Media plays a significant role in producing culture. They create images of people involved in certain cultures and convey culture-related messages to the audience consuming media. Unfortunately, representations created by various commercial media resources contribute to various negative effects, such as sexualization and marginalization (Olive, 2015, p. 261). As a result, it can create a distorted image of a person related to this culture.
One of the brightest examples illustrating these issues is Australian beach and surfing culture, particularly commercialized media related to this culture. Because of strong stereotypes that dominated this culture for years, women are highly marginalized and sexualized in surfing magazines. In fact, women are objectified in surfing-related commercialized media, which creates huge discomfort and other negative effects for women involved in surfing culture. Moreover, providing inaccurate representations and creating images far from reality is morally wrong because such images contribute to negative stereotyping of women who surf and result in biases and prejudices.
Marginalization of Women in Australian Beach and Surfing Culture
Before discussing why beach and surfing culture in Australia is represented in a way that marginalizes women in commercialized media, it is essential to describe the background of this culture and why stereotypes so influence it. It should be noted that surfing culture in Australia is considered masculine, and therefore, women are often negatively stereotyped by men who are related to this culture. Additionally, surfing culture is associated with aggression, which is manifested in the terminology used by surfers, such as “ripping,” “slashing,” “cutting,” and “killing” the waves (Waitt, 2008, p. 75). Males related to surfing culture in Australia take an active part in the construction of masculinity. It means that they encourage masculinity-related behavior, such as heterosexuality, competitiveness, and athleticism. Males who are gentle, homosexual, compassionate, or even non-white may face punitive treatment within the culture (Waitt, 2008, p. 86).
Homophobia and Racism in Australian Surfing Culture
Male surfers may also insult other social groups by calling them “gay,” “faggots”, or “queers .”For instance, these words are used when male surfers refer to surf lifesavers, swimmers, and body-boarders (Waitt, 2008, p. 86). Homophobia in surfing culture is quite strong, which can be explained by homosocial bonds within the community. Male surfers don’t want anyone to interpret these homosocial bonds as homoerotic, which also results in increased masculinity within culture and negative attitudes towards homosexuals. Australian male surfers constantly have to emphasize that they are heterosexual, which results in high aggression, strict hierarchy, and other aspects related to masculinity. There is also a so-called phenomenon of “localism,” meaning that some surfing places are available for people who are considered locals (Olive, 2015, p. 261). Hence, people who don’t belong to the local community can have trouble while surfing in such locations and even face the aggression of male local surfers.
Additionally, there are some huge racial problems in Australian surfing culture because whiteness is also considered as one of the main characteristics of surfers. This is because of the Australian Surf Life Saving Association (SLSA) of the 1930s, which had a discourse indirectly promoting eugenics and biological racism (Waitt, 2008, p. 78). As it can be seen, surfing culture itself is rather aggressive and masculine. It conveys that there is no place for women in surfing. Such a situation makes this masculine culture quite uncomfortable for women and discourages them from surfing. Another important component of masculine surfing culture is athletic bodies, which express aggression, strength, and fitness (Waitt, 2013, p. 501). Male surfers often have to perform various physical activities to keep their bodies in good shape, achieve better results, and gain better surfing skills, which in turn will improve their position in the surfing hierarchy.
Social Hierarchy in Australian Surfing Culture
Furthermore, it seems that male surfers don’t want to change the situation significantly and think that there is nothing wrong with Australian beach and surfing culture. One of the examples proving this is the article by Waitt (2008), which describes how male participants portray surfing in their sketches. Male participants depicted that they wanted to surf either alone or with their male friends and to surf large barreling waves. Their sketches showed they perceived surfing culture as exclusively male (82).
Participants also believed that their physical achievements and skills would improve their social position in the male social hierarchy, which explains why male surfers enjoy surfing together. This is directly related to competitiveness, which is an integral part of masculinity. While the number of female surfers continues to increase, male surfers show high levels of heterosexism. The main aspect that is interesting for male surfers in relation to female surfers is their appearance. Male surfers don’t care about the surfing skills of females and their sporting achievements but rather about their bodies. This is pure objectivation because women are considered not as members of the surfing community but rather as an opportunity to fulfill their heterosexual desires. Women are not taken seriously because they usually surf for recreational purposes, but not because they want to compete with someone or show someone a risk-taking behavior to improve their position in the social hierarchy.
The Tracks Magazine and Promotion of Toxic Masculinity
Unfortunately, such a culture, which is highly masculine and quite unfriendly towards women, homosexuals, and non-masculine males, is promoted by surfing-related media. Of course, one of the most well-known magazines related to surfing culture is “Tracks .”This magazine was initially created as a part of the counterculture; however, eventually, it evolved into a highly commercialized, hypermasculine, glossy magazine (Henderson, 2001, p. 326). It should be noted that nowadays, surfing is not considered as a countercultural activity but rather as another form of sport or leisure. Now, surfing has become an integral part of popular and mainstream culture. Therefore, it experiences all the problems that modern popular culture has, including the objectivation of women, the perception of women as sexual objects, and inequality between men and women. Similarly to popular culture, Tracks contributes to the negative stereotyping of women.
During the first years of the creation of Tracks magazine, it used an image of a so-called Country Soul surfer, who was a heterosexual male, long-haired, bearded, and non-aggressive. This image was partially derived from hippy culture. Still, even in the beginning, Tracks created an image of a soul surfer who was always a male. Eventually, because of commercialization, the image of the main character representing the typical male belonging to Australian surf culture has changed. In the late 90s, Tracks magazine launched a regular women’s page named “G-Spot” (Henderson, 2001, p. 328). Even from its name, it became clear that women on this page were considered sexual objects and not professional surfers.
