Judging Surf Culture: The Making of a White Exemplar Masculinity during the 1966 Natal and South African Surfriding Championships held in Durban

Glen Thompson


The 1966 Natal and South African Surfriding Championships was a founding moment in the history of the sport of surfing in South Africa and shaped the future trajectory of South African surfing culture. It did so by prioritising the masculine surfing styles of white men who surfed competitively. The championships were held over the first weekend in July in Durban – South Africa’s “Surf City” – during the peak winter swell season. It was the first ever national surf contest organised under the auspices of the newly formed national surfing association, the South African Surfriders’ Association. It was at these national surfing championships that a judging system was created to allow amateur South African surfers to compete for a place in the national Springbok team that travelled to the Third World Surfing Titles held two months later at Ocean Beach in San Diego, California, USA.
The introduction of this judging system during the 1966 Surfriding Championships throws light on the development of three trends in the history of (stand-up board) surfing in South Africa : firstly, how local surfing sought out international acceptance as a sport; secondly, why surfing came to be seen as a largely white sporting and leisure activity; and thirdly, why women’s surfing has not receive the same attention as that of men’s. This article explores how the emergence of a competitive surfing culture, typified by the codification of judging competitive surfriding on boards of between nine and eleven feet in length, infused local surf culture with a need for global recognition as a surfing “nation” and, at the same time, accommodated racial segregation and a male-dominated gender order.

The contention of this article is that the cultural logic embedded in the 1966 judging criteria has left a legacy for future generations of South African surfers; one that privileged a hegemonic white masculinity located in competitive surfing. Today, though an understanding of the making of surfing’s past and that exemplar masculinity, it becomes possible to promote new cultural configurations in South African surfing that are racially inclusive, gender equitable, and not determined by competitive prowess alone.

Full Text: