Surfing might not immediately strike one as a subject filled with history, but Professors Peter Westwick and Peter Neushel prove that the multi-billion dollar industry has a complicated past in their new book, “The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing.” Peter Westwick joined Warren Olney on Which Way, LA? recently to discuss the new book. Surfers and non-surfers alike will be fascinated by the history of this incredible sport.
Surfing began in Hawaii and, before the arrival of Captain Cook, Hawaiians were able to practice and perfect the art. They had an agricultural system that, according to Westwick, “provided them with a lot of leisure time.” In the 19th century, though, the craft dwindled as cultivation of the land became priority and European diseases began to change the islands’ demographics. Of course, the sport eventually made a resurgence and has been affected by a number of surprising factors.
The Military-Industrial Complex, for instance, provided the sport with new technologies, such as board designs and materials, not to mention the ever-important wetsuit. Henry Huntington (of the eponymous beach in California) used the sport as a way to “sell the beach” to new home buyers, says Westwick. Due to these factors and more, surfing is no longer the leisure activity it started out as, but is now a multi-billion dollar industry. However, according to Westwick, the culture surrounding the sport is still fraught with racism and sexism.
Be sure to check out Warren’s interview with Professor Westwick as he explores the fascinating history of surfing.