Hello Stokology readers. If you are here, chances are you have some interest in, experience with, relationship to, or curiosity about stoke. I do, too.
For the last several years, I have been engaged in scholarship that explores the cultural position occupied by a group of surfer-musicians who maintain a more than seventy-year-old music tradition on the beach at San Onofre. My work describes the ocean-centered culture that they co-created, inspired by Polynesians, here in California and describes some of the ways in which that culture has foreshadowed societal trends here in the United States, as well as around the world, trends now seen as mainstream, trends that will be ever more important in the not-so-distant future.
As creators of culture, these surfer-musicians tailored the very mundane experiences of being human, including family life, organized sports, and social clubs, to fit into their ocean way-of-life. This also included music. My scholarly research explores the essence of experience for members of this community, as well as the epistemological framework used, maintained, and disseminated by these earliest of California surfers. To put it simply, their lives and our inheritance were transformed by surfing; they were stoked, and they were a movement in the making.
The more time I spend thinking about stoke (and contemplating the reasons I find myself on such an unlikely scholarly path), the more I understand my own relationship to it. To begin to introduce myself, I'll start here with a little backstory:
If not for stoke, I probably would not be here on the planet. No really. Read on.
My father hails from Jersey City, 1930s. It was a rough place, from what I can tell. He learned to swim in the Hudson River, jumping off the docks across from New York City. His parents were Irish immigrants, neither of whom had the opportunity to complete high school. But they took raising their boys seriously, and all four became “white collar professionals” with graduate degrees or better. This is to say, they worked hard. They pushed. And each of the four children put himself in a position to have some choice.
My father’s choice was to surf. Soon as he was able, he ventured west, made certain professional and economic sacrifices, all so that, at day’s end, he could immerse himself in the cold California Pacific to catch waves. Like the surfer-musicians at San Onofre, he put oceanophilia at the center of our family life, and in so doing, adjoined our lives to a particular and burgeoning culture.
Now, being a lean, muscular man with very little body fat, my father would come home from those sessions chilled to the bone and promptly immerse himself in the hottest bath water he could handle while my mother got a hot dinner on the table—very Ozzy and Harriet, kind of. Imagine, for a moment, what these daily soaks did for his fertility. No babies came, and it was not for lack of trying, so I’m told. Maybe he got sick and stayed out of the surf for a week, maybe he attended an out of town conference that was followed by a particularly joyous homecoming before a return to the usual cold, then piping hot, water activities? I don’t know. I was eventually, however belatedly, conceived. Had my parents hopes of children been met sooner, had the Pacific been a few degrees warmer, I probably would have been a wasn’t, and somebody else would be writing this instead of me.
But that is hardly the only reason I am invested in the subject.
I was lucky to grow up in a small, southern California coastal town at a time when skin-diving for plentiful abalone was walking distance from our home; when one of my favorite winter-time treats, the gathering of California sea mussels to cook in a beer and butter bath, still was legal; when pre-kindergartener that I was, I could run down to the beach, unattended (while mom was at home making dinner, but that’s another subject) to greet my neoprene-smelling father as he emerged from his surf session so that we could watch the sun set together. I remember glittering, moonlit grunion runs and family camping trips to central and southern Baja. A few years on, my brother and I hitch-hiked the entire Baja peninsula, including its Vizcaino peninsula all the way out to Isla Natividad. We never gave it a second thought. I definitely caught the tail end of a very special time. Those days are gone.
But stoke is not. Stoke endures. Stoke, a transcendent experience, has a tremendous amount to teach us about the art of being human and will have a tremendous impact on the next millennium, if we are just clever enough to let it.