In the past fifty years surfing has grown from an eccentric pastime practiced in a few isolated locales into a broad cultural phenomenon known well beyond Southern California and the Hawaiian Islands. No cultural document has expressed the low-key cool of the surfer ethos better, or done more to extend its reach, than Bruce Brown s 1966 film, Endless Summer. It s a road movie. It s an instantly nostalgic sun-baked reverie. It's a quest, but with no sense lack of urgency, just male bonding, sunsets, a few comic moments, semi-coherent platitudes, and lots of mellow vibes. It is, in sum, one of the foundational legends of contemporary surf mythology. It is a compelling mythology... but it also has a lot to answer for. Spicoli may have been hilarious, but the inarticulate beatitude of the average surfer dude is insufferable, and the affectations of the wannabe are even worse (especially when herbally enhanced, as they so frequently are). And that s without even getting into the endless catalog of dreck marketed through some supposed connection to surfing. So when Dirk Westphal explores the rhetoric of surf culture in his art, he does so at some risk. It s a strategy that allows him tap some deep resonances, but it also requires a rigorous approach else the work devolve into gooey sentiment or beer commercial cliché. This series proves his mettle. Nothing cancels mellow beach vibes faster than the threat of a shark, so it s tough to imagine a gesture more alien to surf culture than going to the beach only to make a fin from whatever odd materials may be at hand, dive in the water, and lurk menacingly near shore. All together these photos are like a reverse remake of Endless Summer, a world tour of impromptu performances each throwing a little cold water onto surf culture s overheated self-mythologizing.
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