Most sports aren’t seen as art. Fair enough, a lot of them live and die by various rules and regiments, while art is often expected to thrive off the absence of those things.
But if art is supposed to be free, then why can’t sport be a form of performance art?
It might be easier with more ‘open’ sports. Ones with less rules and more freedom. As someone who surfs I feel I can actually talk about that, though there are countless other options. If you have any ideas for what I can write about, please reach out!
Surfing has been around, in some form, for generations. Riding waves like a natural roller coaster has been a pastime throughout various cultures and communities. Since the 1960’s, surfing has grown into a worldwide sport with millions of dollars in competition prizes, surfboard manufacturing, and even ‘adventure surfing’.
Surfing has truly become a phenomenon. But with that, comes its fair share of diversity. Beyond the standard board sizes there are handcrafted surfboard that embrace imperfections and ‘wonky-ness’ (usually called ‘asymmetrical boards’, for obvious reasons) which allow the surfer to ride the wave in a different way. There have even been a number of atypical surf breaks around the world. A perfect example is the series Weird Waves, hosted by pro surfer Dylan Graves with Vans. (Link Here)
But here, I want to talk about a different approach to the surfboard itself. Similar to unique surfboard shapes, but more of a ‘lack of shape’. I want to talk about finless surfing.
Finless surfing is not often talked about. When it is, it’s seen as more of a gimmick than anything else. Despite the lack of reception, I believe it’s comprehensive enough to constitute its own form of surfing. Like the difference between surfing a longboard or shortboard.
Since surfboard fins add stability, steer-ability, and drag, the lack of them lets you slide around on the face of the wave like you’re riding a bumper-car in the water. If you look at any video on finless surfing (some of which are linked below), you’ll see the spacey maneuvers these surfers pull off.
Going even further, there’s a certain art to learning finless surfing. I’ve surfed off and on for over a decade now, and only recently have I tried taking all the fins off. You really do feel like you’re piloting some unwieldy spaceship on the first few sessions. It’s like learning a new instrument, or stepping from oils to watercolours.
Beyond that, if you watch enough experimental surf films, you’ll see that there is a heavy element of performance art to what these people can do on just a piece of epoxy and a wave! (that’s not even including the niche of taking the fins off).
Overall, I believe that sports like surfing can and should be seen as an art form, since the creative expression that the mediums provide is unique enough to be seen as a form pf performance art. It might not be on a stage, or in a gallery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not art.
Below, I’ve listed the video that inspired this piece (Ari Browne’s video) along with a couple more.
Art is very ambiguous, and any attempt to define it is ultimately too limited, so I hope this is able to display some of the artistic integrity of various ‘non-artsy’ mediums.