Source Documents
r.c. pennie : why gays don't surf, 1981. 

R.C. Pennie : Why Gays Don't Surf, 1981.
Pennie, R.C.: Why Gays Don't Surf - or do they?
  Tracks, Number 124, January 1981.

Tracks editor, Paul Holmes, ran this full page article by R.C. Pennie, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, boldly featuring it on the cover,
It appears that the article did not generate any response in the letters sections of the following editions.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the same edition carried an extensive article by Paul Ryan, Selling With Surfing, that featured teenage male models.

Noted for its homoerotic themes, Charles Stoddard's South Sea Idyls (1873) included an account of surfing on Maui.
The English edition of 1874 had a dramatic surfing illustration by Wallis Mackay, published as Summer Cruising in the South Seas.
The homoerotic themes are fully explored in Roger Austin's introduction to the Gay Sunshine Press edition of 1987, see:
Charles Stoddard : Surfriding in Maui.

In the late 1960s, Hawaiian surfer Fred van Dyke was derided for the use of  the term latent homosexuals in an article on big wave surfing, see:
Fred Van Dyke : The Peril of the Surf.

Pennie's Track's article is quoted at length by
Douglas Booth in Australian Beach Cultures (2001, page 115) where he notes letters published in Tracks suggest that many soul surfers shared (Tracks iconic cartoon character, Captain) Goodvibes's homophobia, as expressed when disguised as a clubby (lifesavers, whom they despised).

Page 37
Why Gays Dont Surf- or do they?
By R.C. Pennie

Clustered together like archetypal chickens in a barnyard coop, the half-naked, sun-bronzed group of young men constantly eye the scene and continually evaluate the competition.
Highly aware of each other and of the special bond which membership in their predominantly male group allows them, they share a sense of community and social identity distinctly different from that experienced by other males their age. Sexual overtones dominate the group, but sexual segre­gation is a highly ingrained social norm.
They relegate women to an inferior status, and for the most part, these young men appear to prefer the company of other young

No, these people are not members of the gay community who cruise the Hollywood discos in search of the ultimate orgasm.
Rather, they are members of the surfing community who cluster together on Southern California beaches in quest of the ultimate wave.

Both the gay community and the surfing community have much in common.
Each practices sexual segregation — gays primarily for sexual reasons, and surfers merely because they consider women inadequate on the waves.
Same-sex bonding which goes beyond simple
friendship, but which is not necessarily overtly sexual, is rampant among both groups.
Both gays and surfers place an unfortunately strong accent upon the "advantages" of youthfulness, and both place an over-emphasis upon the physical and material worlds.

Photo Pennie
Straight society (and I use that term in its loosest sense) considers gays and surfers to be social outcasts.
This conferred status encourages a process of social segregation whereby gays and surfers close themselves off from the larger social order.
It is this segregation which
gives both communities a certain mystique which its members find attractive and which allows gays and surfers to develop their own special set of norms, values and beliefs.

Despite all of the structural similarities between the gay and surfing communities, they remain radically separated from each other.
The pre­dominant reason is that the lifestyles and ideologies of both communities, are so dissimilar as to prevent any meaningful social intercourse
between the two groups. Furthermore, anti-gay prejudice is so rampant among the surfing community that it borders on paranoia, leading gays to reject the surfing community with the same vehemence that it rejects gays.

True surfers (as opposed to novices or weekend surfers) embrace the sport as a complete lifestyle.
Their personal image is one of self-proclaimed beach bums whose main preoccupation is their affair with the sea.
They superficially reject the conventional values of city life, and
replace them with sociologically deviant ones including a "hang loose" ideology whereby every day is considered a vacation.
While their own lives are peculiarly structured around the constricting social norms associated with the sport (surfing ability being the determinant of the
status hierarchy and its allocated rights, duties and privileges) they view the urban scene as devoid of personal freedom.
When surfing came out of its closet in the late 1950's, this was its manifest social objective - to provide a retreat from the inherent frustrations of urban

While surfers reject the city, it is the sine qua non of gay existence.
Many gays enjoy the sun and the water.
However, unlike surfers who bring order to the beach by stratifying members of the surfing community even more completely than might be found in a large city and by
literally working at their trade (surfing being their primary "career"), gays go to the beach for purely social and recreational reasons.
It allows them to interact with other gays,
improve their appearance with a tan, and get some exercise and natural vitamin D.
Furthermore, given the required attire, "what you see is what you get," and any sexual tension which might arise on the beach can easily be reduced later in the afternoon or evening.

To this extent, then, gays have succeeded where surfers have failed.
Gays escape to the beach in order to temporarily avoid the exigencies of living in a modern, rapidly changing world.
In this manner, they can continue to adapt to and precipitate social change while at the same time occasionally find a "time-out" from the requirements of their customary structured lives.
The demands of a surfing lifestyle, however, which interact within the highly stratified, closed structure of the surfing community are such that meaningful change in the social world rarely permeates their group.

Although surfing, like any other sport, cannot be considered anachronistic, the values and beliefs espoused by many of its most adamant participants certainly can be.
While it is doubtful that most surfers understood (or understand) the social and political meanings of Naziism, it is no chance coincidence that symbols of the Nazi regime (in particular, the iron cross) became symbols of the surfing community during the latter part of the 1960's.
While surfers donned Nazi symbols and
systematically defended the social status quo through political apathy, other, more politically motivated individuals were attempting to change it.
Despite a recent modification of symbols, life has stood still for most members of the surfing community and the reinforcement of reactionary beliefs continues.

