Duane 2019

From Projecting Power

Main Takeaway

Daniel Duane reflects on his personal experiences with Nazism and racism in the surfing community, discussing instances of antisemitic attacks and Nazi symbolism in California. He also highlights the history of swastikas in surf culture and ultimately acknowledges his own ignorance and privilege and the need to confront and dismantle systemic racism in the surfing community and subsequently society overall.

History of Nazism in Surf Culture

  • The term "surf-nazi" often times referred to any surfer ferociously committed to the sport and was territorial about their local waves
  • The first commercially made surfboards sold in California had swastikas burned into their tails, and Ed Roth sold plastic Nazi storm trooper helmets to surfers.
  • Miki Dora, king of Malibu is considered the greatest culture hero in all of California surfing.
    • Reputation built on athletic brilliance, expensive cars and clothes, and vicious elitism.
    • Pioneered the concept of localism
  • Surf-Nazi was a very common term in the 70s and 80s
    • The B-movie "Surf Nazis Must Die" explores localism in surfing, telling the story of the followers of the "Führer of the New Beach” murdering a hardworking black man, and the victim’s elderly mother avenging his death by hunting them down.
  • Addressing accusations of latent Nazi sympathy, Noll, the legendary big-wave rider and filmmaker behind the "Search for Surf" films, stated he'd put a swastika on something to anger people, and he knew that it angered them and very likely why.
    • Largely the use of the swastika was to illicit a reaction rather than the symbolic meaning and history of it.
    • Duane adds that "Angering those people for kicks meant that the slaughter of six million Jews didn’t strike you as a big deal."
  • Dora and the Malibu crew eventually figured out that the real-life inspiration for the character Gidget was Jewish, and spray-painted a swastika on their driveway.
    • Frederick Kohner who fled Nazi-Germany wrote the novel the became the film.
  • Miki Dora used racial slurs and advised acquaintances to put all their money in gold before Mexicans and blacks poured over the borders and ruined the economy.
    • He eventually relocated to apartheid-era South Africa and wrote that black South Africans were "flesh-eaters".
    • Nat Young, world surfing champion in 1966 and 1970, knew Dora, confirming that Dora believed absolutely in white supremacy.
  • The blue-eyed, blond surfer ideal is a white racial fantasy rooted in spurious claims of authentic connection to land.
    • Indigenous wave-riding cultures are known to have emerged in several places around the world, including Peru, Polynesia and West Africa. Not one is in Europe.
    • The population of California before the 1848 Gold Rush was around 150,000; there were about 1,000 of which who were Anglos in the entire state
    • In other words, Duane asserts "nothing about either the sport of wave-riding or California itself is intrinsically white, much less blond."

White Supremacy in California

  • California became a leader in the eugenics movement in the early 20th century, and spent an estimated $1.5 million reimbursing bounty hunters and militias for deliberate mass murder of Native Californians. This effectively immunized whites from prosecution for violence against people of color.
    • The first California Legislative Assembly, in 1850, effectively established California as a kind of white ethno-state with laws legalizing enslavement of Native Californian children and barring people of color from voting.
    • Other laws prohibited nonwhites from testifying against whites in courts of law.
  • In 1934, a California eugenics promoter named Charles M. Goethe told a colleague that his work had influenced the German government's racial-hygiene laws.
    • Forced sterilization continued in California until at least 1973, when a Latina named Dolores Madrigal walked out with a tubal ligation she didn't want from an obstetrics ward where the head physician had been heard to say:
      • “poor minority women in L.A. County were having too many babies, that it was a strain on society and that it was good that they be sterilized.” (The head physician has denied any wrongdoing.)
  • Anti-Semitic attacks in California are on the rise, with a 27 percent increase between 2017 and 2018. Ex. A young man with an assault rifle marched into a Southern California synagogue and murdered an unarmed 60-year-old woman.

Duane's personal reconciliations and understandings

  • Understanding racism through social or communal contexts often makes them the most digestible
    • "...perhaps because I was a straight white man from a nominally Christian household, I was more bothered by the word 'kook', surfer parlance for unskilled outsider- as in, me."
  • It's important to strip down systemic institutions to their psychology as Duane suggests here: belonging and distance from a group.
  • How a term corresponds and speaks to a person achievement or sense of belonging shapes the usage of it within a community, and makes it more or less accepted, in this case aiding Duane in understanding that term with respects to how it makes him feel.

Duane's Concluding Remarks

  • Today, I don't know how to think about my youthful yearning to become the great blue-eyed, blond surfer... It was an act of historical ignorance and naked racial privilege to read the swastika as no more than a toothless warning.
  • Last year, I began to wonder why so few African-American men surf my local break. I found out that the reason is because redlining made it impossible for African-Americans to buy homes on the California coast, and white delusions about black bodies led to Jim Crow segregation of swimming pools.
  • For 20 years, while driving from San Francisco to my favorite surf spot, I've passed through a mid-20th-century subdivision called Westlake, on the coast, but I didn't know that the homes were only for white Caucasian people.
  • Few white people consider themselves evil, but white-supremacist racism is as Californian as panning for gold and hanging ten. Allowing ourselves to see this doesn't make us good people, but it’s a baby step toward breaking the cycle.

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