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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Old West & New Pacific Frontiers: Surfers & 'The Search' in the American Oceanic Imaginary

  • Author(s): Highton, Henry
  • Advisor(s): Wilson, Rob
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The alignment of surfers as pioneering mountain men is one I will further interrogate and complicate in this paper. First, by establishing the ethos of the American Frontier and Manifest Destiny in the `old west'; and then, by demonstrating how as the American Frontier was tamed, the oceanic horizon came to hold a new allure of adventure and endless possibility. I assert that with the sea alone remaining as the only untamed wilderness, the image of the surfer came to supplant the place of the cowboy within the American Imaginary. Because the traditional cowboy aesthetic had been displaced through enclosure and modernization, the icon of the surfer stood forth as the new romantic figure of the American West who continued to grapple with the sublime forces of nature and push back the boundaries of known coastal frontiers, worldwide. I go on to advance an argument about the ability of surfing to `globalize from below', to evolve from the traditional ethos of the pioneer to the newly-awakened eco-consciousness of the `bioneer'. Using this framework, I advance surfers' ability to negotiate and transform the liminal space of the beach and surf zone so that it acts as a heterotopic arena within the construct of global capital, one from which surfers can not only pursue their relationship with the natural world in a more conscious and collaborative spirit, but by tapping into and utilizing Rolland's notion of `oceanic' interconnectivity, can act as role-models and purveyors of these eco-conscious lifeways for world citizenry.

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