From the vault: Surfin’ U.S.A.
“Kids these days!” is the perennial judgment of anyone over thirty of anyone a day younger. Today it’s millennials and their trigger warnings, yesterday it was slackers and their grunge music, and the day before that it was surfers, those dangerous hooligans, reigning terror over America’s beaches with their great bodies and their lack of ambition.
The Sun’s coverage of the surfing phenomenon over the years reflects a mix of fascination and cultural hysteria. In 1961, writer Dial Torgeson flew to Southern California to report on the so-called “cult” of surfing that had the olds of the day up in arms. “Lawlessness, truancy, teen-age drinking, sex parties—these are things charged against the surfers by many police and property owners.”
In 1969, those concerns led property owners in Ocean City to file suit to enforce a ban on surfing during daytime hours. According to the town council president, “The surfers can’t coexist with the swimmers, and the council must look out for the taxpayers.” (The Ocean city solicitor later reported that he had no record that a ban on surfing had ever existed in the first place.)
And it wasn’t just men. “Now the girls have discovered surfing,” The Sun reported from Ocean City in 1967, during an era when the paper was loathe to miss an opportunity to show a photo of a woman in a bikini. “Perhaps it is because of bikinis, though, that male surfers are willing to accept the scores of girls turning to the sport,” author Malcolm Allen wrote, in a statement that has so many things wrong with it it’s hard to really know where to start.
Though the surfing cult was born in the ebullient waves of the West Coast, there are reports of surfing happening in Maryland much earlier. In 1965, a Baltimore Sun reader named S. Watts Smyth wrote a letter saying he learned the sport from his older friends in Ocean City way back in 1906. “In those days it was known as ‘shooting the waves,’ (the modern term is ‘body-surfing’) and is accomplished without a board, actually much more difficult than using a surfboard.”
He might as well have added, “Kids these days!”