Huge attention is given to various body parts of women whose photos are published in the magazine. In such a way, the authors of the journal want to emphasize the masculinity of their audience. In some cases, female body parts are used for humor. For instance, there was a game called ‘Pin the hands on Pamela Anderson’ and the ‘Show us your tits and Win a Surfboard competition’ (Tracks, October 1996 and March 1995).
As can be seen, the way women are positioned in Tracks became significantly worse over time, while at the beginning of the creation of this magazine, women were simply ignored. During the later periods, women were depicted as sexual objects. Nowadays, materials published on the Tracks website ignore women, marginalize them, and depict them predominantly not as professional surfers but as sexual objects. There are many videos on the website’s main page showing how masculine males are riding huge waves. Moreover, Tracks magazine is making fun of the objectivation and sexualization problem, and instead of trying to change the situation for the better, they think that there is no problem at all. For instance, a video in their gallery shows a woman surfer sexualized.
The video shows different parts of this woman’s body, and in many scenes, the woman is half-naked (Tracks, 2013). However, Tracks also published a similar video, where a man copies the same gestures and postures similar to a woman, to prove that there is no problem with sexualization. In such a way, editors of Tracks magazine are trying not only to avoid being criticized because of sexualizing women but also to make fun of the problem. People criticizing Tracks magazine are usually labeled fanatics or crazy (Booth, 2008, p. 19).
Paradigm Shift in Tracks Magazine
At the same time, some authors of academic literature believe that the situation is changing for the better. While in the beginning, Tracks ignored women and later started to sexualize them, nowadays, Tracks distinguishes between “female surfers who qualify for male respect” and non-surfers such as models in advertisements (Booth, 2008, p. 19). There were even some homosexual topics covered in Tracks, which shows a smooth transition from a conservative masculine culture to a new liberal and less conservative one. In the later periods, Tracks started to acknowledge the leading female surfers of each generation, and some professional female surfers appeared on the covers of this magazine.
Tracks magazine evolves and changes because of the changing context. The surfing industry became highly attractive to different people, including investors. As a result, more groups of people started to relate themselves to surfing culture, and as a result, there are numerous surfing magazines targeted at different audiences. Tracks magazine changed its discourse into less masculine not because of the way editors think has changed, or not because that surfing culture became less masculine, but because of the competition created by other magazines, such as SurferGirl Surfing Girl. Moreover, there are also other factors making tracks become more friendly towards women audiences. With the development of Instagram and other social media, women became able to spread their opinions regarding surfing culture and share visual representations they wanted (Olive, 2015, p. 99). That is why commercial surfing magazines have to acknowledge that surfing is not only a masculine culture but, rather, it consists of diverse groups of people who often have nothing to do with masculinity. However, these groups are still outnumbered by men who consider themselves masculine and have biases toward those who are labeled as “others” (Evers, 2009, p. 895).
As was already mentioned, women usually don’t like the competitive aspect of surfing but rather enjoy it as a recreational activity. That is why Tracks, as well as other surfing magazines, can no longer ignore marginalized groups of people, and sooner or later, the situation will change for the better. Some popular surfing magazines, such as Surfer, have become more friendly toward those considered “others.” For instance, one of the citations from Surfer magazine states, “Surfing is so diverse; for everyone, it has a different meaning and purpose in their lives. For me, surfing is a tribe, not a fucking sport. It’s my family.” (Olive, 2016, p. 1).
All these facts above indicate that media plays a huge role in creating a culture and making people understand a particular culture. Additionally, media encourages and discourages certain behaviors, which in turn results in the marginalization of certain groups of people. Media, particularly Tracks magazine, is highly dependent on the context, and context is changing rapidly in the modern world. However, the media is often unable to adapt to these changes, resulting in inappropriate representations of women and various groups of people who are not considered masculine. Unfortunately, Tracks magazine is still too conservative, doesn’t provide enough attention to women, and adheres to old traditions. However, its impact on how the surfing culture is constructed becomes weaker and weaker because of the availability of social media services, which are actually more objective and less biased compared to commercialized surfing magazines. Hence, the objectivation of women in surfing culture will only decrease in the future, as well as negative stereotyping.
“Sexy and You Know It.” Tracks, 10 2013, www.tracksmag.com.au/video/sexy-and-you-know-it-424175. Accessed 30 May 2018.
Booth, Douglas. “(Re) reading the surfers’ bible: the affects of Tracks.” Continuum 22.1 (2008): 17-35.
Evers, Clifton. “‘The Point’: surfing, geography and a sensual life of men and masculinity on the Gold Coast, Australia.” Social & cultural geography 10.8 (2009): 893-908.
Henderson, Margaret. “A shifting line up: Men, women, and Tracks surfing magazine.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies15.3 (2001): 319-332.
Olive, Rebecca, Louise McCuaig, and Murray G. Phillips. “Women’s recreational surfing: a patronising experience.” Sport, Education and Society 20.2 (2015): 258-276.
Olive, Rebecca. “Going surfing/doing research: Learning how to negotiate cultural politics from women who surf.” Continuum 30.2 (2016): 171-182.
Olive, Rebecca. “Reframing surfing: Physical culture in online spaces.” Media International Australia 155.1 (2015): 99-107.
Tracks, www.tracksmag.com.au. Accessed 30 May 2018.
Waitt, Gordon, and David Clifton. “‘Stand out, not up’: bodyboarders, gendered hierarchies and negotiating the dynamics of pride/shame.” Leisure Studies 32.5 (2013): 487-506.
Waitt, Gordon. “‘Killing waves’: surfing, space, and gender.” Social & cultural geography 9.1 (2008): 75-94.