Thursday, June 05, 2014

Let's Go Surfin' Now

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1964, one of the hip sounds was a song which described how its lead singer was getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip. He had to find a new place where the kids were hip. Everyone back in those days was hip. They were getting bugged doing the same old thing. They were looking for something new. Mike Love, for it was he who took the lead vocal on the verse in The Beach Boys' "I Get Around", and Brian Wilson, who did the unmistakable falsetto ("I'm a real cool head", "I'm makin' real good bread"; yes, Mike Love really did write such lyrics), merged into one song the group's three principal obsessions in offering tribute to California and the newness of its summertime trinity of surfing, girls and cars. The guys and the buddies would cruise in their Cadillacs to the beach, never miss with the girls they met and impress them with their skills on a surfboard.

Surfing wasn't invented by The Beach Boys, but they sure as God caught its wave. And by 1964, the craze, still only in its Californian infancy, was hitting the beaches of Cornwall as well. The guys, assuming they were lucky enough to have a car, were driving nothing more hip than a Mini or more likely something distinctly un-hip such as a beaten-up Morris Minor. The girls wouldn't all be getting so tanned as California girls, but it mattered not. Newquay was where it was at. It was hip. It was new. There was no more getting bugged driving along the same old strip of the A23 to Brighton and doing the same old thing. Surfing had arrived.

It seems curious to relate that surfing is only some fifty or so years old and curious also to acknowledge that its global popularity owed an awful lot to one pop group, or more accurately one member of one pop group: Brian Wilson. A great deal has been packed into half a century of one sport. Surfing has formed its branch lines - windsurfing, kitesurfing - and it has influenced other sports. BMX tricks owed much to surfing and snowboarding is pretty much surfing on ice.

Reference to snowboarding is pertinent. It assumed the mantle of ultimate sports coolness (the more modern-day hipness), meaning that the guys and buddies of 1964 California (or Cornwall) became the boarding dudes of mountain slopes. They, in turn, breathed new life into sea surfing, inspiring ever more dudedom and surfiedom, now firmly established on boards for kitesurfing.

For the most part, surfing has remained the preserve of the surfie. But not totally. Quite some years ago it became a sport for all the family in Cornwall. Yet curiously, it hadn't, until relatively recently, become an activity that was actively picked up on and made into a tourism niche. Not in Spain at any rate. Now, however, in the endless search of the new and of ceasing to be bugged by the same old strip of beach for just lying on, "el turismo más cool" (yes, that is how it is described - "the coolest tourism") has acquired the status of latest tourism niche craze and one, moreover, for the coolest families.

There are parts of Spain where surfing offers greater opportunities for beach-related tourism than might currently be the case. The Basque Country and Cantabria don't figure in the general sun-and-beach scheme of things, but they do when it comes to surfing. And in Cantabria, they've developed a surfing tourism competitiveness plan, the first one of its type to set out a real strategy for attracting surfing tourists, of whom, it is reckoned, there are 1.5 million new ones each year (globally, that is).

Other parts of Spain which are deemed to be ideal for surfing are the Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Notable by their absence, however, are any of the Balearic Islands. But though there may not be surf around Mallorca of any real surfing potential, there is the potential, starting now to be realised, for surfing's branch lines, such as kitesurfing. And if it is the case that surfing and so therefore the wider world of surfing in its different formats is becoming "el turismo más cool", perhaps rather more attention needs to be paid to the active promotion of kitesurfing and windsurfing. Kitesurfing might be considered to be more an activity for Mallorca's dudes but, as I found out recently in talking with a kitesurfing school in the main centre on the bay of Pollensa, it is catching on with the family tourist as well.

The growth of surfing tourism is such that there is a drive to establish a "Surfing Spain" brand. Which seems fine, though it would be fifty or so years since "Surfing USA"

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