Considering the lack of political awareness among surfers, it comes as no surprise that surfers harbor what are perhaps the most homophobic beliefs of any social group. Their views of homosexuality and its practitioners are as modern as those of a group of midwestern farmer's wives whose main sources of information come from their church circle or Bible radio station.

It is peculiarly true that people fear most what they fear in themselves, and some social research indicates that homophobia is positively correlated with latent homosexual feelings.
Perhaps it is also true that surfers are particularly cognizant of the feelings which they have for their fellow surfers and concomitantly fear any identification with what they view as a sexually deviant group.
Their only recourse is to deny these feelings by antagonism towards overt homosexuals.

One of the easiest beliefs to maintain, and one for which there is a considerable amount of popular
support, is the belief that gays lack the physical stamina for participation in rigorous surfing.
This is patently untrue as gays of both sexes are actively involved in a variety of athletic activities including tennis, rugby, baseball, basketball, skiing and volleyball. Furthermore, in 1975, when Lynn Rosellini published her provocative series of articles in the Washington Star, she reported that at least three starring quarterbacks in the National Football League were homosexual or bisexual and that five percent of pro football players were gay.

One gay rugby player I spoke to said that he tried surfing several times, but he "preferred the courts or the field or the bedroom for exercise and wanted to preserve the beach for other things.
Riding a fibreglass board on a mount of water seemed silly."
Additionally, he "didn't care for the Neanderthal mentality of the surfer-beach-types or the groupie adolescent girls who constantly hung around admiringly."

Not all homosexuals view surfing as silly or give it up so quickly.
A great many surf regularly and their straight associates (who have no reason to suspect that they are homosexual) view them as being quite adept at it.
However, like most jocks (homosexual or otherwise) they have adopted the competitive, aggressive, macho-machismo, sexist attitudes of pre-Women's Liberation days.
For some, this is in part due to insecurity about their own homo­sexuality, something which they consider a liability.
Hyper-masculinity allows them to compensate for their own "sexual inadequacy" and allows them to convince themselves that "nothing is really wrong with them."
For others, extreme aggressiveness, particularly as is present in the sport of surfing, is a means to amend the painful experiences of their earlier years when many homosexuals suffer from the "last one picked" syndrome.

Lesbians who surf are particularly vulnerable prey to the more sexist aspects of the sport.
They are, after all, women, and during childhood any indica­tion of aggression or "masculinity" is quickly socialized out of them as being "unladylike be­haviour".
Surfing allows them the liberty of a full expression of this personality trait.
Because the surfing community is so peculiarly male oriented, surfing allows these lesbians to compete with and conquer members of the opposite sex rather than work with them within egalitarian, symbiotic re­lationships.
This, is sexism at its worst, and earns these lesbians the unfortunate label "super-dykes".

These male and female homosexuals tend to be extremely closeted about their sexuality.
They experience a form of identity ambivalence whereby their sexual desires are directed toward members of their own sex, but their sensibilities and sensitivities are formulated by the straight world.
The surfing community provides them with a point of reference for the development of their personal values and beliefs and allows them only a marginal relationship with more overt gays.
They view the Hollywood/ San Francisco scene as being composed of effemi­nate males whose limp wrists resemble wilted tulips dangling in the breeze.

Such covering techniques allows these gays to pass as "heterosexual" and to become socially accepted within the unsuspecting surfing com­munity.
Given the social structure of the community and its relationship patterns, homosexual surfers appear to be rather ordinary individuals.
For the sake of social respectability, however, these gays cheat themselves out of a highly valid part of human experience.

At the same time, they continue to perpetuate sexism, which is one of the uglier facets of social existence.
Among those gays to whom I spoke, the most common complaint about surfers was that they accept an ideology of strict sex-role differentiation, rather than a more rational blending and merging of sexual role.
They also felt that this perspective holds true, regardless of the
sexual preference of the individual surfer.
This ideology manifests itself in counter-productive homophobic values and be­haviours which are incompatible with thesocial and political ideals of the gay community.

If surfers would stop for a moment and reflect upon the nature of their own life situations, they might begin to comprehend the fact that gays and surfers really have much in common.
To be gay and to be a surfer is not a contradiction, although the juxtaposition of the values of
the gay and surfing communities yields a currently unresolvabie con­flict.
It is this conflict which allows the surfing community to harbor the erroneous belief that gays do not surf.
There are many homosexuals (latent, closeted and otherwise) out there on the waves, riding their
surfboards to the shore, much to the amusement of their more urbane friends and associates who watch from the sand.

R.C. Pennie is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California - Los Angeles.
His current research interests include alternative lifestyles, sex-roles, popular culture and the relationship between sociology and philosophy.

Selling With Surfing

Mark Coleman- Centrefold
Mark Coleman
Photographs by Paul Ryan

Peter Phelps,
page 21.

Jim Condylis,
page 22.

Bill Bachman


May, 1982, page 2.


Number 124
January 1981.

Understanding the New Materials.

By Bob MacTavish

Windsurfing - Are you ready for it?
By Bob MacTavish

Why Gays Don't Surf- or do they?
By R.C. Pennie


Geoff Cater (2020) : R.C. Pennie : Why Gays Don't Surf, 1981.