Published March 21, 2016
Words by Dr. Jess Ponting
With the image of Kelly Slater’s man made Superbank reeling down California’s Central Valley freshly burned into our collective retinas, this episode of Surf Park Insider explores how surf parks will influence our perceptions of natural surf breaks. Webber Wave Pools’ abstract thinker in residence Greg Webber peers deep into his crystal ball and gives his view on how a future of multiple high functioning surf parks will impact our view of waves in nature, and the nature of surf contests.
In my own research in places like Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands, I use the term ‘Nirvanification’ to describe the apotheosis of surfing places with fairly grim living conditions for local people into idealized, largely mythical, paradisiacal surfing spaces. British academic Tim Edensor proposed a continuum from ‘enclavic spaces’ -think shopping malls, Disneyland, and for our purposes surf parks – through to ‘heterogeneous spaces’ – think a public beach with multiple user groups like surfers, fishers, swimmers, kayakers, sunbakers, metal detectors, joggers, partyers, concessionaires etc – based on French historian Michel Foucault’s description of heterotopias: “the juxtaposing in a single real place (of) several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible”.
While some researchers have argued that socially constructed spaces are dependent on personal attachment and experience in specific places, my research suggests that commercial surfing tourist spaces can manifest as a universal cultural space wherever certain symbolic elements are present (perfect waves, palm trees, adventure). In this way, borrowing a concept from English sociologist Anthony Giddens, surfing destinations can become ‘disembedded’ from their geographic and cultural context. This overlaying of meaning onto different locations is knows to geographers as ‘free floating signifiers’ and ‘travelling representations”. In contrast to the disembedded heterogeneous space of a naturally occuring surfing destinations, surf parks will be the epitome of enclavic space. Entirely artificial, constructed for commercial purposes, and tightly controlled. What will it all mean for our relationship with natural surf breaks when we have perfect waves available 24/7 for the price of admission? Greg Webber shares his opinion…