style with the past are dynamic.
The Board-riders Club

In summary, the composition of the population in board-sports is as John put it, “beougie, Yeah, snowboarding is definitely a beougie sport.” Most boarders are not in poverty. As for more ways in which the subcultures are represented demographically, a lot more boarders are male than female. A larger gap in the percentage of people exists than with gender exists between Caucasian and non-Caucasian board-riders. Board-riding is truly a global sport and as such, there is no explicitness to the types of people who participate. In the words of a friend, longboarder/skate filmmaker, and snowboarder, Ben: “Skateboarding has really come a long way, it cuts across all kinds of cultural and now ethnic boundaries. It has never been limited. All kinds of people skate, but basically people who are disengaged with the social status quo.” Thus, a wide range of people populates the board-sports. For the purpose of this thesis, only people who board as often as they get the chance with the pleasurable emergency that is so often exhibited by core boarders are ethnographically considered, leaving out inexperienced, fringe participants.

In the board-riding lifestyle, a major division exists between the roles of men and women. Board-riding is generally a male sport, grounded in an ideal of achieved masculinity and in some aspects, the venue of males exclusively. For example, big wave riding, extremely technical big-jump skating, and large cliff-dropping snowboarding are sill populated by only males. At some levels of board-sports, the strength, power, and stature of the male body is far more adept at certain feats. Also, women and men compete in different categories. Men are held against other men, and women in separate consideration against other women. In a play on this, media and folklore often juxtapose skilled women against unskilled men in board-riding pursuits. The disparity between roles is often the source of humor and good-natured teasing. Often, when men and women talk about board-riding they use a generalized masculine pronoun to describe the actions of a board-rider. This is telling in that the sports are aligned towards a masculine ideal. However, as opposed to other action sports that Andrew, a board-rider three ways describes as “testosterone driven,” he says “you can watch people that are just all puffed up with adrenaline they fall right off the curl (wave).”

In the community of board-riders, another major distinction exists in the conceptualization of familiar and foreign. The practice of board-riding ends up being both localized and made exotic. Away from board-riding environments, the communitas, or collective conciousness of board-riders extends to outlying communities. Having been plucked from its first venues of significance, the feeling of collectivity has gathered a new meaning. Rather than being tied to local places, which is in opposition to foreign locales, the original context of meaning connected inexorably with a sense of place was broadened to include both local and exotic geographies.

Having Things (or not)

This section is devoted to the subject of consumption for board-riding subculture. Is it as Hebdige might argue that deviant youth-based subcultures use their patterns of consumption to market an ideology?

After much consideration, I argue that no; the groups of people I studied are more than brand-communities. What I chose to highlight from my ethnographic research to illustrate this aspect were two dominant things I found from the fronts, accounts, and stories of my informants. First, a focus on traditional family ties, but with a liberal attitude towards tradition, family, and ties—just that social bonds extend further than by nature of the consumption of lifestyles. Secondly, a description of the intangible quality of life that board-riders aim to consume, which surprisingly has nothing to do with a high level of capitalistic consumption.

Growing Up Groms

“Helping groms is about self-achievement. The thing that makes groms important to me is that it brings this lifestyle from start to finish.” -Mr. Mckevlin, of Mckevlin’s surf shop.

This section is devoted to boarder families, groms, old guys, physical communities and physical communities, specifically the case of surfing/skating town Sebastian Inlet. The word grom comes from a form originally of the word gremlin. Australians coined the term gremmie, short for gremlin, to accentuate their distaste for young surfers, often bothersome to the older surfers and commonly mischievous. Australia being a hotbed of the roots of board-riding culture, Americans soon started using a more accent-appropriate version of the term and from then on, “grom,” has been the descriptor word for all under-twenty board-riders. Gaining even more special acclaim in the current phase of board-riding culture as a marker of youth-based status, the word is an interesting way in analysis to mark the focus on life-stage based social relationships.

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