Are surfers creative or are creative people just drawn to surfing?

Which inspires the other? Photo: John Hook

Imagine any surfer you want. Now imagine an artist. Did the same name come to mind? There is a good chance that it is. With captions George Greenough and Rick Griffinnowadays Dave Rastovich, Ozzy wrong and Thomas Campbell, it’s as if surfing is different from physical activities with such a culture of creation woven into the activity itself. Whether it’s shaping, filming, making music, or drawing cartoons depicting classic programming situations, creativity is at the heart of surf culture.

Let’s start with the fact that many surfers are creative. Take JJ Wessels, a modern-day longboarder and artist, for example, who says working with his hands is an integral part of his existence. Whether he surfs or collaborates with surf brands, creativity allows him “cultural freedom”. This is the case with most surfers: the creative energy is only increased by diving into the ocean.

There is also psychological evidence that creative people may be drawn to surfing because it is an individual activity and often done alone. A study from the University at Buffalo found that people who prefer to be alone tend to be more creative. And who hates crowds more than surfers?

Or maybe it’s the culture of documentation within surfing that allows creativity to flow, spurring surfers to be more creative than non-surfers? Photography and film are both at the heart of surf culture – you can’t have one without the other. Great surfers become legends because of certain images. Surf trips are fueled by movie ideas requiring exotic locations. And the more you travel, the more “you become aware and wonder about what you are doing”, explains the surf filmmaker Kai Neville.

Historically, surf cinema goes back a long way: oldest surf pictures of all time was filmed over 100 years ago, in 1897, by Robert Bonine in none other than Waikiki. From there, we saw the beautiful marriage of wave surfing and film. It brought us Earth Morning, Five Summer Storiesand more mainstream hits like gadget and Great Wednesday.

The quieter side of the documentation is also incredibly creative. Take a look at the works of Ron Stoner, Jeff Divine, Art Brewer or LeRoy Grannis. They represent surfing, yes, but they rely heavily on artistic influence – composition, color, some kind of creative embellishment. The best surf photography elicits emotion in the viewer by reflecting an all-encompassing view of life, as well as, usually, light onshore winds or an elegant knee turn.

The best surf photographers are truly artists. Stoner’s photography, for example, depicts surfing, but it also depicts a colorful culture and a distinct way of life. And while Stoner is primarily celebrated for his contributions to surf photography, especially in magazines, he’s also celebrated for his unique eye and holistic view of life. In other words, for his artistic genius – not just for his technical skills.

Modern day photographers and surf artists Crochet Jeans, Tommy Pierucki, Brigitte Lallyand Matt Clark prove that surf photography is more art than documentation with their stylized works, adding beauty to surfing, even though surfing is inherently beautiful to begin with.

Or maybe creatives are drawn to surfing because virtually every aspect of surfing requires careful thought. Surfing is an activity that can be, and is constantly being, improved by innovation.

Equipment itself is an art form, and a connection with its board matters. As a legendary surfer Skip the fries once said, “For me, surfing is like playing music. You play different melodies with different boards.

Formatting can be handmade, and the results are no different than a work of art in a gallery. Sometimes the boards end up in art galleries. And why wouldn’t they? Aside from the colorful and artistic medium created by the glazing, the board shapes themselves are often experimental, pushing the boundaries of what can be done by hand to create beautiful rides on a wave. The designs on the boards often have spiritual significance, such as the sacred geometry found on Gary McNeill Concepts, made by artists Sharon Blair and Jonathan Quinton.

Comparatively, while skis and snowboards feature colorful designs, they’re generally not handcrafted, and there’s really no advantage to a hand-shaped board on the mountain. The shapes made are very good. It is specifically about the artistic movements of the athlete. With surfing, there is an obvious benefit to a custom board. Each shape offers a different ride, and the board is unique to its rider – size, experience and, of course, style.

If you’re a creative, wouldn’t you be more drawn to choosing and customizing every aspect of an experience? Surfing allows this kind of thinking and designing.

Here again, surfing can stimulate the creativity of surfers because the look on a wave is just as important as the technical aspects. Unlike other sports, fluidity and beauty arguably matter as much as maneuvering. Style is unique to surfing, and style requires total commitment. As Mark Richards said, “Style is a natural extension of who you are as a person.” And styling demands attention to detail, in and out of the water.

On that note, it bears mentioning that full and complete commitment is truly a necessary element of both surfing and the art that few other activities require. Surfing greats are celebrated not only for their ability to ride the waves, but also for their commitment to chase the waves.

Icons Miki Dora (“Da Cat”) and Gerry Lopez (known to many as the ultimate surfer and soul shaper under legend Dick Brewer) both have books celebrating their all-encompassing, lifelong pursuit of perfection from a distance – and that often meant sacrificing more traditional life paths like family or hold “respectable” jobs.

The fact that waves don’t always exist can also play a role in the creativity required to be a surfer. People have to occupy their time somehow, and surfers are known to be creative when things go wrong. This way, surfers are forced to get creative whether they want to or not.

And, sure, wave pools exist, but at the heart of surfing is travel: Bruce Brown’s famous 1966 film endless summer is perhaps the most iconic surf documentary of all time. And Nnew search shows that traveling stimulates both happiness and creativity – correlation or causation? You decide.

Trying to answer the question of whether surfing makes us creative or whether creative people simply gravitate around surfing is a chicken or egg dilemma. But the parallel between surfing and art comes down to how these things make us feel. People pursue what they find rewarding. Whether it’s surfing, traveling or making art, whatever the reason, it makes us happy. And when we’re happy, we create — that’s the best kind of never-ending cycle. As simple as that.