Surfing Exhibit at FAU Should Be a Lot More Fun Than It Is

A general air of "it's good for you and you'll like it" hangs over "Surfing Florida," which is just a step or two away from a dental-hygiene documentary from your childhood or a nonoptional serving of your least favorite vegetable.

I wanted to like the exhibit, having grown up with the idea of surfing as a transgressive outsider culture — somehow forbidden, vaguely sexual, and infused with a fuzzy Zen sensibility. Yes, the Beach Boys and their ilk were wholesome, all right, but they also represented a subculture of ultimate slackers, guys (and surfers were mostly male) who eschewed adult responsibility in favor of that search for the perfect wave. At least, that's how it all seemed to a kid growing up in the landlocked hinterland.

The word history in the show's subtitle gives the game away. This is not a lighthearted romp — a "fun, fun, fun /Till your daddy takes the T-bird away" kind of outing. Rather, it's a series of strung-together lessons, with more wall text than you'd encounter at one of the Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale's papal exhibitions.

Board? Or bored?
Board? Or bored?

Location Info

Map

Schmidt Center Gallery at FAU

777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Boca Raton

Details

"Surfing Florida: A Photographic History," through May 12 at the Schmidt Center Gallery, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Call 561-297-3020.

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There are some interesting tidbits — for a demographer. Consider this: "At the beginning of the 20th century, Florida, with its 500,000 residents, had the lowest population density of any state east of the Mississippi." Or this: "The surf industry today is a mix of sportswear brands, media interests and board makers based largely in California and marketed worldwide."

Such movies as Gidget, Where the Boys Are, and Elvis' Follow That Dream and Girl Happy are referenced, as is the era's distinctive music. Opportunities to situate these pop cultural touchstones in a larger context, however, go squandered.

At its best, the show presents surfing in Florida as an alternative history to beach culture in California and elsewhere. There are sections devoted to various regions of the state and their surfing connections. A morsel like "While surfing in Florida began in Miami Beach, Daytona Beach was Florida's first surf city" is juxtaposed with a great black-and-white photograph from the mid-1960s featuring the members of the Smyrna Surf Club lined up with their boards.

Photos, in fact, are the exhibit's strong suit, which is not surprising, considering that surfing has always been highly photogenic. A small selection of particularly cool vintage photos is not clearly labeled, although the images appear to be from the 1940s and '50s. Elsewhere are 18 actual scrapbook pages created by surf legend Bill Whitman circa 1935.

As with any sport, there is an almost fetishistic focus on names and dates and titles and stats. And although it may be of interest to a surfing fanatic that so-and-so won the such-and-such championship in 19whenever, the rest of us may not be so captivated by this kind of minutiae.

One bit of wall text proclaims, "Surfers often say that surfing is more than a sport — it is a way of life." But that's exactly what's missing from "Surfing Florida" — the sense that surfing is more than an accumulation of statistics and historical facts.

At one point, there's a mention that "Legendary California surfer and surf photographer Leroy Grannis bellyboarded in Florida as a child in the early 1920s." But the magic provided in the glorious 2007 coffee-table book Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s — a volume that could have and should have influenced this exhibit — never materializes, except in the vintage surfboards that hang from the gallery's walls and ceiling and stand in makeshift sandboxes throughout the space.

 
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4 comments
Annie Tworoger
Annie Tworoger

To the writer of this ridiculous review...Michael Mills...Tell me this, u must be an adult extreme razor scooter rider no?U definitely don't surf. Nor have any understanding or appreciation for the immense historical and cultural significance that exhibition depicts. Who the fuck are you and how dare you criticize so wrongly something of which you obviously have zero clue about. I advise you get your head out of your ass and get some soul back in your body right quick. What they did with that exhibit is absolutely amazing, much appreciated, and intensely admirable...amongst those of us whom actually have eyes in our faces and brains in our heads. You should be both ashamed and embarrassed. You direly owe all those involved with this incredible exhibit a very sincere apology. A copy of this message will be sent to your editor, and few others whom will most certainly be appalled. I am not writing this anonymously.My name is annie tworoger. My company is 3rd &Ocean. I live in south beach. I am an architect, photographer, artist, surfer, and mother. And you are an imbecile that has just completely made a fool of yourself..

craigsnyder
craigsnyder

Contrary to this incredibly awful headline and review, Surfing Florida is indeed a lot of fun, especially if you have a real appreciation for surfing, art, photography and history. This exhibit was carefully put together over a period of several years, working with many of the sport's top photographers, surfers, and historians. Surfing Florida is warm and captivating if you have any interest one or more of those of things. Please do not be put off by this review. 

It should also be pointed out this a landmark exhibition. The exhibit itself, as much as it may be about history, is historic itself for what it has accomplished with its incredible and comprehensive telling of the Florida story. Nothing like this has ever been put together before. California has a few museums and exhibits and they are good, but in the words of one visitor who had just been out on the West Coast, this was even better than some of those. 

Another visitor, Steve Pezman, publisher of the Surfer's Journal, saw the exhibit and he loved it. The Journal, if you are unfamiliar with it, is like the National Geographic of surf culture. It really doesn't get any better than that.

In regards to a few other comments, yes, there's lots of text on the panels and a lot of history, but there's lots of photos, too. That's why this is called a "photographic" history. Photos can be pretty but without the stories or facts behind them just become wallpaper. The images in this exhibit are given context, which is really key and makes this a fun trip down memory lane. The boards, the styles, the fashions, it's all there. 

Beyond the photographs and the panels, there are also two media stations that have film clips and video of all kinds, from 8mm movies that exhibit surfing and skateboarding in Florida in the 1960s, to never-before-seen interviews and historical documentaries by filmmakers like Will Lucas. On the big screen there's a short documentary film that has Miami's Whitman brothers talking about surfing in the 1930s off Miami Beach with lots of old images. It's all there, it's all incredible, and you just take in what you want, and leave the rest for another visit if you care to come back.  

If you're looking for a slick ride in a sports car, then don't waste your time here. Go get in a sports car, for God's sake—and turn the radio up load while you're at it—then drive to Epcot Center. And by the way, the Beach Boys did not surf and did not represent true surf culture. They were musicians who thought surfing would be a good topic to sing about. There's a lot of wannabes out there, but if you want the real thing, then go see Surfing Florida while it's in town. And if you happen to agree with this New Times writer and his review, then don't bother to ask for your money back. Why? Because this exhibit is free. How great is that? Photos, history, film, and surfboards. Try it, you'll like it.

Craig Snydersurfer, skateboarder, photographer, and historian

Annie Tworoger
Annie Tworoger

The exhibit is insane amazing. Congrats to all those whom were a part of pulling it all together. Surfing appreciates you :)

Annie tworoger
Annie tworoger

To the writer of this ridiculous review...Tell me this, u must be an adult extreme razor scooter rider no?U definitely don't surf. Nor have any understanding or appreciation for the immense historical and cultural significance that exhibition depicts. Who the fuck are you and how dare you criticize so wrongly something of which you obviously have zero clue about. I advise you get your head out of your ass and get some soul back in your body right quick. What they did with that exhibit is absolutely amazing, much appreciated, and intensely admirable...amongst those of us whom actually have eyes in our faces and brains in our heads. You should be both ashamed and embarrassed. You direly owe all those involved with this incredible exhibit a very sincere apology. A copy of this message will be sent to your editor, and few others whom will most certainly be appalled. I am not writing this anonymously.My name is annie tworoger. My company is 3rd &Ocean. I live in south beach. I am an architect, photographer, artist, surfer, and mother. And you are an imbecile that has just completely made a fool of yourself..

 
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