The Hidden Transcription of a Surfer: Culture, Localism and Representation of Hawaiian Surfing

The formulation of James C. Scott, from his book Domination and the arts of resistanceIt is especially interesting when thinking of one of Hawaii’s greatest cultural and social exports, the art of surfing, from the “sub-politics of subordinate groups.” If you browse, you are undoubtedly aware of the various unspoken codes and rules that govern the tribe. These codes and rules exist, in part, as a kind of self-control in the line-ups and as a warning to outsiders or “non-locals.” (“Local”, especially in Hawaii, is quite a loaded term, however we can limit it in our discussion to replacing surfers who are not from the area / surf spot). think you know about these codes or rules is largely filtered through the public transcript. However, the fact that there are, to varying degrees, different The representations of the “surfer’s code” in both public and hidden transcription offer us an interesting window on how the hidden and the public collide.

As Scott explains, infrapolitics “is a politics of disguise and anonymity that takes place in public view, but is designed to have a double meaning or to protect the identity of the actors.” Surfers are notorious for rubbing wax on windshields, cutting tires, removing distributor caps and spark plug lines, pumping gasoline, and various other acts of terrorism by surfing cars they don’t recognize as “from” where. they surf all the time. For example, a friend and I got out of the water at Lahilahi, a deep sea break with sharks just down the road from Makaha one afternoon and found that all the cars parked on the side of the road (except ours) had “haole go home “written on them. My friend grew up on the west side of Oahu so we saved ourselves trying to remove the permanent marker (or whatever). Also, “warning” signs abound on the way to some surf spots. Markers, spray-painted or drawn on walls, signs, sidewalks, or trash cans, signify who can surf and who can’t. Again, if you ever surf China Walls, a surf spot in Portlock on the east side of Oahu, jump over the fence (which was put up there for public safety, Thank you Linda Lingle) and head down the path to the stairs leading to the “Finger” (a specific section of the wave in China) and you’ll see warnings like “if you don’t live here, don’t surf here” (which is ironic because who can afford to live in Portlock?) “Go home” and “get out.”

Before the mainstream appropriated it and spread it to the masses, the surfers’ speech is also a good example of occult transcription. Words like “rad,” tubular “,” twisted “and” bitchin “were used within the public transcript to mark the identity of the subordinate group (if you knew how and why these words were used, you were aware of the club) and alienate the elite (I’m thinking here of Sean Penn’s character “Jeff Spicoli” who matches wit with “Mr. Hand” on Fast Times at Ridgemont High.) These days, what It is not Said seems to carry more weight. For example, all surfers know that if the waves are great at their local beach, you don’t tell anyone about it. There is nothing worse than a car full of surfers crowding the lineup because one of the “brothers” spilled the beans on a new swell. The “secret spot” is another excellent example of this speech of silence, as surfers go out of their way to ensure that hidden spots remain hidden. For example, I traveled in a friend’s boat across the canal to Molokai to navigate a “secret place”, only to find half a dozen other boats there when we arrived. My friend was visibly irritated. He recognized a couple of friends on some of the other boats and proceeded to curse them for bringing people to rest (when he was guilty of the same crime).

Inevitably, these codes and rules lead to clashes with public transcription. Yet these incarnations of the hidden transcript within the public sphere, as Scott posits, is no longer meant to “protect the identity of the actors,” but rather the actors are very much in the public eye. So while the events that led to the formation of surfing groups like The Hui, Wolfpack and Bra Boys find their origin in occult transcription, their establishment and the resulting reign are a very important part of public transcription (as evident in films like North Coast, Blue crush, Boys With Bra, TV shows like The 808, and all the Da Hui and Wolfpack merchandise available at your local Costco.) I find it ironic that these groups complain about how they are perceived in public given their rude and downright pre-revolutionary antics. Watch any of the aforementioned shows or movies and these groups (literally, boys, Kala Alexander, Fast Eddie, Makuakai Rothman, etc.) act in the same stereotypical “gangster” way. Sure, these are popular renderings, mediated by corporate dollars and sales predictions, but try to catch a wave anytime between Off the Wall and Ehukai anytime between November and February and you’ll get the same attitude from these types of pranksters regardless of what. as. you are well versed in occult transcription. It makes me wonder if, at the very moment of its introduction to the public narrative, the hidden transcript cannot help but be subverted in some way. At what point does the hidden transcript become “the self-portrait of the ruling elites as they themselves would have seen”? It seems as if these inherent codes and rules, once encoded in a representative identity, it sounds a lot like the elite narrative. In many ways, it is “designed to be impressive, to affirm and naturalize the power of the ruling elites and to hide or euphemize the dirty clothes of their government.” So what do we do with Scott’s formulation? Is your object of analysis liberating, or is it similar to Althusser’s “steel trap”, in which we simply exchange master ideologies for other master ideologies?

Works cited:

Scott, James C. Domination and the arts of resistance: occult transcripts. Yale University Press, 1990. Print.

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