The colour of surfing

Yesterday, I was sitting on my bed, looking at my bookcase.  It’s a scattered, diverse and eclectic region, filled with a combination of photographs, jewellery, vases, DVDs, magazines, teacups and saucers, and books. That bookcase is indeed, me. All me.

There aren’t as many books in there are you might think though, not for someone who loves words so much – it only holds books I’ve bought, stolen or been given over the last year. The other books I own live in my work space, or are stored in cardboard boxes in a shed in the garden of the last place I lived in, and at my parents’ house. I keep meaning to collect those boxes and bring them home with me, but then I think about where I’ll put all the other sweet detritus of my life, and I leave it a bit longer.

The books on the shelves are organised together the way I prefer to order all books on shelves, by colour. Yes, that’s right, I organise my books by the main colour on their spines. They get altered by size considerations in the final decisions, but when they are collected together based on colours, I reckon it gives a nice aesthetic to the way it all looks, and the feeling of a room and a space. I think so, anyway.*

So there I was, sitting on my bed, looking at my books, organised by colour on the shelves of my bookcase, when I realised that almost all the books in the blue section were about surfing and other oceanic topics! As I looked through the rest of my books to see if other colours came into surf-book spine play, I found a couple of anomalies – one pink, one dark green, white, black and I think there might even have red as well – but overwhelmingly, they were blue.

Looking at them and their blue spines I thought about what their blue-ness is supposed to say:  subtropical, outdoors, free, warm, a sense of open-ness and excitement, but also with something calm and comforting.  The titles carry words like ‘water’, ‘waves’, ‘curl’, ‘glide’, ‘wind’ and ‘heaven’. They are words that make sense in connection with the colour blue, but the more I think about it, the less blue surfing is when you are doing it. In summer there is that endless blue sky, but the times I love the most are the mornings and evening when the sky is gold, orange, lilac, pink and green. And although it is blue from a distance, when you are in it the ocean is more often green or grey or a murky, seaweedy or foamy kind of brown, or even flecked with gold in the evening light. Sand is white or yellow, black or grey, rocks are black and brown and green, wetsuits are mostly black, boards are any combination of colours you can imagine, and swimmers and boardies are patterned and various. So why are the books so blue?

Considering this made me recall Fiona Capp, and her discussion of the ‘idea of surfing’ in That Oceanic Feeling. The idea of surfing is something that connects people who surf (and enthralls those who would like to), but it is also something imagined and romantic, formed through years of surfing rhetoric. For me, in the end, surfing is beyond the magic of the idea, but is complicted and twisted through the physicality and culture of experiencing it. For example, how connected is the surfing of the magazines with what it’s like to be in the water, catching waves? Often I find there is something that doesn’t quite link – the romanticism of the idea of surfing emphasised as the authors, photographers and artists dry off and try to recapture their feelings in words and pictures.

When I look at the cobalt book spines on my shelf, it seems like this romantic representation carries through into the ways we colour surfing, the ways we represent and sell it more broadly. I suppose this kind of thing irks me a little because I like complication and honesty. I like that it’s green and black and brown and red and organge and lilac and gold and grey and murky. I certainly get sucked in by the attraction of the turquoise water conjured by the colours of the watery books on my shelves, but if surfing and the ocean were always turquoise, blue, calm and perfect, I’d probably get bored after a while.

* On my work shelves, topic comes a lot more into organisational consideration, but colour still has the final say!