The Huntington Beach Riots: Stop Blaming Surfing

I’ve written this article in part as a response to some of the commentary floating around seeking to pin the blame for the Huntington Beach riots on Big Surfing. While my primary goal is not necessarily to defend the industry (in which I am not employed, but inherently support in many ways), I do wish to make a point that I feel is irrefutable, and meriting of much greater reflection by surfers and non-surfers alike. The point being that the “culpability” story here is not (as much of the discussion has revolved around), “real surfers” vs. “posers”; “enlightened surfers” vs. Big Surfing; the “old HB” vs. the “new HB”; or the “909s” vs. the “714s”. Rather, the events of that day were just one more example of a society in decline, generally. A rather benign case, at that.

If, as some have said, the US Open is a mirror for the industry, then the industry is a mirror for culture. And while much of the industry regularly engages in lamentable practices (the objectification of women and over-pandering to youth chief among them), they are but bit players in a much larger production. Rather than simply shaking our fists at Vans, Quiksilver or the ASP, we (not just as a surfing community, but a nation), need to be reflecting more on the subjects of strong families, good parenting, individual responsibility, and respect for self and others.

Big Media, Hollywood and some large corporations may be rocks to look under, but eroding morals, irresponsible parenting and a number of troubling consumer, technological and socio-economic trends are much of what lies beneath them. At the root of it all is good old human selfishness. We have become a “me first”, “me last”, “look at me” society that increasingly puts our own self-satisfaction before nearly everything and everyone else around us, including in the case of many parents– our own children. And the results are playing out all over.

 Huntington Beach, you’re not that special.

You may be surprised to learn that Huntington is not the only beach town where summer festivals mixed with raucous crowds, erupted into violence that embarrassed many locals and city officials. Just two-and-a half months ago, we here in Jacksonville Beach experienced a similar event as the Huntington riots over Memorial Day weekend. And while a surf contest was planned for that day, the ASP wasn’t here. Nor were Vans or Quiksilver. Can you believe it?

The event, ceremoniously documented on YouTube, generated much unwanted attention. Port-o-potties weren’t overturned, but one brawler was critically injured. There were two fights involving 10-15 males, most in their late teens and early twenties.

Heated discussions followed about, “Beachies” vs. “Townies”, racism, alcohol and gangs. In Huntington Beach, the perpetrators were cited as, “White and Latino trash”; here, as “Black trash”. How about, let’s put all the trash in one can. Then, let’s consider just how much the problems at either event, particularly the US Open, really had to do with surfers, surfing or surf cities.

I think we’re missing the point…

We’re living in a day and age where people are dressing up like clowns and gunning down movie-goers in theaters; where others are snuffing kindergartners; and still others driving over people on our boardwalks. Kidnapping women for use as personal sex slaves and locking kids in cages are also trending.

But who can blame the crazies?

We’re infatuated with video games like, “Grand Theft Auto”, “Call of Duty” and “Gears of War”. Television offers us the sad materialism and celebrity-worship of The Real Housewives and The Kardashians. And an endless variety of crime shows compete with one another to see who can showcase the most shocking violence and graphic sex in prime time.

If you’re still gainfully employed and fortunate enough to be able to afford the luxury of HBO, you might have caught this year’s most acclaimed television moment: the 8-minute “Red Wedding” slaughter scene from Game of Thrones where every member of a wedding party was slashed to death in beautiful HD glory, including one pregnant woman. Make sure we see the baby in her belly get stabbed a few times! For God’s sake, someone get the producers an Emmy!

Meanwhile, we’re all too absorbed in our own self-gratification to care much about what our kids are doing. “Go watch tv in your own room, honey, TMZ is on!”  “Ok, mom (assumes dad bailed the family long ago), I’ll Kik / Snapchat / Ask / Vine / Chat Roulette or otherwise just Google some stranger to pay attention to me instead, because I quite literally crave any kind of attention, you know?”

While advances in technology like mobile devices and social media have played a critically important role in connecting us and giving voice to many in the world who could use one; they have also spawned a generation of narcissists who have fooled themselves into believing that the rest of us want to see one more of their idiotic “selfies”. In my opinion, the saddest part of the Huntington Beach riot videos was the sight of nearly every human being present holding up a camera phone to record the event so that they’d be able to capture and share video of the pandemonium with their friends, who in turn would no doubt be impressed that they were a part of the pathetic scene.

The dumbing down of America continues to happen right in front of us and it is spreading like a viral video. Growing poverty rates, unemployment, fractured families and under-education seem to be leading many, especially the young, to lash out in anger, increasingly asserting themselves violently, or just stupidly.

On the flipside, many of the more privileged in our society, despite seeming to have nearly everything they could possibly need to succeed, also seem to lack the one thing that apparently, everyone is having trouble finding: a moral center.

This pains me to write because I am a positive, hopeful, optimistic person by nature. And I can’t really offer a solution other than to suggest that we probably all need to look within ourselves to find the answers by examining our own personal values, and how we choose to live those on a daily basis.

But I do know this: what happened in Huntington Beach wasn’t just about Big Surfing. It was about something much larger.

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