Why Our Obsession With Documenting Everything is Changing Our Outlook on Surfing




Stories round the campfire or an evening huddled around a laptop?

The modern philosophy seems to be that if it wasn’t posted on Facebook – then it didn’t really happen. Our obsession with documenting every aspect of our lives and optimizing our memories of all that we do has led to a generation of camera-phone wielding selfie-stick waving lunatics. Concentrating so hard on capturing a snapshot of the moment we are experiencing, we forget to enjoy the moment we are experiencing. But hey, at least there’s a photo to share with virtual friends that we wouldn’t cross the street to chat too.

Surf culture, despite it’s usual resistance to the modern world, is not immune from this phenomenon. Just take a look at the instagram activity from the biggest names in world surfing and you’ll witness endless streams of self-gratification; numerous one handed digital self-portraits, and constant virtual pats on the back for the latest sessions charging exclusive surf spots.

And it doesn’t stop on dry land. Lineups are littered with cameras strapped to boards. HD capturing contraptions hanging out of mouths no longer warrant a second glance; the internet is awash with average surfers sharing memories of even more average waves.

Even if you’re not personally responsible for documenting your own surfing, the chances are someone else will be trying to cash in on this desire for a regular ego massage. Every time I climb the steps to exit the water at Bali’s most famous left hand reef break I’m accosted by local photographers attempting to sell me: “amazing photos of great waves boss”. Thanks. I know. I was there.

The real tragedy with this constant need for supporting evidence is that it completely removes the evolution, exaggeration and manipulation of a memory. Once something is committed to the archives, be it a digital photo or film, it can no longer evolve. Despite everything that might have happened before, after or during the moment that has been photographed, the only thing you’ll remember is that single moment in time. Photographs have a habit of enhancing the memory of a split second, while removing the events leading up too and surrounding the rest of the experience. With a film or photograph of a given wave, a 6 foot wave is always 6 foot, probably slightly less as the camera has a habit of making waves look smaller. But with a memory alone, a 6 foot wave can organically evolve to become several feet bigger. An average session, after time to reflect, can become a good one; and a great session, after playing back through your mind, becomes epic.

Photos obviously have their place, but so does living for the moment. Recounting memories of surf trips and experiences is the reason we embark on adventures. I’d much rather listen to someone evocatively elaborate on a surfing experience then feign interest in hours of shaky amateur footage.

Tom Keyes

Recently returned to the UK after several years chasing waves in Asia, Tom takes inspiration from living on the doorstep of Cornwall's finest beaches to write articles and features on all thing surf related. Regularly featured on Surfing Sections and The Inertia his work has been viewed and shared by... Read more

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